Editor's Note: This is one in a series of occasional columns by reporter Ryan Pfeil as he documents the impending arrival of his first child. To see others in the series, read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/pocketprotector.
Running clears my head, especially when I can do it close to the ocean. Especially when it's morning.
The lazy hiss of the saltwater flushes out the usual clogs of to-do lists and what-if treatises. The smears of fog that roll off the gray-blue palette help align my focus. No joke: Those lazy waves that stumble ashore and drift back out take the worst pieces of me with them.
That environment beckoned during a recent trip to Seaside. A close friend — he'll be a dad two months after me — came along.
We tromped over the sand and watched the gray morning go brighter and listened to the gulls. The sleep left our eyes with each foot thud.
He blurted an idea: "We need to make this trip an annual thing."
"Oh, absolutely," I said.
Then we talked about that trip, how you and his child will be present. Right there, likely on our shoulders or in our arms, perhaps even stumbling along at our side.
This isn't a revelation. Of course I've known you're en route. You'll be here in less than six weeks. I've been counting down, my own slow-motion spaceship launch. You've inspired plenty of writing while I wait. I've typed up my thoughts on your heartbeat, your kicks, your mom, etc.
But something strange has been happening as we approach the final stretch; life is starting to feel incomplete without you. Spaces once perfectly suited to being vacant are starting to feel emptier, vaster.
Quiet is eerie. Uninterrupted sleep is fascinating. I am more and more aware of luxuries. I can come home from work, throw on a pair of running shoes and hit the Bear Creek Greenway. Just ... go. No schedule to keep for a couple hours, no grandma or day care from which to pick you up. No diapers or shot-glass jars of creamed bananas.
Your uncle recently told me to savor this. Other parents have said the same. Cherish these "just-you" moments, they say.
Well, OK. That's sweet on some level, well-intentioned. It also makes me a tad uneasy, because there's a hint of dead-man-walkin' in what they say; happy and proud I've come this far, but I'm apparently also shuffling toward the edge of a plank, the toothy maw of the Sarlacc pit from "Return of the Jedi" yawning below me.
Yes, they adore their own children but, man, they helped them break ground on new levels of patience and love.
A co-worker told me he can't remember life before his son was born. It's a dream, nothing more, details and angles forgotten when he awoke. I guess that makes me a lucid dreamer, aware this waiting period is a reverie, ready to open my eyes.
To you, the hungry, helpless rooster in my house that doesn't need the dawn for an excuse to crow. Someone who is counting on others completely.
There's a Captain America story where he ends up in an apocalyptic alternate dimension, saves a young boy named Ian and basically adopts him. They stumble through the wastes together, survival is a daily ordeal.
"Can't afford fear. Not now. Ian is counting on me to get him out of this," Cap thinks as he lies in front of a dying campfire, Ian slumbering nearby. Until he gets hungry or afraid, perhaps, and awakens in the dark, demanding conciliation.
You'll be that way for a bit, Bethany. It's nothing you can change. Getting to know you, learning how you function the first few months of your life will be nonstop and include a series of night classes.
But I'm looking forward to those times, kid. Really. A friend told me some of his fondest memories are of being awakened at 3 a.m. and holding his daughter against him while her cries turned to whimpers and then went as silent as the rest of the dark house.
He cherishes those days of sleeplessness, of realizing first-time fatherhood is unyielding and really just a series of best guesses.
The next time I hit the beach for that morning run and listen to the beautiful sighs of those waves, I'll likely be exhausted, maybe even convince myself I'll be unable to go. But then you'll start sleeping through the night. Then you'll take your first steps.
One morning, you may wake with me and ask if you can come along, if you can trot on the sea-packed sands and watch the water dance. Maybe one day when you aren't so helpless anymore, you'll start leaving me in the dust, laugh as I suck wind and try to slow my stuttering heart.
Or maybe not. Maybe you stay behind and sleep, and I continue this apparently yearly ritual solo. Either way, you'll likely need me less and less with each day that passes.
That day will come when I get back from the run, soaked in sweat and sea mist, and you won't be there. In college or married or saving the world, living your own life and able to sleep for more than two hours at a time. Beautiful and kind and decent and curious.
And gone, those "just-me-and-your-mom" days returning, the space you filled now empty and cluttered with memories.
I'll pick sleeplessness over what that must feel like any day of the week.