Tallulah fails to welcome her new sibling.

Notes on fatherhood.
April 22 2002 5:23 PM

Sister Trouble

Tallulah fails to welcome her new sibling.

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The last place to recover from what they do to you in a hospital is a hospital. When Tabitha staggered down the hall from her delivery room to her recovery room, she left a place where people had cared for her so well that it brought tears to my eyes, and entered a place where she was a nuisance. You might think that people who work in hospital maternity wards have some special feeling for new mothers. You'd be wrong. Some of them enter the spirit of the occasion, and a few do it with obvious pleasure. But an astonishing number seem to resent any woman who has had the nerve to reproduce. To ensure that she thinks twice before she does it again, they bang bedpans against her door every 20 minutes, holler down the halls all hours of the night, ignore all her gentle requests, and, in general, exude the warmth and charm of an old Soviet border guard. "Oh, great, another fucking baby," I half-expected a few of them to say as they breathed their heavy sighs over my wife's pale, spent body. For all I know, this is sound hospital strategy. Certainly, the atmosphere in the recovery ward discourages anyone from staying longer than necessary. The patient remains on the premises just long enough for the hospital to collect the data it needs to prove to the courts that it didn't kill her. 

Anyway, the last time around there was no question about what I would do after our child was born: I'd curl up in a little ball in the chair beside my wife's hospital bed, protect her from the hospital staff, and pop down to the nursery every half-hour or so to make sure that Tallulah hadn't been sold on the black market. This time is different. This time I'm free to go; indeed, it is my duty to go. By default, I'm now in charge of family harmony. Which is to say, I'm supposed to fetch Tallulah from home, bring her to the hospital, and prove to her that her life, as promised, is now better than ever.

When baby-to-be Dixie was easier to love
When baby-to-be Dixie was easier to love

The past few months Tabitha ginned up what we both imagined a ruthlessly effective propaganda campaign to brainwash our 2-and-a-half-year-old into thinking that the arrival of Dixie, and the subsequent collapse in her share of parental attention, was actually in her interest. Out went Dr. Seuss and in came I'm a Big Sister! and Hush, Don't Wake the Baby. Each night Tallulah laid her head on her mother's swelling belly and engaged her imaginary sibling in loving conversation. A few weeks back, I even drove her over to the hospital, walked her through a play–by-play of the birth, and, to encourage her to think of this as a win-win situation, bought her a chocolate doughnut from the hospital vending machine.  

When I got home from the hospital, I found Tallulah as delighted as ever with life. "Daddy!" she cried as she freed herself from the baby sitter and threw herself into my arms. Then it dawned on her something was missing. "Where's Mama?" she asked.

"Mama had the baby!" I said. "A baby girl! You're a big sister!"

"But where is Mama?" She was no longer a happy, loving child. She was a personal injury lawyer taking a deposition.

"In the hospital! With Dixie!"

"I want my family back," she said.

"But now you have even more family. We have Dixie, too."

"I hate Dixie," she said. Then she howled and bared her teeth.

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