Posted Monday, May 10th, 2004
Pia Z. Ehrhardt
Last year, I thought I was pregnant. I was 43 and not thinking about having more children. My husband and I had our eleven-year-old son, Mike. I liked to sleep late and drink wine. We had talked about a second child, but I put it off because I was scared to love that way again. When people asked about “company for Mike” I said I was too old, too busy, I didn’t have the patience to start all over.
Every month, it's the same blood and muck moving through, but April I missed my period. Things seemed different. I knew the moment Mike was conceived, and I thought I felt this again. Mixed in with the night sweats, the terrors about Downs and spina bifida and heads filled with water, was a speck of hope. Happiness flickered in and out. I thought: Oh, shit, no, I can’t. And then, sure, I can do this again. When the test strip showed a negative my husband acted relieved, but looked sad, and I was, too. The baby would’ve been born in December. I would have been part of the crowd.
In 2002, three new babies were born in my family. My sister Faye had a little girl, Lucy, then my sister Sara had a son, Ryan, and my seventy-year old father and his new wife, Ann, had a boy, Gian-Carlo. She’s 37, I think. They said the baby was a surprise, but we sisters suspect the truth is that Ann wanted a child with him and he wished for a son after all these daughters. I saw Gian-Carlo a few hours after he was born and he looked right at me and dared me, his eyes saying, "You will love me, regardless, so give it up." When I see him I do. It’s the abstraction of him, thinking about him from a distance that’s hard to get used to. Our family seems to be bursting open and not in a way that could’ve been planned.
Christmas day we went to my mother’s first and before long the house was filled with all of the stuff that goes along with babies like binkies and bottles and rattles and chewed animals, portable cribs, jolly jump-ups, exer-saucers. The place was a mess. The den floor was covered in empty boxes and torn wrapping paper. Most of the toys and games had been opened by Mike. He banged away on a toy piano. Lucy was drinking a bottle, and Ryan cried in his dad’s arms, ready for a nap. They’re both crawling and they’d spent the morning following Mike everywhere. If he made faces or said goofy words, they laughed out loud, with these raucous, full-belly laughs they don't do for the rest of us. They want to win him over. Ryan knows Mike will give him the goods – Swank magazines and rap music, have him riding a bike with no hands. Lucy will flirt with him, sit in his lap and wish he weren’t related so she could kiss his mouth. That's how I felt about my Uncle Benny.
I was in the kitchen drinking wine with my sisters and mom. My parents had Sara and Faye when I was a teenager, so I was their surrogate mother. They hung on to me and I hung on to them. Now I get another chance to love these small sisters through their children.
I enjoy being an aunt. I can seduce my niece and nephew with leniency and mischief, because this is a delicious way to love. They’ll tell me about drunken nights, broken hearts. I will know the characters in their lives. I will be a character in their lives. Aunts can be sexy, raunchy, make mistakes with men, their hair color. My aunt is like this. Her blunders only open me up to love her more.
I have no idea how to be an easy-going mother. It feels like some version of me, but with rules. Tighter. As an aunt, I will feel better than myself, and trust my niece and nephew will grow up fine. You and me, baby, in the garage, to cry and confess and figure it out. Mistakes are good things, you’ll make plenty more. That’s how you learn.
I worry Mike won’t call me into the garage because he knows I’ll say too much, run it into the ground, figure out the magic trick from watching it too closely when how it’s done isn’t the point.
And what do I do with Gian-Carlo? What mutation is this? A half-sister to a brother with a thousand-mile age difference. I know how to be a sister to girls, oh yes. Sisters love, fight, scratch, make up, borrow the shirt, ruin the shirt, don’t replace the shirt, but I’ve never had a brother and now I do.
Our husbands joke about Gian-Carlo’s name. “Call him something for short,” they say. “Buster - so kids don’t beat him up at school.” We laugh, but hate them for being the first bullies in his life. We hope one day Gian-Carlo will kick ass, some half-brother-in-law ass.
After we left my mom’s house we went to my dad’s. Ann had made ham sandwiches and coconut cake, and my father served us coffee. Mike helped the babies open more presents, and he pushed Gian-Carlo’s new fire truck up and down the hall.
There’s a photograph on my desk from this day - the babies’ first Christmas. Ann took it while my father watched, his arms folded, grinning with delight. We're all on the sofa: daughters, sisters, mothers, aunts heaped together holding kids. The babies are laughing at all of the laughter. Everyone’s exhausted from so much visiting. Sara is cuddling Lucy; Faye has Ryan on one knee and Gian-Carlo on the other. I’ve pulled Mike onto my lap, taken advantage of all this confusion to hug him tight. I’m squashed and happy, in this safe and perfect place until I have to let him go.
The photo's been copied and circulated to everyone except my mother, which feels like a deceit. The front of her refrigerator is covered with pictures of our kids. Gian-Carlo isn’t her blood but he’s a baby. Everyone likes babies, don't they? Even embittered ex-wives? That's a test I don't want to give her.
There's another photograph she won't see of my father holding his son. He's an old man with chins and gray hair, spotted hands, but he's giggling, singing nonsense, and he's lovely doing this. It's so odd. The silly man in the picture is Gian-Carlo’s new dad.
I phoned my sisters the other day to touch base. Lucy was on her seventh ear infection of the year; she’s been taking steps on her own. Sara told me Ryan lets go when he stands, then remembers he can’t walk and falls over. He stacks blocks. And I called my dad and he told me Gian-Carlo puts the square peg in the square hole and loves to imitate his mother singing.
I look out the window of our den at Mike, certain and sorry that I won’t ever be pregnant on purpose again. I loved carrying him for those 40 weeks, knowing right where he was and what I was there to do.
He’s in the back yard with two neighborhood kids showing them how to throw a split-fingered fast ball. They take turns aiming for a target tacked to a pine tree. Balls go everywhere but there. Mike is laughing and has stopped to correct their grips and show these make-shift little brothers how it’s done.
Comments [post a comment]
Posted by jocelyn johnson on Tuesday, May 18th, 2004 at 12:12 PM
I enjoyed and related with this peice, its tangiable and well chosen details. Thanks.