Despite everything that happened over the past several months, the bottom line was this: they were getting a grandchild. And although the circumstances surrounding this fact were suspect, they were finally getting what they always wanted.
They already told her parents. That was the easy part. It was now time to turn their attention to the hard part: his parents.
He first received the news while driving on the 401 in Ontario, Canada, en route to an impromptu ski trip with co-workers who dared him to be spontaneous and join them. It wasn’t so much that they were desperate for his company, as it was that they were in desperate need for a third party to help offset the cost of the room. It was three days before Christmas.
“Why would you go skiing so close to Christmas?” his mother demanded to know the night before he left in her usual concerned, paranoid fashion.
“Why not?,” he said, echoing the same refrain used by his co-workers. “I’ll be home for Christmas. I don’t see what the problem is.”
“What if you get hurt for Christmas?”, his mother continued to press.
“If both my arms are broken, I’m sure somebody would help me open my presents,” he said, realizing that her concerns were legitimate, considering he had never skied before and was a natural klutz.
“Don’t forget, you’re supposed to dress up as Santa this year,” she said, in reference to the dozen or so nieces and nephews under the age of 10 that he was expected to hand gifts to at the family Christmas gathering.
“If I get hurt, Tony can do it.”
“He doesn’t fit in the suit anymore.”
“Then he should realize that if you’re too fat to play Santa, then you should probably go on a diet.”
His promised his mother that he was going to be fine, even though he knew this could very turn out to be a lie.
“Just be careful,” she said, hoping the concern in her voice would be enough to get him to change his mind. “And don’t forget to bring an appetizer to Aunt Rosemary’s.”
“I won’t,” he said, zipping up his suitcase. And with that, he was off. He was driving alone, since the other members of his party planned on an extended stay through Christmas. He knew that his family would never forgive him if he ditched them on Christmas.
He wasn’t exactly thrilled that he had to drive alone, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Three hours into his trip, his girlfriend was calling. He grew immediately concerned. Due to roaming charges, they both agreed to only call in the case of an emergency and to rely on e-mail for communication. The subsequent phone bill proved that this was a wise decision. But in hindsight, the monster bill was well worth it.
“Hello?” he said, trying to mask the concern in his voice.
“Is everything okay?”
“Congratulations. You’re going to be a daddy!”
“Wait. What?,” he said, still trying to process the information
“I’m pregnant. At least, according to two pregnancy tests.” He was filled with a confusing cocktail of emotions, both totally aware and unaware that in that exact moment, his life changed forever – even more so than it had since his divorce finalized just three months prior.
Prior to the call, he had just been thinking something that she said the night before when she announced that she was late – something that startled every fiber of his being.
“I suppose if I was pregnant, you’re probably thinking that I would automatically want to go the whole family route.” In his mind, that’s exactly the way he saw it. There was only one natural choice in this matter. But it was obvious she felt otherwise.
“What are you saying,” he eked out.
“I’m just saying that if I am pregnant, that doesn’t automatically mean I’m going to jump into a marriage now or anytime soon. It doesn’t mean we aren’t going to be together. It just means I don’t think we should automatically get married, especially considering how are last marriages worked out.
Although this was meant to comfort him, it did very little to do so. Nor did this: “The only thing I’m clear on right now is that I will be the mother. And you’ll be the father. And we’ll see where we go from there.”
Little did she know that he had actually been praying for this exact thing to happen. Deep down, he knew that his prayers were likely to fall on deaf ears. Prayer doesn’t automatically transform one’s internal biology. But he figured it couldn’t hurt. And quite likely, this would probably turn out to be a false alarm, anyway.
As much as her words hurt, he couldn’t completely dismiss her point. It was true. They were both recovering from failed marriages. In fact, her divorce wasn’t even finalized yet (some would argue her marriage was over before it even began). And even though he was confident they could be different, they had already gone through enough drastic changes over the past several months to last a lifetime.
If they both learned one thing over the course of the past year, nobody can predict anything no matter how much they try.
In their minds, the previous clichéd notion that life changes in heartbeat became reality. In every conceivable way. Life truly can change in an instant, even though it rarely ever feels that way. And this sudden change validated everything they had done to get to this point, making everything they sacrificed and risked to get here worth it.
It was hard to believe that just one year ago at this time, they were still in their previous, joyless/abusive marriages. His was a matter of emotional and physical abuse. Hers was simply a matter of joyless neglect. But abuse all the same, especially when alcohol was involved, which was increasing in frequency. Although they had worked together for five years, they didn’t get to know each other until about a year ago, when the floodgate of fate opened, turning their lives upside down with no end in sight. Their connection was immediate. Then came the first kiss. Then it was all downhill. Or uphill, depending on one’s point of view. Both of them knew they wanted to be together more than anything. But neither one of them knew if they had the courage to get out of their soul-destructive marriages – marriages that many would have argued should have ended a long time ago. For him, it was the taboo of divorce, compounded by the lingering perception of a fairy tale romance, which had everything to do with how they met and little to do with the marriage itself. For her, it was being resigned to a marriage of mediocrity, in its infinite forms. For years, it seemed as though no amount of abuse or neglect could rescue them from the trap that had become their lives. Both knew where they wanted to be, but it was getting there that presented the greatest challenge. But over time, the clarity prevailed and they did what was necessary to be together, never fully realizing just how much pain and regret lied ahead, despite the overall happiness they had never felt to this degree before. It was this very pain and misery that was foreshadowed by his ex: “You can’t build love on other people’s misery,” she said through bitter tears. Those words will haunt him for the remainder of his life, no matter how happy he is now and will ever be. It is the most visible scar form a past that will never truly fade.
But no matter how much the past – at times – cast its shadow over their relationship, perhaps no greater sign existed that they were meant to be than the situation they now found themselves in. Their decision to rip themselves from their former lives in order to be together was certainly made easier by the fact that neither one of them had children. She had always wanted children, but nature had other plans for her. Four-and-a-half years of fertility issues never suppressed her desire. But it certainly deepened her depression. She tried just every possible fertility treatment available. She tried acupuncture. Prayer. But all she got in return was grief. Along with resignation and growing acceptance that she was never going to have children.
As for him, it wasn’t that he didn’t want kids. He just didn’t know when he wanted them. He always figured he would be ready as soon as he sold one of his scripts to Hollywood. This way, he could quit teaching and focus on his writing. That was his plan, anyway. Otherwise, he knew his writing would take a backseat to child rearing and everything that comes with it. But after several close calls, he never lived up to the hyped-up potential of his youth and realized that he was simply chasing rainbows.
Rationally, he knew he should probably give up. But he couldn’t quite shake the feeling that the time he invested into his dream would all be for nothing if he gave up now. He imagined this is how somebody with a gambling condition probably felt every time they tried to quit.
The final nail in the coffin was when his ex-wife demanded that he give up his writing and focus on becoming more of a handyman around the house. It wasn’t that he didn’t contribute around the house. He cooked. He cleaned. He did yard work. He just wasn’t very good with tools. If there was any one factor that was the catalyst to the end of his marriage, this was it. He could deal with the insults. The slaps. And the fists. But being told to give up his dream – which she had once supported with equal passion – was the final straw.
The good news is, he is writing again. But he no longer suffers the minor panic attacks he would experience when all he could think about was that he wasn’t writing, rather than living in the moment. And as a result, it wasn’t long before he began to picture himself having a family with her. That’s when he realized it wasn’t a matter of not wanting kids. It was a matter of not wanting kids with his wife. And that’s when he knew that he had to end it. This was the clarity he was seeking. Of course, he was knowingly entering into a relationship with someone who was unable to bear a child and leaving behind somebody who begged him for one constantly. But life (Fate? God?) likes to throw curve balls of irony every chance it gets. The past year was one giant curve ball. But they were still in the batter’s box, hanging by the thread of a full count, fouling away pitch after pitch until they decided they were going to do something about it.
And three months later, she was pregnant with his child. The day after they found out, she left to visit her family up north for Christmas. Even though she would have preferred to tell them a little bit later in the pregnancy when they were out of the danger zone, telling them was really a matter of necessity. Turning down wine was never going to fly in her family. Although it’s difficult to predict how one might react to shocking news, her only genuine concern was the fact that her dad just suffered a minor heart attack just a few weeks prior. Beyond that, she was confident they would be more excited above anything else. And they were.
Up until this point, her parents were struggling to accept her daughter’s seemingly sudden decision to leave her husband behind to be with her “lover,” of whom her mother bluntly described as “not a relevant person.” However, they were about to find out just how relevant this person suddenly now was. They would have no choice to accept him into their lives.
The greater challenge was going to be delivering the news to his family, who are more traditional in their ways and moderately Catholic. It wasn’t so much his parents he was concerned about. It was his grandmother. In his grandmother’s world, there is a right way and a wrong way. There was no in-between. It was why – at least up until this point – regarded his girlfriend as “the other woman.” It wasn’t so much the fear of upsetting his grandmother he was worried about, as it was the fear of letting her down. Although he didn’t always agree with her, his grandmother was the greatest influence in his life. He was always the grandchild who listened to her the most – and in her mind, could do no wrong. And as a result, she expected more out of him. There was a reason his own parents used to tease him about being “the righteous brother,” always telling his two younger sisters what they should or shouldn’t be doing. In fact, his only fault growing up was being too good at times – a fact he often regrets looking back. But look at him now!
Another factor he knew could become the elephant in the room was the fact that he was also conceived out of wedlock. On one hand, this gave his parents no room for judgment. On the other hand, they could make a case that he should have known better. Again, it came down to his grandma once again and that he would be putting through a deja vu she was hoping to never have to relive.
Despite the one glaring similarity to his parents situation, there were huge differences. For one thing, they were literally half his age at the time. His father was still in high school at conception and holding a baby in his arms days just days after his graduation. Certainly, no way to begin adulthood. Yet thirty-four years later, they are still married with three children. They made it work. And he has never taken this for granted.
At the time, however, things didn’t look so hopeful. In fact, his grandmother didn’t even attend her son’s as a matter of principal, despite the fact that his parents were trying to do the “right” thing. His parents have never fully recovered from this slight. And his grandmother been trying to make up for it ever since. Little did they know, that God – in his infinite wisdom – was about to give them all a second chance. Rarely does something that started out so seemingly wrong get the opportunity to turn out so right.
They actually tried to tell them several weeks ago. But a comedy of errors created a blockade, forcing them to retreat with their tails between their legs. The timing seemed perfect: the “danger zone” of the first trimester was coming to an end. And his sister, who lived out of state, would be in town. This way, he could tell his entire family. But if there’s anything they learned over the course of the past year, life never goes as planned. Cliché, yes. Truth, definitely.
The day started out optimistically enough. The sun was out – a rarity in February in Michigan. Birds were even chirping. He took a relaxing bath and got some reading in – a rarity unto itself. It was after he was dressed and came downstairs that things took the first turn for the worse. A heavy snow was falling. He didn’t realize snow was even in the forecast.
Having no choice, he ventured out into the storm to find a gift for his sister’s fiancé, whose birthday we were celebrating that night.
He was at Target when he got the phone call.
“I just got into an accident.”
“Are you okay?,” he asked, thinking first and foremost about the baby.
“I am,” she said. “But my car isn’t.”
She was driving home from the gym when out of nowhere, a car pulled past a stop sign at an intersection – presumably sliding on ice. In normal weather conditions, the driver probably would have stopped in time. And she would have been able to swerve out of the way. But Mother Nature had other plans. Other than losing a giant chunk of the passenger side bumper, she was able to escape this relatively unscathed, despite feeling slightly shaken up.
Already off to a delayed start, they set off to his parents’ house – the ultrasound picture safely tucked away in her planner. They looked at the weather forecast, which looked promising. But what should have been an hour drive turned into a 3 ½ hour one. By the time they reached their destination, they already missed dinner, which was when they planned to tell them.
Making matters worse, his Grandma was there. Due to the inclement weather, she ended up canceling her other plans. They had agreed they would tell her separately at a later date, since her reaction was quite likely to be unfavorable. To compound matters, the birthday boy was trashed on his future father-in-law’s homebrew, as was his other sister’s husband. They were certainly in no condition to receive news as important as the news they were about to deliver.
Since they were already planning on spending night to avoid driving back home in the freshly fallen snow, they figured they could tell them at breakfast. For a variety of reasons, this plan did not work, either and they headed back home with their tails between their legs.
But like many things in their relationship, their failed mission turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Because just days before their next scheduled attempt, another miracle crossed their path: he sold his house, creating one less things for his parents to worry about when they broke the news.
Per his divorce decree – which included giving away their entire savings as both compensation for the pain he caused and to ensure that she had money for grad school – he agreed to assume full responsibility for the house. When he agreed to these terms, he assumed removing her name from the mortgage would be as simple as filling out paperwork. But as it turned out, it required that he re-apply for a new mortgage, which required a down payment, which he would not be able to afford, now that his money was no longer in his pocket. And per the divorce decree, he was required to put the house up for sale if he was unable to obtain a new mortgage within 120 days. So he put his house up for sale – the dream of home ownership now over. A house they made into a home together. A house filled – until the very end –with mostly good memories. A house where emotional abuse and neglect led directly to the new life he was living now and into his future.
He put it up a few days before Christmas. And just after Christmas, a steady steam of showings brought strangers into a home that once welcomed so many friends and family. With each passing day, the house became more and more of a stranger to him, just as it was the day they first spotted it. Two months later, it was sold. Of course, he had to pay out of pocket to meet the closing costs, but it could have been much worse. What saddened him – among many things – was the vast amount of improvements the made to the house amounted to nothing as far as the return he got back on it. But despite the short-term loss, it was a huge relief both financially … and perhaps even more so, emotionally – a stepping stone out of the past where one foot was still firmly rooted, no matter how many steps he already took forward. The final battle against his past would be the packing up/tossing out of the last eight years of his life. Sorting through every memory of his former life, piece by piece. No bad memories would be stored there. Only the good ones. Naturally, his mind began playing tricks on him, forcing himself to wonder if things really were so bad after all. And setting aside artifacts from their marriage with the subconscious thought that they might be relevant again someday, even though he knew it was about as impossible as it would be if she were dead.
Although he was not officially “living” with her yet, he couldn’t remember the last time he spent the night at the house he used to call home. In his mind, home was with her. Not in the abandoned set where the drama of his marriage played out. And now that his home was finally about to be behind him for good, he could finally pull his other foot out of the murky swamp of his past.
Since the offer on his house, his mom urged him (on more than one occasion) to not “rush into anything” and move in with her. Of course, he knew she would change her tune once she knew the news, but until then, he had to convince her that he wouldn’t rush into anything, while simultaneously trying to avoid flat-out lying.
Take two. They finally arrived at his parents, following a relaxing trip up north to visit her parents. While driving back, they analyzed (as they had already done numerous times before) how they would go about telling them. For example, would they first announce the pregnancy, and then explain her fertility issues? Or would they preface things with the fertility issues? They then analyzed every possible reaction they were likely to face and the resulting responses. Each scenario had its own unique set of pros and cons. They ultimately decided to just let things play out in the moment, doing what felt right when the time came.
“One of the first things my family is going to ask is if we plan to get married.”
“What are you gong to tell them?” she wondered.
“That we’ve gone through too many life changes in recent months to rush into any other changes. But that we intended to raise our child together.
“And if they continue to bug us about it, I’m going to make it very clear to them that they are to stop.”
“It’s so funny,” she said. “If I told my parents that we were going to get married, they would probably urge us not to rush into anything.”
“I guess that’s the difference between a conservative family and a liberal family.”
“True,” she said in agreement. Agreement was something they had on most issues, despite their opposing political, views. Somehow, they found ways to avoid the polarizing traps that would lead many into an argument. They knew where each other stood and figured there was no use trying to get one of the other to budge. As long as they could remember this, they could peacefully co-exist. At this point, they had to.
And now, after several agonizing weeks, the time had finally come to tell them. They waited until everyone was seated at the dining room table. The only question that remained was whether they would tell them while they were eating and risk ruining everyone’s meal, or telling them after the plates were cleared. They elected to tell them near the completion of their meal, before his mother got distracted with the business of doing dishes.
He took a deep breath, grabbed her hand for good luck, support, desperation and devotion, then fired the first shot:
“We have something we need to tell you.” Uneasy anticipation filled the room. There were only two likely follow up statements: either their son was getting married again. Or was having a baby. With the point of no return already reached, he managed to simultaneously push through the tension and increase it.
“As you all know, we’ve been dating one another for awhile now. It didn’t us long to envision a future together. We realize it’s never a good idea to rush into something …”
They hung on his every word, trying to decipher meaning where there seemed to be none.
“The thing is, for 4 ½ years, she tired to get pregnant. To be clear, it wasn’t her, it was him. She tried everything, but nothing worked. She had already accepted that she would never get pregnant.
He removed a small photo from his shirt pocket and slid it toward his parents.
“Mom. Dad. Meet your new grandchild.”
They stared at the photo in stunned disbelief, which – after the longest time – quickly turned to some semblance of stunned joy. But nobody knew what to say. Or who should speak next. So he did:
“No matter how you perceive this, realize that we don’t see this as an accident. We see this as a miracle. And just know that we are committed to raising this baby together.”
He was confident he was saying all the right thigns. But until they got a verbal response from his family, nothing else mattered. Finally, his mother broke the silence:
“I have never been one to cast stones. Especially in a situation like this. I have always wanted what’s best for my children. And I know you guys are happy together. And I am very happy for you guys. How could I not be?”
“So, do you guys plan on getting married?” his mother asked.
He gave the exact response he practiced over and over again in his head:
“Although we can’t promise when, we can assure you that it will happen eventually. With all the life changes we’ve had this past year, I can’t say if it will happen before or after the baby is born. But once again, we will be functioning as though we were married. And no matter what, the baby is our priority.
“And mom,” he continued. “I’m sure you can figure out where I’m moving to. And why.”
His mother nodded in understanding.
His then his girlfriend spoke: “I just want to say that I recognize that this news isn’t easy. I just want to be clear that I was the one who had the fertility issue. I honestly didn’t think I would ever get pregnant.
“This is definitely not the way I saw my life playing out. When I got married, I thought it was for life. Both of us did. We both have parents who have been married for a long time and we were both hoping it would be the same for us. But it didn’t work out that way.
“But one thing that is clear, we both love and respect each other very much.”
Comforted by these words, his mother added: “I’m not one to cast stones. Especially when it comes to a situation like this.”
“To be honest with you, I was beginning to think you were never going to have children. Now I don’t have to worry anymore. I can’t wait to start planning the shower.”
Just as he predicted, his mother had already gotten over the initial shock and was already in planning mode – just had she done eight years ago when he announced his sudden engagement to a pen pal from Europe.
One down, two to go. His father remained both speechless and expressionless, which was incidentally the same reaction he had when he announced his engagement, later breaking his silence with divine eloquence: “You’re fucking nuts.” It was possible he would have the same response to this situation, but highly unlikely.
The greater challenge, of course, remained his Grandmother. He wondered if his parents were flashing back 30 years ago, thinking as though the wait had never ended.
She finally broke her silence:
“The thing I have always wanted for my kids and grandkids more than anything, was their happiness. And if there’s anything that I have come to realize after a lifetime of experience, it’s that even though I don’t change, the world changes. As do people. And because people change, so does life.
“I might not always like everything, but I’ve learned from my mistakes. And I’m very happy for you two. And for my future great-grandchild. Just realize that raising a child is a tremendous responsibility. You are not just looking out for yourselves. But you must always love each other. No matter what, you must always love each other.”
He responded with echoes of a wedding vow. “We do.” Ellen nodded in agreement, and then let the room fill with reflective silence. He looked at his father. The blank face earlier began to take shape into something more concrete, yet indescribable. It was an expression that he had never quite seen on him before – something between shame, shock and anger and somewhere buried deep – happiness. Slowly, he raised his hands to his reddened face. He remained that way for what felt like an eternity. It seemed as though everything hinged upon the outcome of this one moment. Suddenly, he got up, his face filled with tears, and headed out of the room. Of all the possible reactions they envisioned, this was not one of them.
“You should probably go to him,” he said to his mother, who got up in agreement.
“I’m happy for you,” his grandmother told them. “I know you will do the right thing.”
“We already are,” he said in response.
Moments later, his parents entered. He father was no longer crying, but his face was red and puffy.
“I wasn’t crying because I was upset,” his father said.
“I know,” his son responded, realizing that in a heartbeat, thirty years of unresolved pain and regret was washed away by an unlikely, rocky miracle. And although nobody alluded to what was actually taking place, everyone knew that all was finally forgiven.
The father then walked over to his son and hugged him. The last time he had been hugged by his father was on his wedding day, when this particular moment wouldn’t have made any sense to anyone in that room. When everything was so different. He then walked over to the woman carrying his future grandson and hugged her. He then sat back down to finish his meal, before they had dessert.