Happy Birthday to My Little Goldfish

In January of 1990, I was a young Army Sergeant assigned to an Infantry Battalion at Warner Kaserne in Bamberg Germany. We lived on the first floor of a private home in Hirchaid, a beautiful Bavarian Village just off the Autobahn and about 8 miles south of the base. I loved it there and the family we rented from was very quiet and respectful of our space as we were of theirs. By this time my wife and our oldest daughter had been there for nearly a year and were about to welcome a new member into the family. I had adopted my oldest when she was already in grade school and I have never seen her as anything other than my daughter, but I had never experienced what it was like to bring a new life into the world.

I can remember vividly all of the wonderful things that we do as new parents. In the early months we wonder if we are having a boy or a girl, then we choose a name for both just in case. I had a greater role in choosing names than I thought I would but I was very centered on boy’s names. I eventually chose the name Adam Gregory to be my sons name and even at that point, I went as far as to choose the name Jacob Allen for my second son’s name. To this day I remember those names but I cannot for the life of me remember what, if any names I chose for daughters prior to being asked in the hospital…when my daughters were born. Of course we knew in the final months leading up to the deliveries of both of my two younger daughters that we were having girls and not boys, so it is possible that we discussed it. You would think, yet in both cases when asked by hospital staff what their names would be, what came out of my mouth was completely spontaneous.

I can remember daydreaming about our baby eating breakfast from the JC Penney High Chair, cruising it in a Sesame Street Car Seat or sleeping soundly in the new Winnie the Pooh themed nursery. We wanted everything to be perfect so we spent more time, effort and money than we had setting those conditions. If that wasn’t enough, I still have memories of those awesome food cravings that we, as Dads actually benefit more from than the Moms. And of course, I can’t forget the less-than-wonderful, though no less vivid memories of morning sickness, grumpiness and the many trips to the doctor’s office.

Still, as the parent of a newborn child, none of it outweighs the feeling you get when you first see the ultrasound image or first hear the heartbeat… and still nothing more will ever compare to the experience of being there when your child takes that first breath of air. And that’s really where this story begins.

In the days leading up to the expected delivery date there was one thing that was becoming increasingly evident…the term “expected” should be loosely applied when it comes to infants ( I would later find out that this is just as applicable to teenagers). In the last couple of weeks we fully expected to go to the doctor every few days. After the due date we expected we might have to go every other day and this might have been fine for a while but two weeks later, it just wasn’t fun anymore. In fact, in the end it was virtually every day, each time expecting to have a birthday. On the last visit, there was something vaguely resembling a contraction on the monitor and they decided to admit us to the Bamberg Klinikum. Finally, I thought, its time! That was at 8:30 in the morning and by midnight, my wife was telling me to go home. We had been walking the stairs to the point of exhaustion (mine, not hers), and she assured me that the baby was not going to come that night.

The Bamberg Klinikum sits a little further away from home than the base so on the ride home, when I noticed my tank was on empty and I was literally driving on fumes I was a little worried about running out of gas.  At that time of the morning there was no place open to stop. Fortunately I made it home with a mile or two to spare and figured that I would just have to get it in the morning on the way out. When I got home, I called everyone back in the States and let them know that we had another false alarm.  I was tired but still a little too wound up to sleep so I put in a movie and kicked back on the couch for a while. It seemed like only a few minutes had passed but I had fallen asleep and was awakened by the sound of the phone ringing. It was still dark outside and when I checked my watch it was about 6 AM. I had probably been home about 4 hours and was still extremely tired. The woman on the other end of the phone initially spoke to me in German.  There was an awkward silence for a moment and I replied to her in English to which she expelled an incredibly familiar guttural sound, the universal expletive for you-stupid-little-man.

“Your wife is in labor-how quick can you get here?!?!”

Of course, I left before my mind calculated the impact of having only a mile or two of fuel in my tank. As I got to the end of my road and was about to make the turn onto the Autobahn, it occurred to me that I was mere minutes from uttering that same familiar guttural sound to myself.  God was smiling on me (or at me) that day and my mind caught up with me before my foot hit the accelerator. With the fuel station in site I hobbled over, put it in park and waited nervously for it to open.  I must have waited for nearly a half hour before anyone showed up, all the while going over in my mind how I was going to explain being late for the delivery. Finally, the attendant came in to open and when I told him the situation I was able to get gas and be on my way. It goes to show that no matter what you do to prepare, you can never see or prepare for every possible scenario… and something can always go wrong. Some call it Murphy, some call it dumb luck. I call it…life.

As I pulled into the Klinikum, the butterflies kicked in. I was scared, cold and short of breath. I had no idea what I had gotten myself in to. It wasn’t just because I was going into a delivery room for the first time or having a new baby…it was more about knowing that this would be one of the most important moments of my life. This was the day that a child was being born into my life…A child of my flesh. As an adopted child myself and at that point in time having never even seen a biological relative, I knew that this child represented family in a way I had never known before. I didn’t want to screw it up and unfortunately it had already gotten off to a rough start.

When I got inside the hospital, they were waiting on me. They grabbed me and rushed me into a closet where I washed up and stood there like a little scolded boy while they dressed me in hospital greens. I was immediately pulled into the delivery room where my wife was in the final stages of the delivery. She acknowledged my presence and went back to making loud noises. I didn’t know what to do or what to say but I knew that me being there was pretty much all she was waiting for. Within a couple of minutes, the package was there.

There are a number of stereotypes that go hand in hand with having a baby. I thought they would hold her upside down then slap her on the behind, she would squeal and I would get handed this pristine baby that looked like she just jumped off the front of a diaper box. Instead, they ran her over to a table on the other side of the room and the doctor and two nurses worked on her. I didn’t know what they were doing, I just knew that minutes passed and she hadn’t made a sound, no one said anything to me and everyone else in the room was watching that table.

And then I heard it and it changed my life….for the first time in her life she cried. It was brief but very significant. It was a sound so subtle and precious, yet so powerful that it would define her for many years to come as the quietest, sweetest and most gentle person you will ever want to know, which ironically would again define her in motherhood more than two decades later.

They handed her to me and though not as pristine as a baby on a diaper box, she was beautiful and I will never be able to describe the feeling to anyone that hasn’t felt it themselves. She moved her lips and batted her eyes in a way that I have told her many times since reminded me of a goldfish. I was absolutely mesmerized by her and I believe that the hospital staff took notice. As much as I loved holding her I was nervous and feared making the wrong move, tripping with her in my hands or dropping her. I tried to hand her over to the nurses but no one would take her. So I held her in my arms. My little goldfish.

Later when my wife was sleeping, they asked me her name and at that point any ideas we may have previously had about what to name her went right out the window. I knew that whatever I told them would be final and nearly had a panic attack over it. It was the one chance I had to give my daughter the gift of her name and I wanted it to go exactly right. I had visions of my wife waking up to her daughter named Adam Gregory or even worse, something common with an obvious misspelling, like Agnus. Of course, none of those things happened and we were all proud to have Erin Nicole Darville as the newest member of our family.

It’s been 24 years today and she is one of the best mothers I have ever seen. Her time is her son’s time. She reads to him and spends nearly all of every day with him. What is most interesting and what I believe sets her apart from other mothers is that she doesn’t seem to tire from it. She gets tired, but she doesn’t put any outside interests above her son. I saw many of the qualities that would make her such a great mother at many points throughout her life, from the day she was born until now.

A lot has changed through the years though and many of her adventures have blessed us while others have tested us. I knew it then and I know it now, even all of these years later.  She has changed me in many ways but it all goes back to that morning in the Bamberg Klinikum when my little goldfish gave me my first real glimpse of the awesomeness of life, love and family.

Happy Birthday Erin. We love you and are very, very proud of you and who you have become.

To be continued on April 10.


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