New Year’s resolution: never, ever to say, “We’re pregnant.”
I feel disconnected from most of my extended family, have nothing to do with many of them, nothing in common, don’t particularly like them, and they feel, I guess, much the same way about me. And yet I am just a Frankenstein made of bits of each of them.
When I stand with my mother, I look much like her. Same general face shape, same colored eyes, and the same tendency to stand with my hands on my hips. On the rare occasion that I’ve stood next to Keir, I look like him, too, less bald, perhaps, and fatter (as he, with his runner’s build, is quick to point out) but we have the same nose, the same shape eyes, the same expressions.
From both my parents, I inherited a dry sense of humor and the need to control. I have my uncle’s hairline and ass, my grandfather’s forearms, my grandmother’s fondness for liver paste. Like my father and his before him, I have an insatiable need to make things, draw things, paint things, build things, often for no particular purpose.
No one in my family, on either side, cares much for watching other people playing sports. Some of my progenitors drink too much. Some develop Alzheimer’s. My great- grandmother used to pull off her nightgown and run around in the buff. They all tend to live to 80 or more. Some have a distorted sense of entitlement. Others are chronic underachievers.
My mother and her brother don’t talk. My uncle and my grandfather don’t talk. My grandfather and his brother didn’t talk. My second cousin and her brother don’t talk. My family never has get-togethers and or wears T-shirts that say “Selzer-Neumann-Berger-Steiger-Kahan-Gregory Reunion.” The night before my grandmother’s funeral, my uncle and I started fighting while carrying a mattress and tried to throw each other down a marble staircase. How much of all this will I be handing down to the Peanut? Can I prune myself and only give him the good bits?
Back on the cruise, Gran and I got off the ship together in Venezuela. It was the first time either of us has been to this continent, our sixth.
As we walked, Gran cleared his throat. He is so deaf that he speaks in a murmur, like someone wearing a Walkman and pretending it’s not on, unable to properly gauge his volume.
“Listen, Danny, I have something very important I must discuss with you. It has been on my mind since Patti’s pregnancy was announced.”
My pulse quickened. It seemed that Gran, stern, stiff Germanic Gran, of all people, was going to be the one person to offer me some paternal advice. He’d tell me how to be a father. Finally I’d learn to juggle all the issues that had been on my mind: authority, compassion, how to be a mentor and a friend; balancing career and family; postpartum sex; would I go broke; should I grow a beard; the spiritual dimension; making a mark on posterity; key mistakes to avoid; his darkest regrets and fondest memories…
“Yes, I am very concerned, very, very concerned for Patti. I am sure that once the baby is born, the dog, Frank, will attack and kill it. You must have the animal destroyed immediately.”
I snapped back, aghast. What was he talking about? Houndy was a gentle, loving beast who had never hurt another creature unless it was made out of rawhide. What was this old coot on about? As we wandered through some dusty Venezuelan square, I felt besieged. My mini-family was under attack for something that had never happened, could never occur. Gran and I didn’t speak for the next two days.
Eventually, my shock dissipated. What the hell did I know? The old geezer was a doctor and had raised two children (though his own dog had bitten Miranda on the face when she was two and had received only a slap on the rump while she was being stitched up). Maybe friendly family dogs do regularly turn and savage newborns. Dingo got my baby! I relented and discussed the death threat with PL.
After our return to New York, we call Frank’s alma mater, City Dog obedience school, and are invited back for a refresher course. One of the owners has several small children and takes our man-eater under her wing. Every week, through the frigid winter, PL and I bundle Frank into a cab and head uptown to bone up on heeling, sitting and releasing the baby’s head from his jaws on command.
I hope Gran will be OK with this.
I read The American Way of Birth by Jessica Mitford. I order a subscription to Parenting magazine. On the cruise, we both managed to read all 700 pages of Dr. Spock. PL has just finished a book about a child who was tied up in a basement and had no verbal skills. We are also reading (aloud) a book about how a child’s brain develops.
I wonder whether the Peanut will be hardcover or paperback.
Michael Kahan, my second stepfather, my mother’s third husband, the man who beat and abused me until I was big enough to fight back, has moved into our building! We see him in the lobby, and he has the gall to come up and announce that we are to be neighbors. All the while, his fat arm wrapped around some brown-haired woman with a beakish nose, he undresses PL with his eyes. Bastard.
I hope he didn’t wither the Peanut in its womb.