To Henry, on your first Thanksgiving.

Henry, today is Thanksgiving and this is your very first one! Mostly today is about chowing down with your friends and loved ones.  On Thanksgiving people get together for a meal that consists of turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, pie, and pretty much any other dish you can imagine.

Aside from the food, this is supposed to be a day of reflection.  Thanksgiving is when we’re expected to think about our lives and to be grateful for what we have – to give thanks.  Your mother has been posting on this blog all month about what she’s thankful for.  Your mother is much, much, much better at keeping up with the blog than I am.  She’s better at pretty much everything else too, but that is a topic for another day.  Today I’m writing to say – I’m so very thankful for you son.

My mother (Oma to you) often tells me she’s proud of me.  Before I was your dad, I thought she meant that she was proud that I had not become a troublemaker and had instead decided to go to school, to get a job, to get married, and so on.  I thought she was proud because of what I had done and because of what I had not done.  Now that I’m your parent I have a better understanding of what she means.

I will try to explain but I know it might not make any sense…  I see you now as a 10 month old baby.  You have accomplished pretty much nothing.  If you had to write a resume right now it would be seriously thin and I’m sure you’d need help with the cover letter.  But, to me you are so much more than that and I’m so proud of you.

I was there with your mother when we thought we couldn’t even have a baby.  I was there with her during our appointments at the fertility clinic and I was there when we tried to figure out how in the world we were going to pay for the treatments they thought we might need.  I was there when, despite all odds, you were set in motion the old fashioned way.  I was there the morning your mother found out she was pregnant with you.  I was there when your mother and I heard your heartbeat for the first time (we called you a washing machine back then because, well, you sounded exactly like a washing machine).  I was there the night your mother and I were sure she had miscarried and we sat up together most of the night crying, holding each other, and wondering if we would ever have a baby.  I was there when the doctor told us you were fine – still growing and washing clothes just like you were before.  I was there listening to your mother barfing because of morning sickness that somehow lasted all day long and ALL THREE TRIMESTERS.  I was with your mother during all our many visits to Buy Buy Baby when we bought bought the baby things we thought we needed.  I was there when your mother told me she might be having contractions.  I was the one who drove your mother to the hospital.  I was there when she paced around the delivery room at maximum waddle praying that they wouldn’t send us home.  I was there when you were born.

Now, this is the part when I’m supposed to say that I was overwhelmed with love for you right away.  Pretty much everyone says that the moment your baby is born it’s – BOOM- love like you’ve never felt. It isn’t that I did not love you (of course I did) but love is not the feeling I remember most.  Maybe your mother felt that overwhelming love (hormones) but I did not.  What I felt was not love so much as it was extreme terror.  I was immediately struck with your undeniable realness.  You were a human and, for the very first time, you were outside your mother and exposed to the elements.  People were looking at you, prodding you, poking you, taking your blood.  You were crying- no, you were screaming!

Then we found out your left leg, ankle, and foot, were atypical.  We knew that no matter what the diagnosis ultimately was you were going to have a more difficult path in life than some others.  I don’t remember everything I thought and felt at that moment.  I do remember praying and begging through my tears that I just wanted you to be able to walk.  Please, if nothing else, please God just let my son be able to walk.  Now, thinking back on it, I know that there are  lots of things in the world worse than not being able to walk.  In that moment though I was willing to bargain with whoever, whatever, for you to be able to walk.

Anyway, I did not have the overwhelming feeling of love that first instant.  I didn’t love you any less because of your leg but the other emotions at play were all much stronger in me than love.  I was concerned for your mother, I was concerned for myself.

I was there when we brought your home from the hospital and started trying to figure out how to take care of you.  I was there when your mother was making just tiny droplets of milk to feed you and your weight kept dropping and dropping.  I was there when we resorted to feeding you milk with a syringe because that’s the only way we could get you to eat.  I was there when your mother was feeding you basically once an hour (every hour, 24 hours a day) fighting and scraping for you to gain even a single ounce.  I was there with your mother when the pediatrician told us you were still losing weight and, despite all her extreme efforts, we needed to give you supplemental formula.  I was there in the basement alone standing next to the dryer, folding onesies and sobbing – wondering how we were supposed to survive this.  It was, and is, so incredibly hard… But!

Then, slowly, you became you – and you are the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.  It’s not what you’ve accomplished (see above, you haven’t accomplished much) it’s that you exist and that you are so wonderful just because you’re yourself.

A small example:  the other day I was holding you in the kitchen while I made breakfast.  We’re using coconut cream in our coffee nowadays because you’re supposedly allergic to milk protein and I needed to open up a can.  It’s a good idea to shake a can of coconut cream before you open it (remember this some day if you decide to make a pina colada) so I gave this one a good shake and you broke out laughing at me.  You reached out your adorable hands for the can and I decided there was no real reason you couldn’t touch it.  As soon as I gave you the can you started shaking it with all the power your little arms could muster.  You shook that can, squealed with delight, shook it some more, and laughed your little ass off.

It’s such a little thing but in that moment I felt the overwhelming love that I was supposed to feel 10 months ago in that hospital room.  I’ve felt it lots of times before then and since then.  I feel it every moment of every day now.  I am so thankful you’re here and that you are who you are.

In a few days your mother and I are going to take you to the hospital for surgery and it’s not going to be easy for any of us.  On the outside at least you won’t be the same as you were before.  With that said – you are not a leg, and you aren’t an ankle, and you aren’t a foot.  You’re so much more than that and when in a few months I (hopefully) watch you take your first steps I know I will be so proud.  I won’t be proud because you added a new line on your baby resume.  I’ll be proud of you in the same way I was so proud and happy when you shook that can of coconut cream.  I will be proud to be your dad and to have the privilege of caring for you, providing for you, and watching you grow and learn.  I will be proud to have witnessed your journey right from the start.  I will be, and am, so incredibly proud.  I love you very much and I am so thankful you came into my life.  Happy Thanksgiving.

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