The other night, I witnessed an interaction between my child and her father. My husband had fallen asleep with his hand on my stomach. Our child had long since quieted down after her nightly aerobic routine, settling into some cozy nook of my abdominal cavity. Suddenly, a novel gesture: Her tiny hand, directly below my belly button, began gently tapping my husband's hand.
These were not random displays of physical competence; they had purpose. They began under his palm and then radiated to his thumb. I was now wide awake, and I knew my child was getting to know her father. But before I could wake my husband, the nudges ceased. While my family slept that night, my thoughts kept my own slumber at bay.
My husband and I met while working abroad, and I found myself powerless against his charm, his intellect, and his accent. We got married almost immediately and decided to move to the Philadelphia area to be near my family. Upon arrival, his university diploma was effectively invalidated, and his successful career in South Africa's national police force vaporized. It seemed all measures of his competence from birth to that date were declared null and void for the sole reason that they were issued by foreign parties.
The American dream tarnished rapidly, and permanently. It was heart-wrenching to see my husband's eyes, formerly gleaming with purpose, swiftly dulled. Each path seemed beset by faceless bureaucrats who would pick him up mid-stride and place him back at the starting line, over and over again.
But my husband dug in his heels. When businesses wouldn't hire him because of his lack of experience in the United States, he started his own. He found a university that would accept at least some of the credits he earned abroad and began spending evenings relearning such delights as the Pythagorean theorem.
It wasn't long before he decided the National Guard would satisfy his imperative to be called upon in times of need, as well as offer his family the stability he had been unable to provide. His training begins in a week, and he will return to us when his little girl is 3 months old.
Months ago, I began recording the sound of my husband's voice on my phone to play each night at bedtime. I took dozens of photos to plaster all over our daughter's nursery walls so she could get to know her father's features. Since he would not be present for her birth or the few months following, I worried about how well they would bond upon his return.
The night she nudged her father's hand while he was sleeping, those fears fell away. We all know whom we can depend on. For this country, one of those people is now my husband. And he is finally able to give his family what he has been yearning to give: the best of himself, without limitations.
I learned that night that my unborn child had long since known he would look after her when she decides to join us outside the womb. She knew this as instinctively as she now kicks her little legs and stretches and yawns in her rapidly shrinking cocoon.
He is leaving in a week, but I no longer fret over their reunion. When he returns one day in early fall, she will recognize his touch. She will remember the night their fingertips first met, and she will know he is her father.
Then, perhaps, her mother might get a little sleep.
Megan Ritchie is a freelance writer and photographer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.