My dad doesn’t remember much when I ask him about the kinds of things I did as a baby and when I did them. He says, “Eras normal.” Walked at about a year. Talked at about a year. And a shrug when pressed for details. Even when I ask if certain things I remember are true or just hopeful made up memories, square pegs for round holes, he says, “Quien se recuerda de eso? Era hace tanto.” Hell, no one remembers where the fountain of youth is, right?
So, Jack, this is for you and me. This is so I don’t have to remember. And this is so you know. This is so your road’s beginning can be etched just so. But let’s be honest here, from me to you, the details are choices.
July 10th, 2010 Was The Last Time I Slept In Good And Late
You were born the day after the Miami Heat got Lebron James AND Chris Bosh. Everyone hated us and we almost won the championship the next year. Your mom had to go into labor a full month early because she was very itchy. She had (let’s make it interesting) stromboliosis. That’s not a real thing. But it sounds like it tastes great. And, like my father, I don’t remember what it’s called.
You were tricky from the beginning. They said you’d be here by lunch, but you strolled in, umbilical cord around your neck, around the time the good cartoons start (that’s 3 pm when I was young). You were also about 20 minutes shy of a c-section. You came out “wrong,” which means the back of your head did a nice job of shredding the inside of the base of your mother’s spine. These days, you’ve graduated from spines and mostly attack our eyes. I think you get that from your mother, as she’s often poked me in the eye; once, a day right after I had eye surgery. That’s not a joke. That’s the damn truth, Jack. She says she was playing. You’re going to have to square that one with her.
You should know that I had fun in the delivery room. Pretty much everyone did. Except for your mom. Your grandmother talked to everyone there because by some insane universal stroke of luck, they all lived in our neighborhood, and knew all the same people, and got groceries from the same place, and maybe even the same guy mowed everyone’s lawn there. These people were having a soiree in the middle of someone’s childbirth. It’s not their fault. Your mom had been at it for awhile. But if she could have gotten her hands on a chainsaw, the hospital would’ve found itself with a ton of donated body parts. I have to admit I didn’t help very much. All I did for most of the day was hold her left leg up.
My worst moment was during one of your mother’s magnificent pushes, when she screamed, “It burns!” and I couldn’t help myself, I had to say, “It burns because he’s evil.” I immediately felt your grandmother’s thrift store stare of doom on the side of my head. It’s the one she reserves for when someone grabs something she wants. I’ve never seen it myself, but I assume it exists, as your grandmother also has the damn you, cat, you snuck in the house stare. The my neighbor across the street is an asshole because he didn’t have an obit done for his deceased wife stare. And her Frank, stop being such a smarts stare. Which I have to assume she is employing at this very moment if she is reading this. Your grandmother is a woman with stares enough to conquer worlds.
Some time after 3:30 pm, you made it out and the doctor with the funny surgical cap handed me golden scissors to cut your umbilical cord. You didn’t cry when I cut that slimy bit of calimari hose. Probably because you were still on the drugs they’d taken your mother off of so she could gain some traction and get you out. Pain brought the push, boy. It brought you. But you were higher’n hell when you were born.
I have to say something about those scissors, though. They didn’t let me keep them. Which makes me think of strippers. Just… just stay with me here. I promise it will make some kind of sense. Jack, you know what they say about kissing a stripper, right? No, you probably don’t. But let me tell you. Because I’m your father and this is one of those things I’m going to explain to you. When you kiss a stripper, you’re also kissing all the guys she’s kissed before you. There’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, maybe some of them are nice guys. Some of them probably make a lot of money. I’m just saying, you don’t go around kissing strangers, right? Well, how many umbilical cords did those golden scissors cut? Not just yours, I’m sure. It’s why I said no, when they asked, ”Hey, can we charge you a bunch of money to store his cord blood?”
The first time they took your footprints in the hospital, it looked like you had six toes on each foot. When I sent that document to my job to start your insurance, I had to explain that yes, you were human, to the guy in the Benefits office.
So, even though you were born a month early, they thought your balls were big enough and your heart was strong enough for you to come home with us and prevent us from ever falling into the most evil of all things: sleep. Thank goodness you saved us from… sleep. We can’t thank you enough. We might have had some awesome dreams or something. I don’t know if you’re old enough to understand sarcasm when you read this, but I’m just kidding. You were great. You did keep us awake a lot of the time, but we were thankful for your consistency. Even now you wake up at least once a night. As I finish my final edit of this I had to go in there and rock you back to sleep. I don’t know what you were dreaming of when you cried, but when I got to you, you started to chuckle. So I chuckled. Then you chuckled. We’re just having a good old time at midnight.
Things that calmed you most early on: your mother’s presence and the words “mama viene con la leche.” I made up songs at 3 in the morning when I fed you your bottle. They mostly rhymed and you didn’t cry because of them. You didn’t smile for awhile, but you always looked at me with approval. I felt like Babe must’ve felt when the farmer said, “That’ll do, pig.” It was a great feeling, not screwing up feeding a bottle to a baby.
When One Eye Doesn’t Know What The Other Is Doing
But you weren’t perfect, boy. Don’t let anybody lie to you. You were the most cross eyed kid I’ve seen since the end of a 3D Pokemon movie let out. There were times I thought one eye would knock the other straight out your ear and under the couch. You should know that we took you to the ophthalmologist eventually. In Hialeah. In a strip mall. And they were selling bootleg Sex & The City 2 dvd’s outside while we waited. We didn’t expect the doctor to be white, that’s for sure. But he said, no joke, that you had an asian person’s nose and so the flatness of your nose’s flesh covered the inner part of your eyeball hole (that’s a technical term). He diagnosed you with fake cross eyes AKA psuedostrabismus (unlike the aforementioned italian delicacy of a disease, this is a real word, buddy). These days, you get cross eyed every once in awhile. But you know what, my man? Everyone’s shoelaces come untied from time to time. So don’t sweat it, ya dig?
Stand and Stare
As soon as you could, you liked to stand. I think you were less than three months old and you were already locking your legs like the best kind of ladder. Looking around. Staring people down. I have to be very honest with you. I enjoyed when you made people I don’t like feel uncomfortable. You got that super power from your grandmother, I’m sure.
Jack, I’m Your Father
You were Darth Vader for your first Halloween. You even had a lightsaber. We made vomiting drunk pumpkins that year. Or I think I did, actually. Your mom’s pumpkin was the designated driver. That Halloween, some old folks from the mentally challenged clinic nearby came creeping down the sidewalk in the dark and scared your mother to death. I think you’d be proud to know that your mother almost beat up an old retarded man to protect you. They were nice, though. We gave them candy and they were happy for it. And we had a story to tell.
Peeing and the Pediatrician
You were always good at the pediatrician. You took your shots like a MAN. No joke. You were more mad than scared. That was even the case when we took you to get circumcised. They didn’t let us stay in the room. When they brought you out to us, there was a length of wet cloth hanging from your mouth. Sugar water, the nurse said. To calm you down. The look on your face said it all: why would sugar water calm anyone down when their penis was being treated like a pencil in a sharpener. I am a terrible father because I laughed at your stern and nonplussed gaze. A week or so later, you peed on me. I consider us even on that one.
Oh, man. Peeing stories! One time, I had to just stand there and take the pee on my chest because the wood floors are more valuable than my dignity. Then there was the time you vomited in your mother’s face. That woman is a SOLDIER. She even smiled for the picture I took afterward. There was ONE bad time, though. We went to Naples for your first beach trip. You did a nice Linda Blair impression when we gave you too much bread to eat. We were so hungry we didn’t even think about it. Our food hadn’t even gotten there when you did your version of the scene from Stand By Me at the pie eating contest. If there’s still youtube around when you read this, just look it up, dude. We were very scared because we’d forgotten those times when we got stupid drunk and had the same thing to us. I remember thinking how that must have been the beginning of us getting holier than thou on you. Us? Throw up like THAT? NEVER. (Editor’s note: he did this Exorcist projectile vomiting AGAIN last night, a day before his first birthday.)
Your first Christmas was uneventful. We got a real tree and a great picture of you in front of it. You got toys. I got underwear. Your mom put in her resignation at a place she hated. And it didn’t snow again in South Florida.
Christmas makes me think of the first present I bought you. Like everything good in my life that I’ve done, your mother forced me to do it. I didn’t want to buy you something because you didn’t really do much at the time. Nothing seemed to impress you. My feeling about you (like my college creative writing professor told ME) was that you were a watcher. You were collecting data for use at a later time, perhaps for the hostile takeover of our home. In the end, I settled on a multicolored plush worm with the quietest rattle in the world for the end of its tail. You, in your brilliance, knew the rattle was useless, so you just chewed on it, six months later when it actually interested you. One of these days we’ll get you something cool, like a dirt bike, or a remote controlled helicopter. Or maybe our country will stop mortgaging your future. You know, cool stuff.
We went to Key Largo and you rode on a boat for the first time. This is important because you are part Cuban and we are water people. Well, those of us trying to escape Communism, anyway. We also went to Naples in May and you went to the beach for the first time. At the beach you did a very important thing: you ate sand. Over and over.
July the Fourth
We stayed home and watched the fireworks from the backyard. You were not afraid of the War of the Worlds type noise southeast of us. Your mother danced and twirled in the dark on the grass in her red dress, holding sparklers out to her sides as she went, a blazing fiery tornado of beauty turning under the fox palms. These are the days when I want to give you a legion of siblings.
Who’s In A Jack?
There is most definitely a story in your name. We named you after your grandfathers because if you could be as dense in the head as them, then you would be very strong indeed. I was named after my grandfather AND my great grandfather and I used to complain to my dad about how unimaginative he was and how he didn’t name me something cool like Wolverine (wolve-que?). So what do I do with the first choice I have to make in your life? I take the same steps my father did. This does not mean you have to do it. By all means, call your first born Bruce Wayne. If your mother lets you…
Jack Orlando Ruiz just felt right from the moment it came out of our mouths, like an ancient sword passed down from generation to generation, growing sharper with every won battle. Wisdom in the hilt. Truth on the blade.
Who Is Your Baby And What Does He Do?
You hit most of your milestones on time. Grabbing stuff. Smiling. Crawling like you’re in a war zone and there’s gunfire zooming overhead. You did what you were supposed to when you were supposed to but then you stopped doing it, like you’re thinking there’ll be plenty of time for that. You said momma first, way early on, and then nothing for a whole month. Then you’d say dada pretty often. Then you stopped that for a whole month, too. You even tried to copy my horse whinny for a bit, then it stopped being cool. You treated your milestones like an American college student would treat a trip backpacking through Europe: Stopping to smell the roses. Sleeping in hostels. Living on the smoker’s code: giving and taking only when necessary.
Leaving us wondering when our next hit of baby awesomeness was coming.
I’m going to say it here so you can never deem it a lie: you like your vegetables.
You were only sick once in your first year, and it was only for a couple of days after one of your shots (Editor’s note: Along with his reenactment of the pie eating contest scene from Stand By Me last night, he also had a fever, but it’s gone now). It was the only time I took you to the pediatrician by myself. I was completely unprepared. I didn’t even remember to bring a diaper for you. She put you in a huge potato sack of a diaper for the time being. You looked like one of the mushroom people from Super Mario Brothers, but upside down.
Your favorite color is orange. From the day you were born, you were in love with the blinds and the windows in the house and wanted to climb them and destroy them.You liked music box type sounds. When I sing you to sleep, I hum the Imperial Marching theme, and the themes from Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, ET, Star Wars, and Back to the Future. I like to sing Let Her Cry to you the most. Because I know the words. But every once in awhile, if I remember them, I like to drop Tiny Dancer, Leaving on a Jet Plane, and I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing.
Between your third and sixth months, the house was still blue and I still picked you up after work. Even then you loved being taken out of your car seat: impending freedom. Your eyes lit up when you saw the big windows on the front of the house. For a little bit, I didn’t enjoy the rush to pick you up, but the look on your face paid the troll toll more than enough, every time. I used to bring you home and just hold you for awhile until your mother got home. You, me, the hum of the air conditioner and the smell of the wood floors. Then one day you look up and there’s teeth marks on the bottom lip of the TV console’s edge. One day someone’s saying dada. One day you get a whole other remote control so your son can have his own. One day, someone’s at my feet looking up, arms outstretched, talking into my mind, going
pick me up pick me up what are we doing next?
It’s enough to make you remember it all.