Friday, January 25, 2013

Two Lines, One Marriage

We had bought a few pregnancy tests in our marriage, so our “three hour tour” to Kroger was not the first time for either of us. 

This is how it usually went:  We would return from the store.  She would go into the bathroom.  Shut the door.  Silence.  I would wonder why it took her so long.  Silence.  I would begin thinking about home improvement projects in the hallway connecting the living room to the bathroom.  Silence.  I would calculate the square feet of the hallway connecting the living room to the bathroom.  Silence.  I would try to imagine hardwood floors in the hallway connecting the living room to the bathroom.  Silence.  Then, she would say, “Matt, will you come in here?”

I would walk in.

“Can you read this?  Is that one line or two?”

I would look.  Clearly one line.  No doubt about it.

“One line, babe.  We are not pregnant.”

We would both breathe a sigh of relief.

This time, she did all of that.  The silence, the asking me if I could read it.  Everything. 

“Can you read this?  Is that one line or two?”

I looked.  Clearly two lines.  No doubt about it.

“Two lines, babe.  We are pregnant.”

It was Sunday night.  Father’s Day, 2003.  That’s when I found out I was a father.  There was no time to rethink the situation or call a “do-over.”  No calling in sick, no excuses. This kid was coming and it was depending on us to be parents.  We were in the race now, the baton had been passed.  More importantly, our little child was depending on us to be married.   It had to be a full-on effort, requiring more maturity and love from both of us.

Sunday’s response to our “two lines” was brilliant, by the way.  She looked up at me and said, “We are pregnant.”

The wording here is important.  She said “we” are pregnant.  Not “I” am pregnant.  We are pregnant.  Whether I was ready or not, whether she was ready or not, we needed to get ready in a hurry.   The test was positive.  I believe we had the right answer from the beginning.  At that moment, in the bathroom, “we” meant three.  It didn’t matter that her parents divorced or that I had not thought about raising children as much as she had.  It didn’t matter that she had intuition and that I had none.  It didn’t matter that we never think alike and that we are totally different people with different backgrounds and different ideals.  It didn’t matter.   “We” were pregnant.  “We” had a positive test and “we” are pregnant.  (I had to repeat that to myself until, after about three or four months, I believed it)

Now, I bet you think I am trying to say that my body stretched and grew and hurt and warped like Sunday’s body.  I bet you think I am saying that my emotions were a wreck and that I had indigestion for months on end.  I bet you think I am saying that I had to use the restroom more times than a four-year-old at a Kool Aid guzzling contest. 

Well, I am not saying that.  This is what I mean:  Sunday had a baby growing inside her, but that did not mean that I was off the hook.  I needed to be fully involved, just in my own way.  I needed to become a better husband, a better lover, a better man.  I must.  Just as she is changing, so must I. 

It was natural for both of us to assume that this pregnancy, this baby, immediately impacted both of us.  “We” were now pregnant. It didn’t impact us in the same way, but it certainly changed our lives forever.  In a good way.  Forever.

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Trip to the Store

“Two are better than one…for if they fall, one will lift up his companion.” 
Ecclesiastes 4:9b & 10

 About a month into our “trying,” Sunday thought that we should go to the store together to purchase a test.  The idea behind purchasing a test was, of course, different for me and Sunday.  For Sunday, it was the true beginning, a time for us to start this marriage anew.  A time for us to bond, both as parents and as a married couple.  It was a time to share in this wonderful experience. 
For me, the trip to the store to buy a test was…a trip to the store to buy a test.  It was that and nothing more.  It was a check on the to-do list, a fifteen minute detour on the way to the movie rental place.  I didn’t consider the change in our lives this meant.  My mind wasn’t in it. 

I was going to discover that a “difference of opinion” was going to be constant.

Although we wanted to get the test, the Lord himself hid the test from us both.  Usually, items to be sold in a store are not hidden from the public.  But this pregnancy test was in the outermost corner of our local Kroger.  We took 45 minutes looking for this pregnancy test, while taking up the valuable time of the surly teenage checkout clerk we had asked to help us.  As we left the store, I didn’t care whether we were expecting or not.  I just never wanted to go looking for another test again.

By the time we got a movie and got home, Sunday and I both were silent.  I was still brooding over the unbelievable administrative breakdown in the Kroger store, and Sunday was thinking of our child. 

There are people who talk about “women’s intuition” being something that a man can never attain and never understand.  I used to get defensive about that.  I thought, “I can connect on that kind of level.  If I can’t, I am sure other men can.” 

That one trip to Kroger taught me something:  Sunday’s thoughts are drastically different from mine. 

We’re pretty good at being on the same wave length on many things, but pregnancy did not allow us to start at the same place.  For Sunday, having a child was a culmination of a lifetime of expectation.  No matter how you were raised—from tomboy to Southern belle—if you’re a girl, at some point someone asks about having children.  On top of that, girls actually pretend to nurture and care for small children.  The physical reality of having a uterus guaranteed that Sunday would be more prepared to handle this stuff.  Just mentioning the thought “trying” to have kids brought a deluge feelings and thoughts and expectations on her.  (To me, it meant sex).  She already carried the expectation of children with her when we got married.  

Not the same with me—I wasn’t thinking about children when we got married.  I used to pretend to blow up and destroy stuff.  Not quite “nurture and care.”  I went through most of my life without thinking about pregnancy or childbirth.  In fact, the closest I got to thinking about children was the act that produced them.    

Sure, we’d had conversations about our child rearing philosophies and goals.  Sunday’s input was based on years of reflection and thought.  My responses showcased my ability to make up answers on the fly. 

From the start, this pregnancy was headed for head-aches.  It wasn’t going to be easy.  And I wasn’t paying attention.  We were a train wreck waiting to happen. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Conversation

By the time I had The Conversation with Sunday, my wife, five years had passed since we got married, and I had entered graduate school.  Sunday and I were living in a small apartment trying to cover bills.   I was struggling finish a race I’d already started, with people around me screaming that I was going too fast.  As with most students, we didn’t have piles of cash, waiting to be spent.  In fact, finding enough loose change around the apartment to buy a cup of coffee became a cause for celebration. 

In the midst of this lifestyle, we had The Conversation.  If you’ve never had The Conversation, I really can’t explain it to you, except to say, “It’s like bronchitis.”  For me, it burned my chest a little, taking my breath and making me a little dizzy. It brought on a fever.  Really scary stuff, mainly because I am the kind of person who likes to know how to do something before doing it.

I didn’t know how to be a Dad when we got pregnant.  Even though my Dad is great and he exemplified fatherhood, I still couldn’t understand what it’s like to be someone’s Dad.   In fact, I panicked a little when I found out that Sunday was “ready” to have kids. 

From the beginning, she had been the reasonable member of the family.  She knew that we needed a few years together in order to “form a more perfect union,” to steal from the Founding Fathers.  She knew that plopping a baby in the middle of our new marriage would have been disastrous.  (It was tough enough without another immature person in the room.)

After five years of marriage, I had developed a rhythm in my life.  I thought I was running my race the best way I could. 

There I was, working toward goals, loving my wife, and working on becoming a better human being.  I was in the middle of graduate school, trying to make sense of my purpose in life, trying to become the person I thought God had made me to be and then BAM it happened. 

My wife and I had The Conversation. 

It went a little something like this:

Wife:  Honey. 

Me:  shemfneosnrk

Wife:  Honey, wake up.

Me:  It’s two in the morning.  What can’t wait for another four or five hours?

Wife:  Oh, nothing.  Go back to bed.

(You don’t actually believe that, do you?)

Me:  I promise I am awake and I am listening.  

This is the point where I should have pretended to be asleep.  I wasn’t ready for the next conversation.  I wasn’t ready for what she was about to tell me or how I was supposed to react.  I just wasn’t ready.  That’s my excuse.  I didn’t get the study notes.   There was no manual or guidebook for this next step.  I wasn’t ready. 

You could probably talk to her and she’d tell you something totally different, like we’d had this conversation before.  Or that she and I had always planned on children.  Or that I looked like such a great father, especially when I was playing with our nieces and nephews.  She woke me in the middle of the night to tell me that she wanted to “start trying to have children.”  (Translation of “start trying to have children”:  She stops taking the pill and starts wanting to have sex as much as I do). 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Introduction

“That which has been is what will be, and that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”  Ecclesiastes 1:9

In the fall of 1970, my father sat alone, listening to the radio, studying in his home office.  He was in graduate school and he was listening to the song “He Ain’t Heavy” and thinking about his brother and when he’d be coming home from Viet Nam.  For the uninformed, “He Ain’t Heavy” talks about one man carrying another man out of danger, saying, “He ain’t heavy; he’s my brother.” 

Over thirty years later, I sat in an eerily similar situation.  I, like my father, was in graduate school, and I was studying and I was listening to another “war song,” only of my generation.  The song “Letters from Home” sparked my imagination—what my brother was doing, how his day was going, and when he’d be coming home.  

These blog posts began as an effort to describe for my brother, Joe, what his nephew was doing.  Joe left for a seven-month cruise (courtesy of the United States Navy) a month before my son Jonah was born.  Joe left without knowing how the birth went, how we were parenting and what Jonah himself looked like.  Much of this text was written in email form, allowing Joe to live and experience a little what we were living and experiencing.   My emails were an attempt to provide “Letters from Home,” but I hoped that they would, in a sense, carry Joe out of the danger he was in. 

Those two men—my father in 1970 and me in 2004—combined to write this blog.  By “combined,” I don’t mean co-authored.  We didn’t collaborate, mainly because my father of 1970 is long gone—he wasn’t even a father then—and the me of 2004 is certainly changed.  No, I didn’t write this with his collaboration, but I certainly wrote it with my Dad’s help. My Dad told me stories about his life and about his father and I want to continue that practice with my son.  I want him to be able to read and to understand what happened before he could read and understand.  I also wanted him to know that his Dad isn’t perfect, and that I wasn’t born a Dad, because that’s the same message I got from my Dad.   

I look around, and those stories, passed down from father to father, are rare.  People have hazy, often negative, memories of their parents and I don’t want that for my son.  I want him to know that I’m human and that I had a Dad that I could depend on.  Just like he has a Dad he can depend on.   If he becomes a father one day, I want him to be able to remember the things he’s heard.  Just like I remembered the things I heard.