BY CHARLIE COX
A funny thing happened last Friday. It’s roughly 1:30 p.m., and I’m in a showing of “Ant-Man and The Wasp,” utilizing the oh-so valuable, yet occasionally frustrating MoviePass my wife gave me for Christmas. It’s not uncommon for me to be found watching Marvel Cinematic Universe entries on opening day, and “Ant-Man 2” was no different. Popcorn and Diet Pepsi at my sides, I’m thoroughly enjoying this lighter, slimmer, and 20th movie in the MCU.
And then it hits me.
A key plotline in the film–which isn’t so much a spoiler for “Ant-Man and the Wasp” as it is for the original “Ant-Man”–revolves around the 30-year abandonment of a parent and their daughter. Like a ton of bricks falling on my chest, I drop my handful of popcorn back into the bag and take a deep gulp.
The mere idea of a parent being separated from their child for an extended period of time sent me into, as my students would say, “my feels.” That’s so awful. How did those characters move on? How do you get up in the morning? If that was Caroline…
As each of my friends entered the parenthood game, they would often tell me there’s nothing at all that prepares you for it, nor is there anything ever the same. “It just changes your perspective and everything about you,” they would say, in some variation or another.
I would politely smile and agree. “I can only imagine!” But really, I couldn’t. How could life be different? I mean, for example, I loved doughnuts without ever being a parent, and I was sure I would after becoming one. Don’t get me wrong, I always wanted to be a parent and dreamed about the day it would become a reality, but I didn’t think it would change me on a molecular level.
On May 15, 2018, three months and four days after my 33rd birthday, my wife Chelsea and I welcomed Caroline Renee Cox to the world and effectively blasted into irrelevancy my previous theory on parenthood. I knew upon looking into her eyes in the delivery room that my life would forever be divided into two points at that moment: Pre-parenthood and parenthood.
In the eight weeks following Caroline’s arrival, shockingly enough, everything has changed, which might be cliche’ but doesn’t make it any less true. Yes, I still like doughnuts. I still eat doughnuts. But when I consume said doughnuts, my mind can’t help but race with daughter-centric thoughts: I bet Caroline will like doughnuts one day. Oh, definitely. Jelly-filled. Maybe sprinkles! I can’t wait to introduce Caroline to doughnuts! Oh, and gingerbread men! Caroline will love Burke’s Bakery!
It’s exhausting and wonderful all at the same time.
Pre-parenthood, Chelsea and I, as a couple, often stayed on the go. On weekends–and let’s face it, most weeknights–you wouldn’t find us at home on the couch, or at least not for long. However, as a family of three, we discovered true contentment binge-watching Netflix, alternating turns holding Caroline. Or just staring at Caroline. Or me claiming Caroline laughed at my joke while Chelsea rolls her eyes. Obviously, Chelsea’s maternity leave coincided with my summer break as a teacher, and we’ve been blessed to spend a lot of quality time together.
With that in mind, we recently and begrudgingly followed advice given to us by many during the pregnancy and subsequently since Caroline’s arrival: Don’t forget to spend quality time as just husband and wife. Chelsea is a long-time Swifty (Taylor Swift fan), and I bought two tickets for her as a Valentine’s Day gift. My gift to her was not contingent on her taking me, as she had a number of friends that would have liked to go, but she asked me to accompany her.
Note: I enjoy and respect Taylor Swift as much as any grown man with an appreciation for catchy songs, two left feet, and no rhythm whatsoever.
I, of course, obliged, and we determined months ago this would be our first overnight trip away without Caroline. We went back and forth until the weekend before the concert as to whether or not we should make it a day trip but determined as hard as it might be, keeping it as a full-night away would be better in the long run.
And, man, was it hard. As we pulled out of my in-law’s drive in Somerset leaving Caroline, I noticed tears streaming down from beneath my wife’s sunglasses, I tried to spark conversation on anything but the fact we were leaving her behind. Things gradually became better. By the time we hit Richmond on our drive, we were both comfortable and relaxed–and we would stay that way until I did the unthinkable: I tried to outsmart Siri.
Providing us with a seemingly random detour to avoid traffic and construction on I-64 not far from Simpsonville, I thought Siri was essentially off her rocker. Chelsea urged me to take the detour, but I expressed doubt and stayed the course.
Sitting in a solid 25 minutes of traffic delayed and stewing in my own self-defeat, I remained quiet. Chelsea, understandably, did not. The tears came back.
“We’re wasting time away from Caroline. We’re stuck in traffic. We could be stuck in traffic with Caroline. She could be here. This is pointless. Never doubt the power of Siri!”
She was right on all counts. It took a tremendous step to part with Caroline for the day and night, and due to my mistake, we were wasting valuable time. And yes, score a point to the Apple Corporation, I will never again question Siri.
Finally, traffic cleared, the tears stopped, and we were once again moving to the Omni Hotel in Louisville and T. Swift.
Delightfully but not overwhelmingly to the point of not enjoying our trip, Caroline remained a force in the back of our minds. The Omni Hotel, lovely, gorgeous, and new, would probably not be somewhere we take Caroline when she’s older. “This pool is awesome, but our girl is going to need a water slide or two.,” I casually remarked.
At the concert,which I will fully and happily admit was the most impressively staged show I’ve ever attended, her most impressive trick being the relocation of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium to three feet from the sun–seriously, I’ve never sweat so much in my life–we laughed and thought about future concerts to which Caroline will beg us to take her. We wondered in 12-14 years who would be the popular artist Caroline just has to see in concert.
It will probably be Taylor Swift.
Throughout the night, I held down the end-seat of the row and Chelsea was someone we will refer to as “Connie,” a 45-ish year-old woman accompanying her teenage daughter to the concert. Connie was what Chelsea and I referred to as an “Adult Super Swifty.” Yes, Connie was perfectly nice, but also defended all things about the concert and Taylor Swift. At one point during the concert, I ran for food, came back to our seats, and reported that the line was finally not that long. Chelsea turned to relay that to Connie.
“The lines aren’t bad. Might not be a bad time to get food if you wanted to do so.”
“Up yours! I’m not missing any of this concert!”
Adult. Super. Swifty.
Connie later apologized. Chelsea and I later joked between the two of us about who in 12-14 years would be Connie 2.0 when accompanying Caroline to concerts.
I wish I could say the consensus was Chelsea.
While we missed Caroline, I am happy to say that our night away was much needed and a success. We had a great time together, though I’m not sure what we enjoyed more, the actual concert or our first night of uninterrupted sleep in two months.
Missing Caroline when she’s not around is something I knew would happen. However, I wasn’t ready for the art of missing some who’s right beside of me. It’s an odd thing, really. When sitting around and discussing future events, we find ourselves saddened and missing her in advance of future separations, even though she’s next to us. Chelsea and I will be watching our fifth in-a-row episode of “Riverdale” (since Chelsea became pregnant, I’ve graciously and almost exclusively turned over the remote control, including Netflix choices), and I’ll see a tear or two running down her face. “What about when she’s old and dating and doesn’t want to be around us anymore? I miss her!” Or mention the d-word (daycare, if you were wondering), and the it turns into a sobfest.
And I totally sympathize. Last week, I was driving solo with Caroline in my truck. She’s in the carseat in the back, and I have positioned our system of mirrors so that I can watch her every move. We were enjoying our drive, and then Kenny Chesney’s “There Goes My Life” begins to play on the radio…
Reading over what I’ve just typed, it would probably be very easy for you to think my wife and I are somewhat delusional, crazy people. I’m totally fine with that. I do assure you, that we are two reasonably normal young-ish adults with good heads on our shoulders. It’s messy, imperfect, and a constant learning process filled with self-doubt and unbelievable reward.
Parenthood is special kind of crazy. It changes you–even on a molecular level. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Other Random Observations from Eight Weeks of Parenthood:
You’re no longer the MVP
Last week, we arrived at our friends’ cookout without Caroline in tow. My sister-in-law wanted to watch her for a few hours and the temperature was considerably high, so we graciously accepted the request. Upon arriving at our friends’ place, the first thing said/asked/communicated was “Where’s Caroline?” along with the appropriate disappointed non-verbal gestures created by her absence.
But guys, we came with strawberry dessert! And we’re fun, too!
Real talk, though: I love that our friends love our daughter so much. It’s totally cool.
You think everything your child does is the mark of a genius
I’ve already tried to register her in advance for the ACT. Only partially kidding. Don’t want to miss out on Princeton early admission.
You try to shape your child’s likes and dislikes
I’m convinced Caroline loves Florida Georgia Line. It often plays on the HomePod, and she always laughs and smiles when the band’s music plays.
I’m sure it has nothing to do with her dad’s terrible singing and goofy faces he’s making at her.
I can only hope she loves UK basketball when she grows up, just so we can avoid an awkward family rift with my mother and her “T.”
When is too early to introduce wildcat stuffed animal to her crib?
Speaking of Grandparents, They’re Obsessed
I knew we would one day have to schedule play dates with Caroline and other children. What I didn’t think about was that from the day she was born, we would need to schedule frequent play dates for her grandparents. Caroline is the first grandchild for both my parents and Chelsea’s parents. The love was instant and deep.
Just look at my dad’s behavior at my mother’s birthday party last weekend. Remember the opening to “The Lion King” in which Rafiki presents Baby Simba to the tribe for approval? It was similar to that when Chelsea and I arrived–late, of course. My dad instantly removed her from the car seat and presented her to various groups at the party for their amazement and approval. It was funny to watch. Guests at the party inside the house were also treated to a Caroline slideshow–on loop–if they left the TV idle for more than a few minutes.
Charlie Cox is an English teacher at Mercer County Senior High School