My grandpa was never one to sugar coat things, but I was still surprised by his bluntness. I had called him to chat during a break from working in the computer lab at school, and we had ended up talking about my upcoming marriage.
“You may think you love her, but you don’t really know what love is.”
I never viewed my grandpa as a hopeless romantic, but when my granny passed away, he was heartbroken. He had fallen in love with her when she was only 16 and she had been his sweetheart ever since. She was the only one for him and their love had grown over the years through all they experienced together.
“Someday you’ll wake up, maybe 10 years from now, and you’ll look over at her and understand what love is. And when you have kids, then you’ll really know what love is.”
Grandpa never really explained what he meant, but I thought I understood what he was getting at. Given his life experience, I appreciated where he was coming from and what it meant for the road ahead.
A few months after our conversation, Sarita and I got married in Salt Lake City on August 17, 2005. I was ecstatic and couldn’t wait to spend the rest of my life with her. I thought I loved her too. But looking back now almost 10 years later, I think I’m beginning to understand what my grandpa meant. Sarita and I have been through a lot together and continue to grow closer with each of life’s journeys.
Our most recent journey began with the birth of our daughter Stella. Have you heard the cliché about the daughter who steals her father’s heart the moment she was born? Well, as corny as it sounds, it actually happens. In fact, most cheesy sayings that I would never repeat out loud are true.
Stella Marie Rich was born on Sunday, October 12, 2014 (an easy date to remember, according to the nurse—10, 12, 14). What an experience. It all started late at night on Saturday. Sarita had just wrapped up a couple of art shows and was busy typing up notes about what to do at the hospital. We promised to go over them in the morning. When we finally got to bed around 1:30 AM, I noticed that Sarita was shaking uncontrollably, which was when I knew something was definitely up.
Sarita still wasn’t willing to admit that she was in labor, but we both got up and decided to get ready just in case. I got my stuff together and was hurriedly reading the notes she had just printed. I had attended some birthing classes with Sarita and they constantly talked about how long the process is, so I was hunkering down for the long haul. I even started to do some laundry. That turned out to be a mistake.
As soon as I got the first load of clothes in the dryer, I knew we’d have to leave immediately just to make it to the hospital on time. Luckily, it was late at night and I didn’t have to contend with the usual traffic clogging up the labyrinth of one-way streets around the hospital. I had been warned that the night valet was at a different hospital entrance, but I still got hopelessly turned around.
We finally made it through check in and headed up to triage where the nurse started prepping for the doctor’s assessment. As we talked with the nurse, she asked Sarita how bad the pain was on a scale of 1 to 10. Sarita’s response: “About a 3.” Growing up in Alaska really toughened her up.
When the doctor finally checked on Sarita, he told us we’d have to get to the delivery room quick. I knew why as soon as I looked down and could see the baby’s head. It only took another 15 minutes for Stella to be born once we got to the delivery room, and I watched the whole thing. Well, most of it. While Sarita opted for a natural birth, she did at one point receive some local anesthetic. After about the tenth time the doctor stuck Sarita with the needle, I about passed out so I sat down for a while. Good thing Sarita didn’t have her glasses on and didn’t know what was happening.
It didn’t seem real. When the doctor first held up Stella, she didn’t seem like an actual person. She was covered in white vernix and looked more like a porcelain doll. It felt like the nurse rubbed life into her as she wrapped her in a towel and scrubbed. She took her first breath and that’s when it hit me. I was a dad! What a strange and wonderful feeling.
The rest of the day was a bit of a blur. By the evening, I was out cold on the cot next to the bed and slept right through the crying all night. Our time in the hospital was a bit peculiar. Finals were coming up later in the week and I was scrambling to turn in last minute assignments and get excused absences for class. The school and faculty were all incredibly accommodating and supportive. They even got Stella a stuffed Handsome Dan.
When we finally left the hospital, I thought “How can they let me just leave with a baby? Don’t they know how unprepared I am? I haven’t even put in the carseat.” Thank goodness for YouTube.
Two and a half months later I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing most of the time, but I’m learning. I’ve always enjoyed seeking out new things and having adventures. Raising Stella has been the greatest adventure so far.
A few years ago, my friend Fallon had her first child, a sweet baby girl. Talking with her a couple months afterwards she told me, “I don’t know what I was so worried about.” I guess I understand what she meant. While I still know so little, things are working out just fine.
So do I finally know what love is? I’m getting there.