When Joy Becomes Panic: The Drive Home from the Hospital

drivingI was one of the last holdouts among my guy friends to have a kid. One thing they all warned me about at one point or another was that the warm, fuzzy, and joyous feelings that we men have in the hospital change when it comes to strapping the baby into the car seat and climbing behind the wheel. A sense of fear and a deep desire to protect that new baby in the backseat will completely consume the drive home, and it will come with a fierceness not felt before.

Now that I have driven two babies home from the hospital, I can confirm that something inside a father — or mother — snaps into existence during that first drive.

Addie’s first drive home happened in the winter with freezing temperatures outside. The night before we were scheduled to drive her home from the hospital, I went out to the car, cleaned it out, and made sure the car seat base was properly installed. That first drive home needed to be smooth and perfect with as few distractions as possible. Because of the cold, I even started the engine to make sure the heater still worked, because I wasn’t going to drive my new baby home in a freezing, cold car.

The next morning as we were about to leave, I headed out to the car 20 minutes before it was time to go, and I started the car to make sure there was no chance that it would be cold when it came time to take Addie to the car. I then pulled the car around to the hospital door where Casey would be wheeled out in her hospital wheelchair by the nursing staff, and I headed inside to get my girls.

After a rather stern lesson from the nurse about my poor attempt of strapping my kid into her car seat for the first time, I carried Addie out to the car and got her seat snapped into its base in the car. I triple checked to make sure that seat could not come unsnapped from its seat base that had been securely fastened to the back seat of the car. I even messed around with the buttons a little bit to make sure that my 3-day-old baby couldn’t unintentionally hit some kind of an emergency ejection button. After checking my mirrors at least a dozen times, I slowly pulled out into the hospital parking lot and headed towards the exit. Maintaining a speed of at least 8 miles per hour under the speed limit, I drove onto the on-ramp of the interstate and began the long drive home.

For the first 10 minutes of the drive, there were no incidents. Traffic was still a bit thin and because I was driving slower than everybody else, I stayed to the right away from the faster traffic, but eventually we came to a busy exit that forced the faster traffic over into my right lane. A man who looked to be in his mid-40s pulled up to within thirty feet or so of my back bumper and for the first time in my life I raised my arm and saluted that mid-40s man with a famous and stern middle-finger salute. The guy immediately backed off and there were no other incidents on the way home (I’ve always felt bad about that middle finger salute, by the way; the more I think about that day the more I realize how unwarranted it was).

A week or so later I pulled out that middle finger salute one more time — that guy deserved it though.

Driving Vivi home was just as nerve-racking as it was with Addie, but Vivi’s drive home was much shorter and with very little traffic. It’s not part of my character to flip someone the bird, but when I thought my family was in danger, things changed and my reaction was almost instinctual. That instinct to protect my kids hasn’t gone away, but it manifests itself in different ways. People who pull up too close to my bumper with my kids in the car still make me nervous and I still have that urge to do something, anything to get them to back off, but instead of flipping the bird I slow down or move over so the car can get around me. That parental instinct doesn’t just exist in the world of driving, either, it also comes to the surface when Addie comes home from school or from playing in the neighborhood and complains about  the actions of a bully, which is especially difficult to deal with because as a parent I can’t go right to the root of the problem–the bully. Those protective feelings don’t even have to be associated with the actions of others. Every single time I hear Vivi walking down the stairs in our house I mentally take note of my surroundings so I will know the best and fastest way to get up from the couch and dash to the stairs to catch her should Vivi begin tumbling down those stairs. And it doesn’t matter what else is going on in the room at that time, because the panic that Vivi could fall down the stairs and land on the hard wood floor below is almost too much for me to handle. It all makes me wonder, though, how far a parent’s subconscious will go to protect his/her kids. Hopefully I never have to find out.

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