on a Tuesday morning, and I'm slinking through the doors of the Harvard
Coop. There's no one in the store except for me and a ridiculously hot
young salesclerk. He's just the type I would have gone for in college.
Probably at a cast party after sucking back a gallon of rum and cokes.
Now all I have is a lame tepid latte. And a deadline.
me, "I whisper. "Do you carry athletic supporters?"
up from folding his Veritas sweatshirts and gives me a blank stare.
I'm going to have to say it. I stare hard at the shower caddy display
to the right of his head and spit it out.
a jock strap."
he answers. "We don't carry that kind of thing."
I might as
well have just puked on him, because I'm clearly the least sexy woman
How did I get here? Twenty years ago I wouldn't have been awake right
now, much less cruising the Coop for a banana hammock and defining "athletic
supporter" for a guy I'd gladly have made out with.
All I knew was *why* I was here: I'd just dropped my husband, Brendon,
off at the hospital for a vasectomy. Before we had pulled out of our driveway
a few hours earlier, I had asked him if he remembered everything. This
is a compulsive habit I've been trying to tame over the years, but I indulge
it at times when forgetting isn't an option -- like, say, when you've
left the baby in his carrier on top of the car, or when you're about to
let a doctor near your man-parts with a knife.
yeah, of course," he mumbled.
My husband and I are like Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore. He's all about possibilities.
He doesn't worry about things until he's already stuck in the honey tree
getting attacked by bees. This means that he'll take risks that I won't,
and have faith in people in a way that just doesn't come naturally to
me. I'd rather ground myself in worst-case scenarios and prepare myself
accordingly. That way I'm not surprised when they happen: The house probably
will burn down because I didn't unplug the toaster; I will get my identity
stolen, it's just a matter of when; and if I call to check in when I'm
out of town and Brendon doesn't answer, then he's probably had a heart
attack and the kids are playing Yahtzee on his cold, lifeless body. Or
making toast in the plugged-in toaster.
difference in our outlooks works for us. When I'm feeling especially gloomy,
he lends me his balloon; and when he's floated too high for his own good,
I pop it and bring him back down to earth. When this give-and-take thing
works, you actually can't tell where my neurosis ends and his optimism
Still, I wasn't about to trust Mr. Happy Pants on the day of his vasectomy.
The doctor had prescribed him a dose of valium to take at home before
the procedure -- apparently to "get him in the mood" -- and
he was already starting to get groggy as we were pulling out of the driveway.
"Are you 100% sure you haven't forgotten anything?" I asked.
"Yeeeeah," he drawled, his chin hitting his chest.
When we got to the hospital, I let him out of the car and went to park.
I watched him lurch toward the revolving doors, and my heart did that
flip I've come to know so well since becoming a parent. It sneaks up on
me when I glimpse my daughter hanging out, ignored but hopeful, on the
fringes of the Cool Girl group, or when I see my son shoving his Webkinz
deer into the nap drawer at daycare. It's that mix of total determination
and vulnerability that gets me every time.
was my husband, not one of my kids. I was definitely treading on some
strange new emotional territory here.
By the time I joined him in the waiting room, he was high as a kite.
"I need a jacques shtrap," he slurred.
"I fforgot my jacques shtrap."
Seriously? Apparently, there was something he was supposed to bring, and
apparently they weren't going to loan him one or let him leave without
it. I didn't know who to be madder at, him or the hospital staff. Before
I could decide, he was gone. Poof. Like a lamb to the slaughter.
I sprang into disaster mode -- my old familiar friend -- and zeroed in
on the doe-eyed receptionist.
"Where can I get a jock strap?"
She hesitated a bit too long. I could feel a Terms of Endearment
rant bubbling up inside me: "My husband needs a jock strap in the
next 30 minutes! If he doesn't have a jock strap then they won't let him
leave! All he's asking for is a lousy jack strap! SOMEBODY GIVE MY HUSBAND
A JOCK STRAP!"
I kept my
mouth shut, but she must have seen the crazy in my eyes, because she started
giving me some half-assed directions to a Target three miles away. If
you've ever driven in the Boston area, you know that you don't go anywhere
without crystal clear directions and, even then, you're probably still
going to get lost. It's a town made for people like me who expect the
pretending to write it all down, I left the office, crushed the piece
of paper into a ball, and took the only fool-proof route I knew: straight
into Harvard Square.
If only the path that had brought me to this jock strap hunt from hell
had been as uncomplicated. Brendon and I have two kids together, but we
didn't get them the old-fashioned way. Well, technically we did, but it
didn't start the way it happens in cheesy love songs and movies, with
him taking me in his arms and saying something like, "I can see my
unborn children in your eyes."
how I'd always imagined it would happen ever since I started having my
Almonzo fantasies. I'd spend hours in my room playing out scenes from
Little House on the Prairie where Almonzo would convince me to
have crazy sex with him in the barn so I could have his babies, and then
I'd go to Doc Baker (after having a fainting episode in the schoolhouse),
and he'd tell me I was expecting, and then I'd wait for Almonzo to come
back, all sweaty from a day in the fields, to share the blissful news.
Then we'd have crazy sex on the table he carved for me as a wedding present.
I had to rewrite the script once I met my husband. Early on in the dating
process, Brendon claimed he'd be perfectly happy if he never had kids.
Not that I believed him when he said this. This was a man who took in
his landlord's pit bull after the guy was arrested by the ATF. Parenthood
thrives on his type: the kind-hearted optimist. Who else would willingly
sign up for 18- plus years of commitment to someone they've never met?
In my gut I knew that he was the kind of guy who would easily take the
leap into fatherhood.
But I was wrong. He loved holding other people's babies, but never asked
me to have his. So, when it came to having kids, I had to become the optimist:
"It'll be this great adventure," I promised. "We are going
to have SO MUCH FUN."
convinced. He reminded me of the sacrifices we'd be making, the permanent
changes to our lives, the fact that I like to sleep until noon. I lobbied,
cajoled, and wasn't above a little deceptive advertising -- like, "Don't
worry, it'll take at least a year." Which I honestly believed. I'd
watched enough friends struggle with getting pregnant to know that it
doesn't just happen when you want it to. Plus, I was nearing "advanced
maternal age" (a fact that the worrier in me secretly loved since
it meant I could belly up to the ultrasound bar whenever I wanted). But,
as it turned out, I didn't have to wait more than a few months before
Even though this new "bright, shiny people" me was ready for
the ride, I could see that Brendon wasn't. I'm not saying he wasn't there
to rub my feet and watch gross birthing videos. But there was this cloud
of worry following him around that I didn't recognize, and didn't like.
Once our daughter was born, though, we were so absorbed in the everyday,
that there wasn't time to think about what we'd left behind. Brendon embraced
his fatherhood -- or at least decided to go steady with it -- and we went
on our merry, sleep-deprived way for a few years. Drunk with optimism,
I pushed for a second kid, too. The sales pitch was a little different
this time -- "Every kid should have a sibling," and, "We
already have all the stuff, why waste it?" -- but the result was
the same. A fast pregnancy and another healthy child. We were crazy lucky.
And we knew we were done.
But there was something about the finality of a vasectomy that bugged
me. What if I changed my mind? What if Brendon converted to Mormonism
and decided to live The Principle? He was born in Utah. It could happen.
Plus, what if we were playing with karmic fire by closing the door on
having more children? Brendon does this sometimes when he says he can
imagine a happy life without kids -- even now that he has them. Hello?
Did he not watch a single Lifetime movie? He's just asking for tragedy
to strike when he says things like that. I don't want to see our story
on TV (even if I could have Melissa Gilbert cast as me).
So, even though I knew the vasectomy was a sensible step, I certainly
wasn't going to help him take it. In our house, it's up to me to get Brendon
to a doctor's office. He could have an oozing abscess the size of a Ring
Ding growing in his mouth and still insist that it's going to go away.
That's why I knew he was serious when he started contacting friends for
urologist references and then actually following through on them. It turns
out there's this whole underground network of guys in Boston who've done
it, and they all go to the same doctor -- The Snipper. And before I knew
it, Brendon had an appointment with him.
So this was
how we'd gotten here: with my husband going under the knife to control
a piece of our destiny, and me careening around Harvard Square trying
to support him. I never could have imagined this scene twenty years ago,
but here it was. And, looking back, its time had come. You see, the problem
with being the optimist in a couple is that you look like you don't need
any help. Walking around in his "Life is Good" t-shirts, he'd
made it look so easy all those years when we were chasing our dreams,
losing them, changing them, and diving into jumbo mortgages. It was only
after I had to grab the parenting balloon myself that I realized how much
work it is to be the one who's always looking up. But he'd still trusted
me enough to come along for the ride. And once we were up there, we were
dodging the bees together, sharing the stings, but also getting handfuls
of the sweet stuff. Now he was ready for us to come down; the least I
could do was help him have a gentle landing.
I ran out of the Coop, away from my hunky young salesclerk, and within
minutes, was pressing my nose against the window of CitySports. When the
saleslady swung the door open at 10:00, I was the first one in. I ran
to the back and started scanning the racks of alien merchandise. What
the hell was I supposed to choose? Cup? No cup? And how are you supposed
to pick size on these things? Jesus -- there's a land mine. I grabbed
one of everything, and five minutes later, was out the door heading back
to the hospital.
When I got there, it was over. Just like that. I handed the bag to the
receptionist, and she passed it through a door in the back. When my husband
came out, shaky, but smiling, I expected to feel something dramatic: A
major shift in the balance of our marriage; the victory of sterility over
hope. But instead, I felt O.K. We'd each given ground and each given support
when it came to figuring out our family. We wouldn't be having any more
kids, but I think we got something else we needed a little bit more: Because
even though he was limping as I helped him to the car, that day we found
our equal footing.
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