Volume 4, Issue 94: Soldier Child
"So good to see you."
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This Tuesday, my oldest son William is going to turn 12 years old. I walked around this planet as a non-parent for 36 years, and now have been a parent for 12. I’ve had formative experiences in my life, moments I was never the same after than I had been before, but any parent can tell you that nothing dislodges the ground under your feet more than your first child being born does. I remember being on the phone outside the hospital shortly after William was born, talking with my mom back in Illinois, and being astounded by how differently I felt about everything.
“It’s wild how much you love him already, isn’t it?” my mom said.
“I mean, I don’t even know anything about him, and I’d jump in front of traffic for him,” I said, maybe, I don’t know, I’d been awake for a very long time.
Two days after William was born, when he and my wife were released from the hospital, we called a cab to take us all home to Brooklyn, because that’s what you do in New York City with your two-day-old when you don’t have a car and neither does anyone you know: You just call a freaking cab. God bless our cab driver, a Sudanese man of infinite patience whom I would never see again, who helped me lock in William’s car seat and strap him in as my wife was wheeled out of the hospital. Once we got him in, he patted William on the head: “He is a beautiful boy.”
I sat in the front seat next to him, as he drove as carefully as he ever had in his life. I looked in the back seat at that boy, so tiny, dozing away, as he was swept through the streets of Manhattan, the day before Thanksgiving—we went right by the Snoopy balloon on the way home. I remember seeing threats everywhere, every other car on the road a potential assault on this perfect, vulnerable human being in the car seat, completely helpless and entirely reliant on me to protect him. When we finally made it out to Brooklyn, the cab driver helped us carry him the four flights up to our apartment. When he and I made it back downstairs, I hugged him.
But you know what I remember most about the last moments before my son was born? I remember the paparazzi.
At 2:20 a.m. on November 21, 2011, my wife woke me up to let me know her water had broken. My response, she insists, was “you’ve got to be shitting me.” She was not. We had a plan, of course: We’d spent days and days going over it, like all first time parents do. (I do not remember either of us being so diligent for the birth of Wynn two-and-a-half years later.) Our hospital was St. Luke’s-Roosevelt, in Columbus Circle, Manhattan, which is why we’d later see all the Thanksgiving floats on our first days as parents. (This hospital has since closed, though I’m pretty sure it wasn’t our fault.) Everything was prepared. The to-go bags were packed, the texts were sent out to the relevant friends and family, the call was made to the doctor, who of course didn’t answer. We were responsible, obsessive, first-time parents: We were leaving nothing to chance.
Today we would have an UberXL completely locked in, but then we just hailed a cab heading down Amity and tried to look totally normal, everything’s-fine-here at 3 a.m. with bloodshot eyes and our hearts beating out of our chests. (Without getting into any gory details, let’s just say I tipped a massive amount in case he required any, uh, cleanup afterwards.) We traveled across the Brooklyn Bridge, the city still sleepless and clamoring, looking out the window, knowing this was it, that after this everything would be different, that the next trip back to Brooklyn would feature a whole other, brand new human being in the car. I remember it being silent except for a pop station lightly playing on the radio in the cab. It felt a little like that scene in Saving Private Ryan, where the platoon knows the Germans are coming and the battle will begin soon, but still has a little time left to listen to music and think about how the tanks are coming soon and the world’s about to explode.
We began to gather ourselves as we approached the hospital. Bags? Ready. Insurance? All set. Paperwork? Ready to go. The driver, who at this point looked pretty eager to have us out of his car, turned the corner toward the hospital and began to pull into the dropoff circle.
And then we saw them.
It was a row of photographers, all sitting against the wall in the middle of the night, smoking cigarettes and looking bored—until they saw the cab approach. They all seemed to stand at once, synchronized as if by remote control, and got their cameras locked and ready. One guy, presumably the alpha of this little pack, scurried himself into position, bending down on one knee and lining up the shot of the guy who was about to get out of the back seat of the cab. Who was me.
I was confused in about seven different ways. Why were there photographers taking pictures of us as we were about to have our first child? Was this just something that happened in New York, like, a Jostens sort of situation, like getting your family picture taken at the mall? Or maybe Deadspin was even more popular than I had even thought? Nerd Midwestern Blogger Procreates.
I secured all the bags, paid the cab driver and, after a deep breath, opened the car door. The photographer saw me and, instantly, he frowned. He turned around and waved to the other paps behind him: False alarm, it’s a nobody. They then went back to the wall, sat down, lit their cigarettes, stared into the distance. I hope they had somewhere to go that Thanksgiving.
Meanwhile, the last thing I saw before I entered the building where I would become a father and everything in my life would be forever different was a photographer annoyed that I wasn’t someone more important.
About 24 hours later, once William had entered the world and we all, very briefly, had our wits back about us, I thought back about the paparazzi who greeted us at the front steps of St. Luke’s-Roosevelt. Why were they there? Who did they think we were? Why did they have to look so actively disappointed?
I found the answer. It turns out: Weeks before, the publicists for Beyonce and Jay-Z had leaked to the paparazzi that the pop diva would be giving birth at St. Luke’s, and therefore they had stationed out there on a 24-hour watch, ready for the moment when the power couple would arrive to welcome their first child to the world. They weren’t disappointed to see me. They were just disappointed that I was not Beyonce or Jay-Z. I suppose I can live with that. I’m pretty disappointed I’m not Beyonce myself.
It turned out that the leak was a false flag: Beyonce’s and Jay-Z’s daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, would not be born until January 2012, and they actually rented out an entire floor of Lenox Hill Hospital for $1.3 million for Blue Ivy’s birth. There turned out to be no paparazzi shots of the couple arriving at the hospital.
I have always joked with William that he is now on the clock: All of his successes moving forward will be measured against Blue Ivy’s.
Blue Ivy Carter appeared in a Jay-Z video merely two days after her birth, which briefly featured her gurgling and crying and ended up reaching the Billboard charts, making Blue Ivy the youngest person to ever chart, at two days. (That’s going to be a tough record to beat.) Since then, she has narrated writer Matthew A. Cherry’s children’s book Black Hair, been parodied on “Saturday Night Live” and won a Grammy.
Happy 12th birthday, William. You better get on it. You’re already falling behind.
All these years later, I have always wondered if any of those paps accidentally snapped a shot of me. There would be something amazing about it: A capture of the exact moment when everything about my life and world and value set altered forever. Everything before that second was different than everything that happened after it. That’s surely not what that paparazzo had in mind when he showed up outside that cab. But he couldn’t possibly have captured anything more eventful than what he did.
And I’m sure, at 3 a.m. in that cab, I looked great.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.
Bill Belichick Is About to Get Fired and No One Cares, New York. I have no idea why some pieces get popular and others don’t. This one got around everywhere, and I’m clueless as to why. I mean, it’s fine! It’s a perfectly fine piece. But not any more or less than any other one. Twenty years in, and I’ll never understand this stuff.
MVPs, Ranked, MLB.com. Updated with the two new winners.
I Reviewed Two Books About Michael Jordan and Michael Jordan for the WSJ, The Wall Street Journal. The books are Jumpman and Magic. You can guess which are about which player.
I Wrote Two Pieces for the World Series Program, MLB Publications. You should buy it and read them!
Ten Teams That Need a Title Most in 2024, MLB.com. Probably weird that I’m already ready for baseball to start.
Ranking the BBWAA Races, MLB.com. None of them were that hard this year.
Grierson & Leitch, we discussed “The Marvels,” “The Holdovers” and “Albert Brooks: Defending My Life.”
Waitin' Since Last Saturday, we reviewed the Mississippi game and previewed the Tennessee game.
LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK
“Can't the Horse Race Journalists Start Speculating on Trump's Convictions?” Ross Barkan, Political Currents. A smart piece on a site full of them.
ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!
This is your reminder that if you write me a letter and put it in the mail, I will respond to it with a letter of my own, and send that letter right to you! It really happens! Hundreds of satisfied customers!
Write me at:
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603
CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
“Angry,” Rolling Stones. I agree with Steven Hyden: The new Rolling Stones album is good, and this song—like several others on this album, including the one with Paul McCartney on it—is “enjoyably stupid.” It’s a very listenable album!
I know this is two Stones songs in a row, but I only had one on the playlist before, so now I’m catching up.
Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.
Yesterday was Barrow Dash day at my son Wynn’s school, which meant it was time for The Return of Dashman. He had a new costume this year.
18.37 miles and 24 hours later, everything still hurts.
Also, congratulations to my friend and podcast co-host Bernie Miklasz, who is being inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame this weekend. I can’t fathom anyone more deserving. I’m honored to be your colleague, and your friend.
Have a great weekend, all.