Why we stay on this roller coaster. (Hint: restraints help.)
Posted on April 1, 2012
I feel like writing about exhilarating nausea today. Anyone else in?
Yesterday, I watched The Husband and I take turns melting down.
For me, the near-meltdown came after managing to deliver both children and myself to an Easter egg hunt without visible signs of puke, poop or panting. (OK, possibly some visible panting, but I couldn’t think of a third “p” word.) The Husband had feigned the plague to take a nap (no punches pulled, sweetheart – welcome to my blog), and I had stupidly worn cute but irrational wedges to a lawn party. <forehead slap>
Only a Parmatini from my favorite sushi restaurant kept me from exploding in a smokestorm of frayed espadrille and damp, wild-and-frizzy curls.
Today, I watched about 45 minutes of Steve Martin’s ’80s movie, “Parenthood,” and felt like I was right back in the fray. The volume was so far down, I could barely hear the dialogue, but I’d seen the movie enough to no longer need sound. Hell, I thought, I’m living the movie!
We may have unknowingly quoted from the movie yesterday. Maybe it was as I was caressing Emma’s head and trying to calm her after she awoke to find a carnival of children bouncing at the promise of sugar on a stick in the line at Coldstone Creamery.
Maybe it was as I was caressing The Husband’s shoulder as we drove home from a lovely and uneventful dinner out, contrary to the bellowing coming from both car seats behind us.
Maybe it was as he caressed the small of my back while I choked up during the movie, “Hugo,” when a fatherless boy is bullied by an adult who didn’t yet know better.
The comedy “Parenthood” is so relatable because it feels like scenes from our lives are ripped from the script, and vice versa. It lightly (and darkly) weaves together the ups and downs of parenthood and relationships, the trials and triumphs of watching little people and bigger people develop and grow, and the comedic moments that sit painfully close to the tragic realities of childhood, with views from a child’s eyes and emotions torn from a parent’s heart.
What brought me to tears today (no, I was not drinking) was the very end, when Steve Martin’s character realizes he and Mary Steenburgen’s character are the perfect seat partners on their wild rollercoaster of parenthood… and life.
It reminded me so much of my own parents, and so much of my own marriage. My mom once explained, quite matter-of-factly, that truly the sole reason all three children survived our childhood is that at no one time did both parents want to kill us.
It’s true. If you both start to melt down simultaneously, neither is stable enough to clean up the other’s goo – or keep the kids alive.
I will never forget the day we realized Charlie had Down syndrome. We have the most amazing physician who has probably had to prepare hundreds of parents for the inevitable diagnosis. He never scared us; he prepared us. Dr. S is an older gentleman, with graying hair touched with white, glasses and the most calming, reassuring bedside manner. I’ve allowed this man to stick a needle in my abdomen three times now: twice for amniocentesis tests and once to draw fluid from my unborn son’s left lung cavity. Yeah, creepy, cool and horrifying all in one needle.
It was after our first amnio with Charlie that he said the words, very calmly, “I’m concerned this baby has Down syndrome.” It wasn’t a judgment; Down syndrome comes with increased risks of so many health issues, from leukemia to heart problems. No one cheers to hear this diagnosis.
The Husband and I had stayed pretty together to this point. We told each other everything would be fine. Because I had known in my heart, for whatever reason, that Charlie had Ds, I felt like I should be better prepared. Stronger from the outset.
But when you actually hear those words from the man you’ve entrusted to shepherd you through the first-pregnancy medical field of gnarled branches, your body responds with disregard for your brain. I began to shake and I felt my jaw begin to quiver. I looked at my husband and saw his eyes already were filled. Our hands were clasped so tight, I might still have marks.
“No, no,” I whispered to him, through clenched teeth. “We cannot both do this at the same time. We cannot both do this.” What I meant was, “I am not strong enough to bear both our tears, and I am not strong enough to stop my own right now.”
I’ve never seen a man become so strong so quickly. He wiped away my tears and kissed my forehead and never shed a tear again that day, at least in front of me.
Perhaps to find strength somewhere else or perhaps because he’s addicted to finding answers on the Internet, he returned to work that afternoon and Googled support groups for parents of children with Ds. When he called me at the office to say he had found a Dads’ group holding a meeting that very night, I remember saying, “Honey, you know we don’t know for sure yet, right? What are you going to say to those guys?”
“I’m just going to tell them we’re waiting to find out,” he replied surely. “I think it will be good. They have a speaker. I might not stay the whole time.”
Here we were, on our rollercoaster, still sitting together but he wanted to go faster. I wanted to close my eyes.
“Do you want to go with me?” he asked. “To a Dads’ meeting?” I said. “I don’t think the guys would be too thrilled.” I knew he had offered to be kind, to remind me we were on this ride together. It was OK for him to go faster on his own.
I sat at home that night and probably looked at wedding magazines or watched brainless TV. We were days from our wedding – an event we’d planned in three weeks – and everything was done. I was getting over bronchitis and was still feeling spent. Of course, I was also pregnant and in my first trimester. “Spent” is a conservative word.
I was asleep on the couch when he called from the car. “It was so good,” he breathed. “I’m really glad I went.”
“I’m glad too,” I said. “What happened? What did they say to you?”
He described sitting around with the others, listening to an invited speaker – a doctor. Finally, someone prompted the group to introduce themselves, one at a time, and explain why they were there. Eventually, they reached The Husband. He explained that we were waiting for the diagnosis but we were pretty sure our baby had Down syndrome. He explained we were about to be married, in just a few days. He explained that while I was reluctant to talk to anyone about what we were going through, he needed to reach out.
And he broke down.
The Dads didn’t give him a group hug (after all, this group meets in a bar; that would just be awkward), but I’m fairly certain they all felt the same surge of camaraderie – strong enough to rival any prayer circle. Theirs was a group of guys gathered with beer to keep their hands busy and each other to remember they weren’t alone.
That night, they offered solace to a new member. Each shared stories, words of encouragement, tales of how their kid was the most popular, how the child with Down syndrome was a joy and their other kids could be so much more of a pain in the butt… Everyone laughed at that.
My husband has continued to meet with this group as often as he can. Only once have I asked him to skip his roller coaster and come home to mine, once when I was eight months pregnant with Emma and up-to-here with our precious non-pain-in-the-butt named Charlie, who was competing to win World’s Loudest Whiner.
I’m sure our roller coaster is just like that of many other parents. At times, we need to agree how fast the rollercoaster can go.
Then there are the times when we haven’t had a dip in a while, so we’re both clutching our seat belts as we’re swept along unexpectedly.
A favorite moment in our life together usually occurs when we are mid-dip. Either of us could lose it at any moment, and then suddenly our eyes lock and we burst out laughing, together. We can’t take this life too seriously, or it will break us. Sometimes we both remember that, and sometimes one must remind the other. That’s one of the main reasons we work so well.
Sometimes that “reminding” doesn’t go well, and one is not ready to laugh.
Among what I love about my husband is that while very little rattles him, very little fails to amuse him, as well. Usually it’s me who needs an extra breath before I can find the humor. But that’s reflection for another day.