She was a girl, to our apparent surprise, and we were even more surprised to realize just how surprised we were to find out that she was a girl. When Danny said, "It's a...girl?" I sat up and turned her towards me in disbelief. It was a girl? Really? I had a daughter? We had made something different? I have no idea why we were both sure that we were having a boy again but we truly just couldn't believe it. And we couldn't take our eyes off of her. I was utterly bewildered by the mere sight of her. She was so mellow and calm. Dainty and petite. I held her tightly as she peeked through the folds of a warm blanket that seemed to swaddle us both. She gazed at me like she loved me and I gazed back. Oddly, right along side the shock of finding out her gender, I felt as though I had seen her before. I felt as if I knew her. Like I knew her well. Tears streamed down my cheeks and onto hers and for some reason they wouldn't stop. I wasn't sad, I wasn't happy, I suppose I was just touched. I was simply overcome and I was so so in love. Her lips were red and perfectly pouty. Her dark hair was wavy and soft and her big brownish grey eyes were curious from the moment they opened. My beautiful Layla Liv had arrived.
It's true that you multiply your love rather than divide it when you have a second child, but it's also true that the love you have for each baby is very unique. There is no such thing as a generic mother-child love in my opinion and every smile, every word and every moment shapes each individual bond. My Lennon will truly always have my whole heart and somehow my Layla will always have it too. When Layla would wake up to eat in the middle of the night there were times when I was actually excited to hear her rustling around because it meant that I got to snuggle her and smell her and feel her heartbeat on my chest. Of course there were times when I literally moaned "nooooooo" and exhaustedly buried my face into my pillow but when I finally sat up to pluck her out of her sleeper I, more often than not, had a smile on my face. And when she started to smile back at me I wanted to reach for her a million times.
Ms. Layla was a bright spot, an answered prayer in a somewhat tumultuous time and she was the perfect distraction from the chaos that was the 2013 NFL season. From September to January Danny was continuously summoned to participate in various tryouts for teams around the nation, a process that was much more emotionally charged than we ever thought it would be. For every trip he went on he had to pack a suitcase as if he wasn't coming home until the end of the season, all while knowing that there was a good chance that he would be flying home the very next day. Before catching each flight he would scurry around the house and do things that I couldn't do without his help in my last trimester or while toting a newborn. I'd say, "Baby, set me up for success" and that was code for fill Lily's dog food container with a new 32lb bag, put Lennon's big, heavy toys in the garage from the backyard in case there's a storm while you're gone, prep the room next to our bedroom for Lennon because I don't want to sleep far from him while you're away. He had to kiss the kids (or Lennon and my belly) goodbye like he wouldn't see them for weeks just in case, and those kisses were always sad.
A typical Monday afternoon flight often got Danny to his destination well into the night and his "day" usually started only hours later. Tryouts were always accompanied by early mornings and long, invasive physicals. I once asked him if the constant X-rays and MRIs were safe and if it was ok to get so many back to back and he shrugged as if to say that they were the least of his worries. At each tryout Danny had to "try" to be exactly what the team he was visiting needed, without knowing at all what they were looking for. But really, in a league where 30 is geriatric, he had to try to be about 8 years younger than he was and that was always the hardest part. His age was a number that continuously worked against him in a huge way and it was frustrating that it was the only thing he couldn't do anything about. He tried to explain, to anyone that would listen, that although he had made it to 8 years in the NFL, two of the years he played were spent as a developmental player who didn't play in games on Sundays. He felt young and healthy and in the prime of his career, but it didn't seem to matter. His age would continue to negate workouts that were good enough to garner rave reviews from the coaches who lead him through them. It seemed to tip the scale against his favor even when he was the only tight end to catch every ball or the only one to do the right blocking footwork. Half of the teams he visited didn't end up signing anyone they brought in and simply said they were doing their "due diligence" in creating a call list in the case that someone got hurt. The other half signed young, inexperienced guys because of potential or a meaningless workout statistic. A good 40 yard dash. A high vertical jump. It was hard to accept that a few football related drills could outweigh actual football. The ticks of an old stop watch suddenly had more clout than game film, more clout than experience, more clout than leadership. The fifth time we heard, "Stay ready, you're our guy" we started to become numb to it all.
There were times when I asked Danny to consider throwing in the towel, to sign his retirement papers just so that the roller coaster ride would end. Just so that we could be in charge of our own destiny again and take misplaced power away from orange cones and punching bags. So that we could make plans further than a Sunday away because that was usually the day his agent would call him with news of another tryout. There were times when I wanted the NFL to just be a magical part of our past but there was no denying, when I watched Danny train, that football was still in his heart. The politics of the game had betrayed him, but the game itself was still as loyal as ever. After so many years it still made him smile. The field remained his sanctuary. So I tried hard to understand that he so badly wanted to rectify something that had gone wrong somewhere.
When Danny signed with the New York Giants in January we celebrated. We hugged, jumped up and down (well I jumped up and down), uncorked a "special occasion" bottle of champagne and even shed a tear or two. In the past we had reserved that kind of celebration for September when final rosters were announced but this year September felt incredibly irrelevant to us. We decided that we would prefer to move into the moment, unpack and make ourselves at home there rather than in limbo, again. We bought the babies Giants gear and told Lennon all about "The Big Blue" and the "G-men." There would be no waiting this year, there would be no superstition. This year, Danny didn't just sign a contract, this time, he didn't just join another team. This was incomparable. This was validation. This was a huge achievement in it's own rite. Getting signed after not playing one snap, one down, for an entire season was rare and special and it deserved to be recognize as such.
So here we are, one more time. And in this moment we have decided that this year is not about making plans. It's not about what if's or what then's and it's not about what now's. It's only about celebrating. It's only about controlling the things we can control and leaving the rest up to fate. Today none of the hard work, the sad goodbyes, the long flights were in vain. None of it was wasted, none of it was for nothing. And for that we are incredibly grateful. Grateful to the loyalty of football. Grateful to the New York Giants for giving a seasoned veteran a chance to prove that he still deserves to play the game that he loves at a high level. Grateful for the opportunity to get back on the roller coaster that we were asked to exit mid-ride. One that has as many loops as it has hills and dips. One that makes our stomachs rise up into our throats and hides our screams in the howl of the wind. Grateful for one more ride.