Mike Tyson famously said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Clearly, he was talking about parenthood. Well, maybe not when he said it . . . but it applies nonetheless. Trust me.

If you are reading this, then, in all likelihood, you are a parent or expecting to be one at some point in the future and have already had your plan crumble to pieces, or you are delusional and think that you can defy the odds and that your plan will be the one that doesn’t fail.   Can’t you hear the sound of naivety when the soon-to-be-dad (or mom) says, “When I have a kid” or “my child will never . . . ”?

I had a plan. Well, I didn’t. Not at first. I’ll explain . . . On a sunny Sunday afternoon, while shopping for a brand-new Jeep, my girlfriend at the time (now my wife, Lacey) turned to me and said, “We need to go home.”

We had been at the dealership for less than an hour when Lace said this. Meanwhile, I had mentally prepared myself to be there for at least the next three hours, negotiating with the salesman while he went back to talk to his boss every fifteen minutes as I threatened to walk out. I explained to her that we couldn’t leave, not just yet, and that this (buying a new car) is a process, which may take a while.

She graciously waited for me to finish my rant on the car buying experience then explained to me that she hadn’t gotten her “monthly visit,” felt ill, and needed to get a pregnancy test. Needless to say, we left the Jeep dealership . . . immediately.

We didn’t need to ask, “How did this happen?” We both knew the night the puck slipped past the goalie (that’s a whole separate column, which involves my Down Syndrome brother, Adam, calling me a “p*ssy” for not drinking).

So, after leaving the dealership, we stopped at Rite Aid and grabbed a pregnancy test. Five minutes later, she was peeing on a stick and, three minutes after that, we were questioning whether we saw a blue line or not. Not ten minutes had passed before I was driving to CVS to get another pregnancy test because the one we had bought at Rite Aid had not given us a clear enough answer (sidebar: There was definitely a blue line there; we just couldn’t face reality) and I was far too embarrassed to go back into the same Rite Aid and get another, different pregnancy test.

I made it home, she peed, and our fate was sealed; the word “PREGNANT” on the stick was not at all ambiguous this time. We were having a baby.

And so, the planning began. Our son was going to be the heir apparent to Tom Brady, starting quarterback for the New England Patriots, when he retires in 2035. No, better, he was going to be President of the United States—probably the youngest one ever after he graduated from Harvard Law School at the age of 18.

Being an avid Jordan enthusiast, I bought him five pairs of baby Jordans that evening while enjoying some wine to celebrate. Lacey, on the other hand, stared at me steely-eyed while she researched doctors, begrudging that she would be unable to enjoy wine and other stuff she loved for the next nine-plus months.

We met with our doctor a few weeks later and he delivered the first blow: “You’re having a girl.” I was speechless. While the thought of having a little girl had crossed my mind, it was not part of the plan . . . Ugh, the plan . . . My plan . . . had gone to shit.

Now, instead of playing one-on-one in the driveway while talking about his numerous girlfriends with the triumphant cock-smith of a son I had envisioned, I would be sitting with my back against my daughter’s bedroom door pleading with her to open it because “boys are dumb” and “Jake is an asshole” while secretly being stressed to the max about assholes like Jake trying to make my daughter a notch in their belt. Even more, I wasn’t prepared for the all the pink, princess dresses, and having my daughter not speak to me for her teenage years, which I was told comes with having a girl.

When I voiced my concerns about not knowing about how to raise a daughter (not that I had any experience raising a boy or any child for that matter), I was walked off the proverbial ledge by our doctor (he had two daughters of his own) and Lacey. They both emphasized that I would figure it out and everything would be just fine. They were much more helpful than my own father who told me, “Maybe she’ll be a lesbian like your sister and there will be nothing to worry about.” That was comforting.

Even after my initial plan went down in a first round K.O., I didn’t stop planning. In the months that followed, Lacey and I planned and plotted . . . every . . . single . . . detail . . .

We decided on our daughter’s name: “Harper Autumn;” we planned the design of her bedroom: All owl everything; and we planned for the night Harper would be born: April 29, 2014. Not living near either of our families, both our families had to book flights to LA around the time Harper was due; we coordinated and planned this, too.

Well, April 29 came and went and all we had to show for it was an all owl everything bedroom for a baby who would later be named “Harper Autumn.” Harper was late. Eight days late, to be exact. And, Lacey had to be induced, which was not part of our plan.

No biggie—a few more jabs to the jaw . . . Then, the left hook.

On May 7, we went to Cedars Sinai Hospital for Lacey to be induced. We were told that Lacey would be given Pitocin, which would induce labor, and that we would have our daughter by noon. Perfect. Well, Lacey took the Pitocin, received an epidural, and was a champ . . . about the whole thirteen-hour process. Yup, thirteen hours.

Sidebar: Women are seriously amazing. No way would I have been able to lie there thirteen hours being poked and prodded all day by a plethora of nurses and doctors.

My part in the labor was relatively easy: I lay down on the couch in the room, did some light studying for school, and later watched the NBA Playoffs (which may or may not have remained on in the background while I filmed the birth of our daughter). I also provided all the emotional support Lacey needed and made numerous cafeteria runs whenever prompted to do so.

Then, the moment came. At 8:11PM Harper arrived. It was amazing. I couldn’t remember a single part of any plan we had made. She was perfect: I no longer cared that my first child wasn’t a boy; I didn’t care that she was eight days late; and I no longer cared about anything that didn’t matter . . . As cliché as it sounds, I just wanted her to be healthy. I counted her fingers and toes: ten of each. We were all set. Life was good.

Where’s this left hook you ask?

After we each got to hold our daughter, do skin-to-skin, and snap some photos, the nurses took Harper to bathe her and run some tests. They encouraged us to get some rest, which Lacey needed more than I did, clearly. I figured I would quickly go home and check on our dogs (we lived less than a mile away from the hospital) while Lacey got some sleep.

About twenty minutes later I got a panicked phone call from Lace: “They haven’t brought her back!” I tried to calm her down and told her everything was fine and that I was headed back. When I got to the hospital about ten minutes later, I was met by Lacey in the hallway, pulling her IV. Mind you, this woman had given birth less than two hours ago and had ZERO business being out of bed.

“SHE’S NOT BACK YET!” she exclaimed as she saw me. “No one is telling me anything.” Shit. I tried not to panic.

We were then brought to the Nursery, where Harper was. But she wasn’t like all the other newborns in there. Harper had tubes everywhere and an astronaut-like helmet on pumping oxygen for her to breathe. Yep, this kid was not breathing right. That was not part of the plan.

We were informed that Harper would have to be admitted to the NICU (Newborn Intensive Care Unit) and that only one of us would be allowed to be with her up there overnight. I lost that battle to my wife. This was the left hook.

My parents lost a child (full-term stillbirth) when I was four years old, and I couldn’t shake that thought. Were we going to lose Harper? Would we try to have another child? How would this affect our relationship? None of this was part of the plan.

For the next twenty-three hours, we were surrounded by other families that had their plans interrupted. No one ever says, “Yeah, when we have our first child we plan on spending hours or days in the NICU not making eye contact with the other parents in there because we secretly hope our situation is not as bad as theirs and don’t want to get too familiar.”

I’m not going to lie, that left hook made our knees buckle. We were dazed . . . but we never fell. Instead, we took photos and comforted one another. We said we would figure this all out and get through it. And we did.

Twenty hours after being admitted to the NICU, Harper began breathing regularly. It turned out that being eight days late had made her lazy; she expected Lacey to do everything for her on the outside, too. Too bad that’s not how it works, kiddo. Yeah, my kid was an asshole (I can call her that; she’s my kid). After all, she is her father’s daughter.

They released her from the NICU a few hours later. We spent twenty-three hours in total in the NICU, scared every minute that we were going to lose our daughter or that she would have brain damage from not breathing and that we would have to get her special help . . . none of which was ever part of the plan or ever actually happened.

Harper is three years old now, and the punches haven’t stopped being thrown, but we’re getting better about dodging them. That’s parenthood: Dodging punches.

Am I saying, “F*ck it, don’t plan anything”? No, that’s idiotic. However, as a parent you need to be flexible because, well, shit it going to happen.

Your daughter may hug you as you leave for work and get toothpaste on your suit; your kid may shit up his or her back and all over your brand-new carpet; and you may find yourself getting used to the taste of pee that erupts out of your son’s diaper every time you change him because he gets excited when YOU change him. This is parenthood.

Everyone experiences similar things and anyone who says otherwise is a liar. “Everything went as planned,” said no one, ever, when discussing having and raising kids. So, if your plan gets altered, don’t worry: It happens to us all. Rolling with the punches builds character and makes for a really good story every now and then.

But, remember this . . . if you’re going to make a plan, don’t forget to keep a mouth-guard handy. See, I told you Mike Tyson was talking about parenthood.

Your Friend and My Favorite,

Stephen
 

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