Recalculating: On Changing Family Dynamics

I was eating a chocolate chocolate chip muffin. You know: the giant, super-dense Wal-Mart bakery ones that are roughly the size of your head. I strolled into the bathroom and casually cast a glance at the pregnancy test I’d taken a few minutes prior, just for fun. My mostly untouched, delicious baked good bounced off the tile floor as that wholly unanticipated word flashed across the screen, digital and unmistakable: PREGNANT.

If destiny had drafted a road map of my life, this was certainly an unexpected detour. Sam and I had been happily married for two years and had just started getting our sea legs: we’d both gotten high-paying jobs right out of college, I’d just received a huge promotion, and we were still settling into a sprawling ranch with a pool and a huge backyard in a cozy suburb of Phoenix. A baby, something we’d both vehemently maintained we did not want [ever], was not part of the plan. In the grand tradition of Me Saying Things I Probably Shouldn’t On the Internet, I’ll admit that we spent about four tear-filled days debating back and forth whether we could, or should, have this baby- and for a not-insignificant portion of those days, the vote tended to swing towards “no”. As the fog of shock began to lift and we tried to imagine a life where we were tasked with keeping a small person alive, all of the images of international exploits, of lavish vacations and boozy backyard pool parties began to ripple and dissolve, mirage-like, right before our eyes, replaced with sleepless nights, morning sickness, and more than one 4am trips to the ER with a mostly-fine baby girl, just in case.

Recalculating, intoned the GPS in my head, as the trajectory of our lives took a slight right, exiting the freeway to DINK-dom and driving on towards parenthood on a pockmarked road that stretched endlessly [and I do mean endlessly] toward the horizon.

Almost three and a half years later life looks a lot different. The road map we had been following by now functions more like an Etch-a-Sketch: branches and forks, like lightning, streaking across the face, only to be shaken into oblivion moments later, started again. Another pregnancy test, another [slightly more expected] positive result, and the road veered right again.

By time Pax arrived, I’d read all the books, knew all the usual suspects to anticipate, all the ways he would disrupt Theory's world and all the ways I would be broken down again: potty training regression [check], mom guilt vis-à-vis the decreased time and energy I had to devote to my oldest [check], sleep deprivation, hormones gone haywire, and a toddler who is rebelling as if her life depends on it [check, check, and double check]. I had my internal GPS locked and loaded, and felt for once that I knew where I was headed, what I was up against. And while all of those things have obviously come to fruition, right on time, according to the [less-than-ideal] plan, it has also been…different. Twists and turns that weren’t originally part of the route have sprung up out of nowhere, and where I thought I’d be prepared, I’ve once again found myself feeling lost.

Almost two years ago, I was gifted one of my most prized possessions: a laser-cut silhouette of my precious firstborn child’s chubby profile. In that time, I’ve taken it off only twice and it’s become a sort of talisman; if I’m scared, or stressed, or any other unwelcome feeling, I run my fingers over its tiny gold face and, if not brave, it makes me feel at least determined enough to keep moving. On towards the horizon. In those frenzied first moments of my labor with Pax, I rubbed my fingers across my throat absentmindedly and whispered a preemptive apology to that golden silhouette. I’ll be needing you tonight, I thought.

 

In the hazy post-labor fog of a dark hospital room, a thought, unbidden, flitted across my drug-addled brain and the shock and shame came on faster than the contractions had hours before. In the entire ten hours of labor, in those moments when my world seemed to be ripping apart at the seams and I was frantically clawing at the fabric of it for any semblance of comfort I could find, I hadn’t touched that necklace once, because for the first time in three years, it wasn’t about her. It was about me, and him, and the battle we were in, working with and against each other at the same time, pushing and pulling one another toward the same inexorable outcome…and there was no room for thoughts of my girl, a concept that would have seemed completely absurd when the sun rose that morning, but in the quiet hours of the night, with him in my arms, was a heavy, painful truth bearing down on my chest [I’ll assume the aching in my lower abdomen was due to, y’know…all the childbearing].

Recalculating, recalculating. This was completely new territory.

In those same inky hours of the night, with only the nurses popping in hourly to disrupt us, I fell completely in love with this tiny, wrinkly boy, bruised forehead, misshapen noggin and all. It was easier, faster than it had been with her, not because he’s any more lovable, but because it felt familiar- because she taught me how. Ah, here you are, my heart sighed to him in the quiet. I’ve been waiting for you. That voice that I longed to hear when Theory was unceremoniously dropped onto my stomach, the soupy muck of fresh human filling my belly button, was here, hiding in the darkness, assuring me that he was mine. She had taught me that: that in the quiet, if you listen right, the certainty comes.

The road rose up in front of us, started, vaguely, to look familiar again. I still need directions, am still a little afraid [and a lot overwhelmed], navigating this road I had never imagined traveling. Even only two weeks in to this new adventure, I understand just how much things have changed, how catastrophically off-course we’ve been blown. But we’re taking the scenic route. Things will be fine; we’ll figure it out. We just need to do a little recalculating.


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