He totally earned it. During my pregnancy and childbirth, this guy did everything - EVERYTHING - he could to help me. If I asked him to read a book about a drug-free childbirth so we could discuss it, he read it cover to cover. If I wanted to make a 17th trip to Babies R Us to work on the registry, he hardly grumbled at all. If I needed a big pillow to help my hips stop hurting at night, he got me a really big damn pillow. He was an excellent pregnant lady's husband.
Then Mia was born. And I watched him melt into doting father. The first night we all spent in the hospital together, Sal basically hadn't slept since two nights before. But after Mia and I fell asleep in the darkened room, he kept himself awake for hours by reading a book near the glow of the laptop screen. He wanted Mia and I to rest, but he also wanted to be alert in case we needed him.
The next day, he dashed home to tidy up the house because he knew I would hate bringing Mia home to the mess we left when I went into labor. He even made me that awesome banner that made me burst into tears when we walked in the door! Remember?!
For the first month after Mia was born, Sal kept the household running smooth as clockwork, buying groceries and cooking delicious healthy meals, washing dishes, clothes and countertops. He made it so that the only thing I had to worry about was taking care of Mia.
Then one night our new family got sucker-punched right in its happy little face. At around 2 a.m., I got up to feed the baby and discovered Chickens sitting alone in the dark nursery, not moving and looking very frightened. When we touched him, he yelped and cried. And his back legs were very weak. We rushed him to an emergency vet clinic, where they gave him fluids and immobilized him in a crate. But his paralysis grew worse by the hour until he had no sensation or movement in his back legs at all. At 11 a.m. the next day, we consented to a costly and invasive spinal surgery. And over the next several months, as you likely read here, we helped Chickens recover from that horrible injury.
Except it wasn't so much "we" as "he." After Chickens came home from the hospital, most of the family pretty much fell apart. Mia was spiraling into her 6-weeks-long colicky phase, and Chickens barked and cried around the clock over being confined to his crate. And me, I was a hormonal, sleep-deprived disaster.
But my husband, he doesn't fall apart. Not ever. He stayed calm and reassuring, handling the post-op Chickens with endless patience and love. When Chickens stopped eating because his pain meds were making him feel sick, Sal gently coaxed him to eat grains of rice from his hand. To keep Chickens from crying all night, he slept on the couch for weeks and weeks - and even spent a couple naps on the floor beside the cage. Sal also kept me from going to pieces, taking plenty of shifts with screaming Mia, figuring out how we'd pay for the surgery, and reminding me over and over again of tiny signs of hope we saw that Chickens would someday walk again.
He is our family's very own superhero, and we could not have done this without him.
So! Even though he is now the father of an actual human child, I wanted to get him something special from Chickens. I commissioned a portrait of him from watercolor artist Rachael Rossman, whom I learned about from this post on Dooce. Rachael used pictures from this blog as her inspiration, and I think you'll agree that the piece turned out beautifully.
My dad likes to say that Chickens often looks like he's feeling concerned about you, and I think Rachael totally captured that. And also, of course, his natural movie-star handsomeness.
But the story doesn't end there, as many of you already know. The artist told me she was thinking about entering Chickenbone's portrait into the 2010 Dog Art Wine Label Contest sponsored by Mutt Lynch Winery and Dog Art Today, and would I be OK with that? (Answer: "Uh, OF-FREAKING-COURSE I WOULD!") So she asked readers of her blog to decide which of three portraits she should enter. I secretly reached out to friends, family, colleagues and even my online moms group, and everybody flooded the site with votes for Chickens, making him one of 77 contestants in the contest. Again, the vote was thrown out to the masses, and again, my peeps came through, launching Chickens into the top 10 finalist group. Thrilling!
Then the winemaker and founder of Dog Art Today picked the winner, and it was not Chickenbone. Still, it was loads of fun to finally be able to tell Sal this whole story on Sunday. And I think - I hope - that all this made him feel as loved and appreciated as he is. For being a rookie dad, he is damned good at it.