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Live for Three

Posted Jun 25 2009 12:17pm
I eat for two
walk for two
breathe for two now
--Natalie Merchant

The 10,000 Maniacs song "Eat for Two" was a hit when I was 5 months pregnant with Nat, the spring of 1989. I remember first hearing it as I was pulling up to our condo in Brookline, a side-by-side brick bowfront Victorian; we had a small apartment on the top floor. This was the first place we ever owned.

Those lyrics went through me in a rush of adrenaline; her pregnancy mirrored mine. "Five months how it grows, five months now I begin to show," are the last lines. It gave me chills; I was just beginning to show, also. And feel his little sweet kicks. But the song was so melancholy, not at all what you usually hear in songs about being pregnant. She was pregnant by accident.

I was pregnant totally on purpose. I was 26. It was late February. After days and days of having this weird insatiable hunger, I went to the doctor (I didn't even take a home pregnancy test!) and found out. But that day, Ned was away in Texas, at a conference. I told him over the phone. He was attending a talk at the time, and could not say much (but, being Ned, that was the usual), but he doodled. He drew all these round, wobbly shapes on a piece of paper, during the talk. Fetus shapes, which he still has in a drawer or box somewhere.

Once I knew I was pregnant, thoughts about anything else just ground to a halt. I quit my job, which I had hated for months. (I was a writer at a small software company in Cambridge.) I had nothing to do, but that's what I wanted. I would take long walks around the Reservoir (where years later, I would run with teenage Nat). I would paint rooms and buy baby tee shirts. I would think and think and think about what my baby was going to look like and how I just could not wait to start my real life.

I also had intense, stomach-cramping fears, terrors about birth defects. I worried about toxoplasmosis (I had a cat). I worried about lead (old old house). I worried about any stray thing that can happen to a fetus and give him Something Wrong. (I had no such worries about Max, incidentally, except for the one time on the Cape when Little Nat came along and dropped a huge rock on my pregnant belly. I did worry some about Unborn Benj, but only the fear that he was somehow a fragile fetus.)

But most of the time, Nat was the dreamchild in my head. It's interesting to me that humans are required to have months and months of head time with their unborn; probably to get them used to the idea of being permanently attached and in charge of another creature.

On the weekends when Nat is home the house just fills up with limbs and noise. My Saturdays and Sundays have a structure to them, an old habit I slip into with Nat around: breakfast before morning events; lunch before afternoon events. Microwave bacon and bagel and butter is his breadfast. (He does it all himself, but he needs me to jumpstart him, by asking if he'd like to have breakfast. He will just walk and walk in a circuit, mentioning "eggs" every now and then in his self-talk, but he will never start his own meal prep. That is still a goal for us.) For lunch, it is leftovers heated up. And fruit.

My boys always know that they have to have several portions of fruit a day. Even when I was on Atkins and could not eat fruit, I still had them eat their fruit. I stand there at the sink in the back kitchen, because that is where the disposal is, and I automatically set out three small bowls and I slice up strawberries. Even when boys are scattered throughout the house and I have no idea when, for instance, Max will amble in, ready to eat, I know that I have to cut up berries for three. They are each fully capable of preparing their own lunches, but still I do it. Old habits, old bonds.
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