About a week ago I experienced one of those instances where a casual choice become something more. It was late: Jack had been put to bed a little later than normal, following a massive Chinese take-out dinner, the result of which left me feeling, well, bloated. Being a somewhat insensitive clod I innocently asked my wife if she was feeling bloated, too.
“What do you mean, bloated?” The tone in her voice was a little surprising, considering I (wrongly) assumed we were automatically on the same wavelength after the meal.
I didn’t think much of it, so we sat down in our darkened living room to watch some television, she curled up on one corner, me on the floor, my head within easy reach in case I could persuade her to rub or scratch my head. Nothing was happening, so I looked up to see what the delay was, and in the bluish white glow of the television screen, reflected back in her glasses, I could see the faint traces of tears.
“I got my period.”
The implied message, of course, being that she’s still not pregnant.
Until that moment we had been treating the possibility of a second child casually. Both of us are 36 – not exactly old per se, but not spring chickens, and the complications my wife had the first time with Jack coupled with the many normal frustrations in raising a very active two-year old boy had left us thinking along of the lines of, “well, we won’t do anything to prevent us from having a second kid…if it happens, great. If not, that’s cool, too.”
But at that moment, hearing the crack in her voice and seeing the CRT tears trace lines down her cheeks I realized I had made a monumental error in my thinking: I had been treating the whole second child thing causally. She never had – even if she said otherwise.
I grew up the oldest of three children – one sister a year and a half younger, and a brother seven years younger. We're on good terms, maybe seeing each other 6-10 times a year for a few hours at a stretch. But growing up was very different for each of us, and being geographically spead out as adults keeps everything friendly, but at arm's length. I don’t criticize it – it appears to work for us, and I love them dearly, but it’s a far cry from the experience my wife has had, or that I’ve had with her family since being married. She only has one brother, three years older, but there's an immediate connection to one another. We live five blocks from her brother, 10 miles from her parents, and another couple dozen relatives all reside nearby in Queens. We see each other multiple times a week, and there’s a support system there that, while not necessarily stronger than what we have with my family, is certainly much more visible.
It’s this connection that’s most important to my wife, this thing she has now with her brother that she doesn’t want Jack to miss out on. I had always thought one of her primary passions for wanting a second child was for that playmate, that person Jack can have beside him as he goes through his childhood. And that’s no doubt an important reason, but the other side of that, the thing I never considered, was the benefits and bonds that came with having a sibling when your older – something that, excepting the ordeal I went through with the kidney donation to my brother, I had never felt like I had.
Except even that’s not true, because the benefit of being married to my wife is that by extension I’m married to her family, and over the years (17 together, 7 married) those odd, frustrating invasions of privacy, the constant unexpected visits, mandatory dinners and weekends together...all the things that grate on the inside of my skull combine to give me something I never realize how much I need, even when it’s proved to me time and again.
I have other concerns about having another kid: fears about the inevitable complications the doctors warned us about, the additional financial burdens, the frustration of having to return to nights of no sleep. But in my head I can't escape her face glowing in the light of the television. I think about the bonds she's talking about; bonds I'm still not comfortable with, even as I lament not having grown up with them. And surrounding all of that I think of Jack: his laugh, his hands and the way he throws himself onto the couch, snoring and waiting for me to "wake" him.
It brings me back to my brother, my father, and I see it was never a casual decision. For either of us.