originally published on 365 Attempts [at life]
Monday of Thanksgiving weekend, we drive up north to spend the day with Tony's family.
We stop on the way to pick up Mama Greek. I am bearing a pie – not one of the two pies I’d spent the previous day baking, but a store bought one I’d picked up in case the baking went wrong. As we walk in the door, Mama Greek’s gaze travels from the pie box to my (relatively) flat stomach, and I see disappointment flash across her face. Back at the car, we have our usual argument.
“Why you sit there?” MG asks, when I climb into the back seat.
“Because,” I say, “you should sit in the front.”
Her eyes widen. “No!” she cries. “Why? You sit in front with your husband.”
“No,” I say, “you sit in front with your son.”
This is the carbon copy of the argument we have every single time we go anywhere, and yet Mama Greek won't let a trip begin without it. Finally, as usual, she relinquishes, pretends to swat me with her handbag, maneuvers into the front seat, and starts chattering to Tony in Greek. Usually, this means I will close the door and gratefully dive into the latest happenings on Facebook.
But not today.
The day before, Mama Greek had attended a birthday party for her great-nephew. Now, from the front seat, she launches into a play-by-play, with the accuracy of a sports announcer and the enthusiasm of a Justin Bieber fan.
“And son of Katerina – remember Katerina? - sooo cute! Big brown eyes, one year old! He sit with me… he look at me… oh! And then Yianni say to his Papou, ‘Papou, I want to dance!’ And Nicholas – remember Nicholas? He get wet! And he say, “Ma, I’m wet!” And his mother say…”
This goes on until well past St. Jerome.
I am a terrible actor. I cannot pretend to care about something when I don't to save my life, or even yours. So my fake delight about the comings and goings of every single one of the 15 babies at the birthday party, when I’m sitting in the back seat having period cramps, is strained. But it’s a Catch 22. If I were to say, “Mama Greek, I don’t want to know about the kids at the birthday party because I’m not pregnant and I don’t know why and if you say another word about it I’m going to throw this pie out the window and then jump after it,” things will get much, much worse.
Thankfully, the baby talk dies down. MG switches to Greek chit-chat with Tony, who turns up a Led Zeppelin song on the radio, in a silent gesture towards cheering me up.
Then, mingled in the final strains of Good Times, Bad Times, I hear Mama Greek throw out an English word. That word is “pregnant.”
“Ma,” Tony says, raising his voice, but it’s too late. I know. Someone in the family is knocked up, and Tony is telling his mother to put a cork in it on all things baby, child and bun-in-oven-related. She tries to wrestle a question in, but he, with the ease and skill of years of practice, shuts it down. There is blessed silence.
I look out the window at the 1970s macramé of orange, brown and red trees, and I think about Papa Greek. This is the first time we’ve gone up north since he died, something he always loved doing and looked forward to. In the back seat, with my shitty pie and my relatively flat stomach, I suddenly miss him so much, I can hardly breathe.
On the way home, too stuffed to argue, I allow Mama Greek to sit in the back. Over lunch, I was filled in on the new Pregnant: another cousin’s girlfriend, who wasn’t there today. I like her a lot, and maybe because she’s not someone I’m close to, the news is a bit easier to take. But still, it sits on me like a stone, along with 12 pounds of turkey, taramosalata and full fat yogurt.
As Mama Greek’s snores begin to reverberate through the car, and I wonder to Tony why this whole trying to get pregnant deal has been so much harder for me than it has been for him.
“Is it because it’s my body?” I ask. “Or is it because I’m just more dramatic and negative than you are about this particular subject?”
“I don’t know,” Tony says, carefully. “But whatever it is, it’s probably something that you should pay attention to.”
Normally, this kind of remark would make me slump into a good, old-fashioned mope, but today, for some reason, I ponder his words. I think about all the Pregnants I know, and all the people with kids, and I find myself in my usual go-to place: that these people know something that I don’t, that they’re are doing something that I am not, and that there must be something more I could do.
A light goes on.
With blame comes control.
I’m a self-blamer. To the core. You name something, and in my mind, it’s my fault: my sore throat, the provincial election results, global warming. I’m working on it, slowly but surely, but in the car that day, I see the other side of it. I can't blame myself for something if I don't believe I actually have control over that thing.
When you have control over something, and that thing doesn’t work out, it's usually because of something you didn’t do right. So, when it comes to getting knocked up, if I’m not doing something right (not that, gutter-minds - I’m pretty sure I have that part figured out,) then it makes sense that I would feel horrible every time someone else gets the results I want, and that I'm not getting. After which I silently punch myself in the face, over and over again. Which feels totally awesome, by the way.
But the truth is, I am doing everything within my control. Acupuncture. Fertility testing. Not drinking. (Very much.) Even thinking positively, although in this moment, I realize that I’ve even been beating up on myself for not thinking positively enough.
If someone I loved got sick, or was hit by a bus, or got struck by lightening, would I say, “You know, Fred, there are probably a few things you could have done to prevent that. Here’s an Excel spreadsheet I’ve made listing some changes you might consider”? No. So why do I keep saying it to myself?
The realization hits me like a blast of air. I sit up, take a deep breath, and look out the window. The colours on the trees seem brighter, sharper, more there than they were before. I am so struck that I consider getting a tattoo on my forearm, or at least buy one of those wall decals, in a good font, that reads:
YOU ARE NOT IN CONTROL.
Mama Greek snores louder. I take Tony’s hand, and turn up the radio. And I feel, truly and deeply, for the first time in a long time, how little power I have over anything, anywhere, at any time.
And I am thankful.