Link back to Chapter 15
And so we were married, and very quickly it became difficult to remember what it had been like not to be married. When I thought about it, I realized that getting married seemed to have been a gradual process for us, one that had been going on ever since the previous October, when Kelly had moved into her rented house, three blocks down the street from my old place. For the past twelve months we had been in and out of each other’s houses all the time; we had shared meals, talked for hours, prayed and read the Bible together, gone cross country skiing and walking at Myers Lake and riding the horses at Hugo’s farm. She liked to listen to me play guitar and sing traditional folk songs, and I liked to listen to her read aloud from one of her favourite poets. I knew that she liked coffee but preferred tea, and she knew that I liked tea and coffee equally well. I knew that she would put off getting out of bed in the morning until the last minute, and she knew that I liked to get up early enough to go for a walk before getting into the busyness of the day. I knew that when she got home from work she liked to put something loud and lively on the record player, and she knew that when I got home from school I tended to make myself a cup of tea, sit down in my chair, and then fall asleep for half an hour.
These were things we already knew about each other before we got married. But for us, getting married also meant that we were now living in the same house, sleeping in the same bed, and learning how to be lovers, and these were big changes. If we had lived together before we were married, even these things would have come gradually, not abruptly, but for us they were wonderful new experiences. For me it was a wonderful thing to fall asleep with the warmth of her body next to mine, and to wake up in the morning and find her still there in bed with me. To get up early in the morning, go for a solitary walk, and then come home and make her a cup of tea to wake up with was a delight for me; it had not yet become a routine, as it did later on in our marriage. Of course, the routines had their pleasures too – they were the links that tied us to each other in hundreds of different ways – but in those early days things like that still seemed new and fresh and unspeakably delightful.
A few days after our wedding the unseasonably warm weather turned suddenly cold: we had an unexpected Fall blizzard that dumped twelve inches of snow on the ground, with high winds and freezing temperatures. In the days that followed much of the snow melted, but by the end of October there was still some left, and the temperatures remained cool.
On the last Friday of the month I got home a few minutes before Kelly, so I put the kettle on to make a pot of tea, changed into my jeans, and started preparing vegetables for our supper. The days were getting shorter now, and as I stood at the kitchen sink peeling potatoes, I could look out over our back yard and see that the sun was already getting low in the sky.
At about five twenty I heard the back door open and close, and I heard Kelly’s cheerful greeting from the bottom of the stair well: “Anyone home at the ranch?”
“I’m here; I just put the vegetables on”.
She came up the stairs from the back door in her blue nursing scrubs and socked feet, her hair tied back in a loose pony tail. “There’s my favourite Englishman!” she said with a smile; “How was your day?”
“It was fine”, I replied as she came over and stretched up to kiss me. I put my arms around her and we held each other close for a few minutes, neither of us feeling the need to say anything. Eventually I kissed her on the top of her head, and she said, “You are exactly the right height for me, Thomas Edwin”.
“Yes. When we hold each other like this, the top of my head fits exactly under your chin”.
I chuckled; “So it does!”
“You’ve never noticed that before?”
“I probably have, but now that you’ve mentioned it, I’ll notice it every time”.
“I’m glad to hear it!”
“Would you like me to pour you a cup of tea?”
“I’m not done hugging you yet”.
I laughed softly; “You like this marriage business, don’t you?”
“You’d better believe it”.
“I do believe it; I like it too”.
“Good to know”.
“What was your day like?”
“Mrs. Robinson came in to visit Elsie Redl this afternoon; she told me she’s looking forward to seeing us tomorrow morning”.
“Right; what time is that again?”
She stepped back a little and smiled up at me; “Around ten is what we said”.
“So you’ll be up before nine-forty-five, then?”
“I guess I’ll make an effort! But speaking of sleeping, I expected to find you asleep in the armchair with a cup of cold tea at your elbow!”
“Well, I thought I should be a good husband and get the vegetables going”.
“Very good. Just let me change out of my scrubs and I’ll finish the cooking, if you want to have a quick snooze”.
“I’m not feeling too sleepy right now; let me pour you some tea”.
“Alright. Mind if I put some music on?”
“I was expecting it. Fleetwood Mac tonight?”
“I was thinking of Billy Joel, actually”.
Later that night as we were lying in bed together, our room lit by the dim light of a single bedside lamp, I kissed her on the forehead and said, “Do you sometimes feel like we’re just pretending?”
“Pretending to be married”.
“How do you mean?”
“I mean there are times when I feel like I’m still your fiancée, or even your boyfriend. And when we go out together as husband and wife – I don’t know how to explain it, but I sometimes feel as if we’re pulling a fast one on everyone!”
She pushed herself up on her elbow, her hair tumbling down around her face, and grinned at me; “You can still be my boyfriend if you want”.
I ran my fingers softly down her naked back. “No thanks”, I said quietly; “I rather like being your husband”.
“Mmm”, she said sensuously, arching her back; “Well, when you put it like that…”.
“It seems like we waited a long time for it”.
“I guess so. I know people who had longer engagements, but a year was more than long enough for me”.
“Did you dream about being married when we were engaged?”
“Real dreams in my sleep, you mean?”
I smiled and kissed her on the lips; “I certainly remember a few dreams about making love with you”.
“I hope the reality isn’t disappointing you”, she said with a twinkle in her eye.
“The reality”, I replied softly, “is far beyond anything I could possibly have imagined”.
She kissed me again and laid her head back down on my shoulder. “You keep on saying the nicest things”, she whispered.
“I like waking up in the night and finding you in bed with me; sometimes I still can’t get over that”.
“Mmm”. She shifted her body slightly and kissed my neck; “That is rather wonderful”.
We were quiet for a moment, and then I said, “It does seem strange sometimes, though, doesn’t it?”
“Well, three years ago we didn’t even know each other. I was in my last year at Oxford, student teaching, and studying, and playing live music with Owen and Wendy, and trying to figure out how I was going to avoid having the rest of my life managed by my dad”.
“And I was in my first year nursing in Jasper, still getting used to the job, and still a bit sore from being dumped by Mike Sorenson”.
“That’s what I mean; neither of us even knew the other existed. What were the odds of me moving to a place I’d never even heard of in the middle of rural Saskatchewan, falling in love with an absolutely beautiful Mennonite nurse, and getting married to her?”
“About the same as the odds of me marrying a genuine guitar-playing English hippy, I guess!”
I laughed softly, kissed her on the forehead again, and said, “I feel so lucky”.
“I’m the lucky one”.
“I don’t think so”.
She pushed herself up on her elbow again, looked down at me with a mischievous grin, and said, “Are you seriously trying to win another argument with me?”
“What on earth was I thinking?”
“Maybe we’ve both been very lucky”.
She looked at me in silence for a moment, and then sighed, laid her head on my shoulder again, and said, “Yeah, I can go along with that”.
Kelly had told me before our wedding that our house was only two blocks down the street from the neat little bungalow where old Joanna Robinson lived. I had seen Joanna around town a few times since our first meeting at the Co-op deli, and now and again she had reminded me of her invitation to come over and have a cup of tea with her, but somehow I had never gotten around to it. However, I discovered soon after we were married that this was not a state of affairs Kelly was going to allow to continue. “We’ll have to go over and have a visit with her”, she said to me; “I’ll set it up”.
And so it was that on that Saturday morning in late October we went over and spent an hour sitting with the old lady in her living room, drinking strong tea out of proper china tea cups. The house was crowded with old fashioned furniture, with family photographs on the wall, including some of Joanna and her husband in their early days in Canada. I noticed, however, that there were no pictures of any extended family in England or anywhere else, and when I asked her about her life before they came to Canada she was very evasive in her reply. “As I told you before, my husband was a farm labourer”, she said, “and he’d also worked as a groom on a large estate. But it was difficult for him to find permanent employment, so we decided to come to Canada”.
“You’re right”, Kelly said to me later on while we were back home making sandwiches for our lunch; “She’s quite secretive about their life before they came here. I’ll have to ask Don and Ruth if they know anything, but I sort of think they don’t”.
“I’d leave it alone if I were you”.
“How old is she? Eighty?”
“She must be pretty close to that”.
“And you’ve never heard any of her children or grandchildren talking about her life before she and her husband came to Canada?”
“Then I suspect she hasn’t told them about it. And if you start asking questions about it, they might start asking her, and she may not welcome that”.
Kelly grinned at me; “Nice thinking, Sherlock! Sometimes it’s helpful to have an introvert in the family!”
“It’s not just because I’m an introvert”. I was spreading egg salad onto a slice of brown bread, but I stopped for a moment, my knife poised in my hand. “I don’t especially like it if people ask me about my family back home, because sooner or later they’re going to ask why I decided to come here, and it’s hard to answer that question honestly without dredging up all kinds of family conflict that I’d rather not talk about”.
“You think it might be like that for her too?”
“I really have no idea, but I know there could be all kinds of reasons why she might prefer not to talk about it, and personally, I’m okay with that”.
She looked at me for a moment without speaking, and then reached up and kissed me on the cheek. “You’re a very wise man, Tom Masefield”, she said softly.
“Well, I don’t know about that”.
“Oh, I do, and I think you are”.
One thing Kelly and I gradually came to realize was that we lived closer to old Joanna than any of her family members.
Ruth and John Janzen lived with their children on an acreage just south of town; Ruth was a little older than Kelly, but they were very good friends. Toward the end of November she called Kelly one night and asked her if she’d mind running up the street to see if her grandma was okay. “I’ve called her three times in the last half hour”, she said, “and she’s not answering her phone”. So Kelly put her parka and tuque on and went over to Joanna’s place to check up on her. A few minutes later she came back with a grin; “She needs a new battery for her hearing aid”, she said.
“She can’t hear the phone without her hearing aid? She must be deafer than I thought”.
“That’s not it. She couldn’t hear the TV, so she had it turned up so loud she couldn’t hear anything else. I just about had to break the door down to get her attention!”
I laughed; “That’s hilarious! Was she surprised to see you?”
“Yeah, she was, but when I explained to her what it was all about, she thought it was pretty funny too. She called Ruth right back and apologized, and she apologized to me too, for making me come out on a cold night like this”.
“I expect it won’t be the last time”.
“How do you mean?”
“Well, it looks like Ruth’s figured out how close we live to her grandma”.
“I guess that’s right, isn’t it?”
Jacob William, the firstborn son of Joe and Ellie Reimer and first grandchild for Will and Sally, made his entrance into the world just before noon on Wednesday December 10th. Ellie went into labour at about eleven o’clock Tuesday night, and Sally called us at about six in the morning to let us know what was going on, and to assure us that everything was fine. So we went to work as usual; Sally was at the hospital, but Will was at the school, and I knew that he would get a call if anything happened, and he would let me know right away.
Still, I found it difficult to concentrate on my lessons that morning; my thoughts kept straying away to Joe and Ellie and their baby, and to Kelly and me as well. I knew that Kelly was longing to get pregnant; “I’m already twenty-six”, she had said to me, “and I want to have lots of kids, so do you mind if we get started as soon as possible?”
“Of course not”, I had replied with a grin; “I’m kind of looking forward to it myself!”
In fact, this was not entirely true. Of course, I wanted to have children, but I was haunted by a secret fear that I would not be a good father, a fear I found so threatening I had not even talked to Kelly about it. I knew that I did not want to be an absentee parent like my own father, but I had never experienced anything different and I had no idea how to go about it. And so a part of me wanted to have children as soon as possible, but another, secret part wanted to wait until I had at least some idea of what being a better father might look like.
Kelly, however, seemed to have no fears at all about the idea of parenthood, or at least none that she had shared with me. I also knew that she was looking forward to the birth of Joe and Ellie’s baby and that she wanted very much for us to be involved in his life as his aunt and uncle – a desire Joe and Ellie shared. We had grown much closer to them since their wedding nineteen months ago. The four of us had gotten into the habit of having Sunday suppers together once or twice a month, and it was not uncommon for those supper time conversations to go on late into the night, until eventually one of us would say, “Okay, folks, it’s going to be a sleepy day tomorrow!” and we would reluctantly bring the evening to a close.
It was Will who slipped into my classroom at the start of the lunch break on that December day to give me the news that Ellie had had a baby boy, and that mother and child were both well. I congratulated him and asked him whether he was going straight up to the hospital.
“No, not for a couple of hours yet”, he replied; “Sally says they’re still cleaning up, and of course Ellie’s really tired and they want her to sleep for a couple of hours if she can. I was thinking I might go up around three-thirty; what about you?”
“I expect we’ll go up after supper; you know how excited Kelly is about this baby!”
He nodded and smiled; “She’s been talking about being a mom since she was about fourteen. But hopefully, before too long…?” he added with a mischievous grin.
“Getting greedy for more grandchildren, are you, Will?” I replied, punching him lightly on the arm. “Don’t you need a few months to get used to this one first?”
It was just after seven o’clock when Kelly and I went up to the hospital to meet our new nephew. When we got there Joe and Ellie were alone with the baby; they were in a single room with the lighting dimmed; there was an easy chair at the foot of the bed, and a couple of hardback chairs that had obviously been brought in for earlier visitors. Ellie looked tired but happy as she lay in the hospital bed with her son in her arms; Kelly stooped to kiss her, and I gave Joe a bear hug and said, “Congratulations, Papa Reimer. Does this young fellow have a name yet?”
Joe glanced at Ellie, and she smiled at me and said, “Jacob William”.
“Is he gonna be a Jake?” Kelly asked with a grin.
“Oh, I’m sure he will be”, Ellie replied. “Do you want to hold him?”
I laughed; “She’s been wanting to hold him since the moment she heard he’d been born!”
Kelly bent over and gently took the tiny bundle from his mother; she cradled him, kissed him lightly on his wizened-looking forehead, and showed him to me. “Meet your Uncle Tom, little Jake”, she whispered.
“He’s pretty tiny”, I said.
“Seven pounds four ounces”, Joe replied; “Here, Kelly, take the easy chair”.
Kelly sat down in the armchair at the foot of the bed, holding the baby close and kissing him again on the forehead. I looked at her, dressed as usual in jeans and a sweater with her hair hanging loose down her back, my young wife holding a newborn baby, and suddenly I found myself blinking back the tears. Joe saw it, and immediately knew what it was about. He put his hand on my arm, not saying anything, but I saw in his eyes that he understood, and I nodded gratefully.
“My mom and dad are coming up in the morning”, Ellie said; “They would have come earlier, but Dad was on a work trip and only got home a couple of hours ago”.
Kelly nodded; “Are they going to stay with you guys?”
“Yeah, they will”, Joe replied. “Dr. Wallace says that if things stay good, Ellie should be able to come home in a couple of days. And I was talking to Krista a couple of hours ago; she’s going to come up on the weekend”.
Joe and I sat down on the hard backed chairs, Joe beside Ellie and me nearer to where Kelly was sitting. For a moment none of us spoke; we were all watching Kelly holding the baby close. He was awake, but he didn’t seem to be restless or upset about anything. He was wrapped up tight in a white hospital blanket, and he was wearing a hood on his head that made him look like a little old man in her arms.
“You’re a natural”, Joe said to Kelly.
“Thanks”, she replied with a warm smile; “I’m looking forward to lots of Auntie Kelly time!”
Joe glanced at Ellie, and then said, “Actually, there’s something we wanted to ask you two about”.
“What is it?” I said.
Ellie reached out and took Joe’s hand. “Well, you know I was raised in the United Church, where we baptized babies. But now I’m a Mennonite, and of course we’re going to have Jacob dedicated, not baptized, because that’s what Joe and I believe in”.
“Her mom and dad are a little disappointed about that, I think”, Joe added.
“Yeah, but they’ll be okay”, said Ellie; “We’ve talked about it a lot, and they understand that this is what we believe in. But there is one thing I really liked about infant baptism, and that’s godparents. My godparents are a couple who were really good friends with my mom and dad when they were first married, and they’ve been really conscientious about keeping in touch with me over the years. They’re actually Catholic, and I know they pray for me, and they really take the godparent thing seriously”.
I frowned; “Do Mennonites not have godparents?”
“It’s not common”, Joe replied. “I’ve talked to Rob about it, and he said that it’s been happening occasionally over the past few years – mainly because of the influence of the infant baptism customs. But historically, Mennonites didn’t have godparents for their babies”.
“But we want to”, said Ellie; “Joe and I have talked about it, and he’s agreed to it. My godparents have been such a special part of my life, and I want my children to have that experience too”.
“We’ve checked with Rob”, Joe added, “and he’s said he’s okay with it”.
“So”, said Ellie, “we were really hoping that you two would be Jake’s godparents”.
Kelly and I looked at each other, and I saw that it was her turn to be blinking back the tears. “I think it’s a yes”, I said to Ellie, “although my sweetheart seems to be a little overcome at the moment”.
Kelly nodded, the tears brimming over in her eyes. “Thank you”, she said to Joe and Ellie; “Thank you so much”.
“I would like you to be sure about it, though”, I added. “Since the tradition comes from your side, Ellie, wouldn’t you rather have someone from your family – your sister, maybe?”
Ellie shook her head; “Karla doesn’t go to church, and anyway, we want people who go to our own church and believe what we believe about Christian discipleship. The fact that you guys are relatives is an added extra, but it wasn’t our main criteria”.
“And we’re closer to you than anyone else”, Joe added; “That’s just a fact”.
“I agree”, said Ellie; “I feel I know you guys better than anyone else in our church”.
“And what we want you to do more than anything else is pray for our son and help us raise him as a Christian”, said Joe, “and I know you guys are going to do that anyway, so it seems natural that you should be the ones we ask. You’re going to be the godparents in reality, whether we ask you or not!”
Kelly and I both laughed, and she wiped the tears from her eyes and said, “I guess that’s true”. She glanced at me. “Tom and I haven’t really talked about what we would do when we have children of our own. I’ve never thought about the godparent thing – it was never a part of my life. What about you?” she asked me.
I shook my head. “I was christened as a baby, of course, and Auntie Brenda and Uncle Roy were my godparents, but I don’t think they ever really functioned in that way, as far as I can remember. Auntie Brenda’s my mum’s sister”, I explained to Joe and Ellie. “We saw a lot more of them when we were growing up than my dad’s siblings, because they live in Oxford, but I always thought of them as just an aunt and uncle, not as godparents. Of course”, I added, “the fact that I wasn’t really raised in the Christian faith probably didn’t help”.
“Were there no churchgoers in your family at all?” Ellie asked.
“Oh yeah; Mum went to church when she was younger, before she met my dad, and Brenda and Roy are churchgoers. My grandpa Campion – my mum’s father – was actually a church organist; he taught the organ at university level in Oxford, and when he was younger he played the organ at his college chapel. He was still playing for his parish church until the year he died”.
“When was that?” Joe asked.
“The year before I moved to Canada”.
“So that’s where your mom got her musical interests, then?”
“Yes, although she’s never been an organist; the piano was always her instrument. And as for churchgoing – well, I’ve always suspected that she would have liked to have gone to church while we were growing up, but with Dad being an atheist and so strident about it, I’m guessing it just wasn’t worth all the arguments it would have caused”.
“It’s good to make our own choices about the way we want to raise our kids, though, isn’t it?” said Ellie. “I’ve got good parents, and there are lots of things I like about the way they raised me, but I sure don’t want to be a carbon copy of them”.
“Same for me”, Kelly replied. “I’ve got no complaints at all about the way Joe and Krista and I were raised…”
“Well, maybe our parents were a little too protective of us when we got to be young adults…”, said Joe.
Kelly laughed softly, giving me a mischievous glance. “Yeah, I guess that’s true!”
The baby in her arms stirred and gave a little sigh. “Is he okay?” Ellie asked.
“Yeah, he’s fallen asleep. Do you want to take him?”
“No, he’s fine with you, Auntie Kelly”.
Kelly smiled; “Thanks”.
“So”, Joe said to her, “you were talking about children of your own. If you don’t mind me asking, are you guys trying?”
Kelly glanced at me; I gave her a little nod, and she said, “Yeah, I’m twenty-six and I want a few of them, so I didn’t really want to wait too long to get started”.
“That’s how I felt, too”, Ellie replied.
“But like I said”, Kelly added, “we haven’t even thought about the idea of godparents”.
“We’ll definitely be discussing it”, I said; “Personally, the way you’ve explained it, I like it”.
“Me too”, Kelly agreed.
Joe laughed; “Looks like you just discussed it!”
“I guess we have!” Kelly replied with a grin.
And so Kelly and I stood with Joe and Ellie at the front of the church on the last Sunday in January for Jacob’s dedication – or, I should say, for Jake’s dedication, because that was the name by which he was already universally known in the Reimer family. Kelly and I had gone away for a few days between Christmas and New Year’s; her parents had bought us a skiing holiday package in Jasper. I had watched Kelly do some of her downhill runs, and taken a few beginners’ lessons myself, and we had done some cross country skiing, as well as enjoying some time to ourselves in a nice hotel room. We had not gone away for a honeymoon right after our wedding, with it being the middle of the school year, but Will and Sally had referred to the Jasper trip as ‘your late honeymoon’ when they had told us about it, and that was the way we always thought about it afterwards.
A couple of weeks later Kelly was working a rare Saturday shift, and I had the day to myself. I had cleaned up the place, done some laundry and worked on some schoolwork, and was just thinking of making myself a late lunch when Joe called; he had to do an emergency run out to a farm south of town, and wondered if I’d like to go along for the ride. I immediately agreed, and he picked me up in his truck a few minutes later. It was a fine early February afternoon, with the temperature sitting at about minus twenty and the sun shining out of a clear blue sky, turning the wide snow-covered fields a brilliant white. We spent the next hour or so with a cow that was having respiratory problems; I watched as Joe did a thorough examination, talked with the farmer for a long time about how the problem had developed, and then gave him some medications and some instructions about what to do. It was about three o’clock by the time we got back to town, and I invited Joe in for a coffee.
“I’d better just check with Ellie and make sure everything’s okay”, he said.
So he came into our house and called Ellie, and then he and I sat at the kitchen table for half an hour or so, drinking coffee and talking about anything that came into our heads.
“So how’s it going, this baby-raising business?” I asked at one point.
“Oh well, you know, at the moment there’s not much to it. He basically eats, sleeps, and poops, and in between he waves his arms and legs a lot and gurgles. I get involved in the arm waving and the gurgling and the poop cleanup, and Ellie handles the eating and the sleeping!”
“So she gets up with him during the night?”
“Well she’s nursing, of course, so she’s the one who gets up if he cries and gives him what he’s asking for. If she has a hard time getting him back to sleep, I get up with him and walk him around for a while. We’ve had a few Jake and Daddy hours like that at three or four in the morning. Usually he’s pretty good at falling back to sleep, but now and then he’s not interested. I think he enjoys the fact that he has our full attention in the middle of the night, you know!”
We were quiet for a moment, and then I said, “Can I ask you something?”
“When Ellie was pregnant, were you nervous about becoming a dad?”
“Of course – isn’t everyone?”
“I suppose so”.
He cradled his coffee mug in his hands and looked across the table at me. “Something on your mind?”
I hesitated, and then said, “Yes”.
“Are you nervous?”
I shook my head. “It’s not that I don’t want to have children – I really do, and I’m right with Kelly in wanting to get started as soon as we can. But…”
“There’s another voice inside your head?”
“Yes”. I gave a heavy sigh and said, “The thing is, Joe, you had a fantastic father”.
“Ah!” he replied with a nod of understanding.
“Yes. I haven’t got the slightest idea how to be a good father. I never had a good father myself; my dad was the absentee parent throughout my childhood, and when I got into my teens he spent a lot of time arguing with me and criticizing me and yelling at me”.
“But what about Owen’s dad? You often talk about him”.
“Yes, of course, when I started hanging around with Owen I got a different vision of what a father-son relationship could be like. But I was already eleven at that point. How does a good father raise a small child? I haven’t got a clue”.
He frowned; “Is that really true?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, what’s your secret to being a good big brother to Becca? She obviously loves you like crazy and looks up to you. How did you make that happen?”
I shook my head; “I don’t think I ever really had a plan. And I wasn’t the one ultimately responsible for her – my mum was”.
“Agreed, but didn’t your mom say that you were the one who basically taught Becca to talk?”
I smiled; “Yeah, she does say that. I suppose it might be true; I spent a lot of time with her when she was a baby and a toddler”.
“Why did you do that?”
“Because I liked her. I’d always wanted to have a sister, and it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to do things with her and help my mum look after her”.
“And you knew how to have fun with her, too”.
“I suppose I did”.
He sat back in his seat with a smile; “Well, I agree it’s not exactly the same situation, but I wouldn’t say you were entirely without child-raising talents”.
“I’ve never thought of that before”.
“Think about it. And meanwhile – have you talked to Kelly about it?”
“No; she’s so intent on having kids, and I was afraid it would really freak her out if I told her how scared I was”.
He shook his head slowly; “Tom Masefield, you are a slow learner”.
“How do you mean?”
“Haven’t you figured out by now that there’s one sure-fire way to upset my sister, and that’s to not be entirely up-front with her?”
I gave him a wry grin; “Yes, I know that”.
“You’re right, of course – I need to talk to her about it”.
I thought about it for a couple more days, and then I psyched myself up to raise the subject with Kelly. It was after supper on the Tuesday evening; we had finished clearing up and doing the dishes, I had made a pot of herbal tea and we had taken our cups into the living room. We were sitting side by side on the couch with our feet up on the coffee table, and I took her hand and said, “There’s something I need to talk to you about”.
“What is it?”
“This is going to sound really weird, but I have to say it anyway: please don’t freak out or get upset with me until I’ve finished explaining, alright?”
She shifted her posture slightly so that she was angled toward me; “What is it?” she asked again.
“Well, a few weeks ago you asked me if I minded getting started on having children right away, and I said, ‘Of course not’”.
“I remember”, she said warily.
“Well, that was true, but it wasn’t the whole truth”.
“So now you’re telling me you want to wait? What’s brought this on?”
“Kelly, I’m not done yet. And no, I don’t want to wait”.
Her eyes searched mine in silence for a moment, and then she nodded and said, “Okay, I’m sorry, and I’m listening”.
“Of course I want to have children”, I said, “and I feel as you do, that we’re both twenty-six and we need to get going as soon as we can, so that we can enjoy them and keep up with them while we’re still young. That’s the loudest voice in my head, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s still the plan. But I’ve not been completely open with you about how scared I am; I haven’t talked to you about it, because I’ve been afraid to upset you”.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you’ve got this huge advantage over me: you’ve got an excellent father and mother, so you’ve got great role models. But honestly, I haven’t got the faintest idea how to be a good father to a small child, and I’m really, really scared that I won’t be a good father – that I’ll feel inadequate, and withdraw, and end up an absentee father, like my dad”.
She reached out and touched my cheek with the palm of her hand. “Tom”, she said softly, “You’re warm and compassionate, and you’re wise, and you love to have fun. You’re going to be a great father; I know it”.
I shook my head slowly; “I know that’s sometimes the truth about me, but not always. And I’m not very patient, Kelly, and I know that with small kids, you’ve got to be patient”.
“Well, I think maybe I should check with Becca on that subject; she seems to think that you were great with her when she was a little girl”.
I grinned; “You’re the second person to mention that to me”.
She frowned; “You already talked to someone else about this? Before you talked to me?”
“Yeah, and I knew you’d be upset about that, too”. I hesitated for a moment and then said, “Kelly, I wish I could make you understand just how scared I’ve been – not just scared of turning out to be a bad father, but scared of upsetting you by telling you about that fear. I know how much you want to be a mum, and I didn’t want to hurt you”.
“Well”, she replied with a note of exasperation in her voice, “the best way to hurt me is always to keep things from me. I thought we’d agreed that that wasn’t the sort of marriage we wanted?”
“I know, and I feel really bad about it. I know I shouldn’t have kept it from you, and I’m sorry. The only thing I can say is that it was all about my own fears, that’s all”.
She looked at me in silence again for a moment, and then she reached out and put her arms around me. “I love you, Tom Masefield”, she whispered, “fears and shyness and all. I’m sorry I get impatient with you sometimes”.
“You’ve got nothing to apologize for; I’m the one that keeps messing up on this”.
I felt her shaking her head. “No, I mess up too; I’m constantly discounting the fact that you have to work a lot harder at being open than I do”. She drew back, took both my hands in hers and looked into my eyes again. “Is it a fear that I won’t love you if you tell me the truth?”
It was my turn to shake my head; “No – I know that you love me. It’s more a fear of disappointing you, I think”.
“Disappointing me?” She smiled; “Shall I tell you something that might surprise you?”
“I’ve been thinking over the past couple of days about the curious fact that I fell in love with you – you, who’ve always been more than a little shy and reserved, and me, the one who’s always been totally up front and open. And I’ve come to the strange conclusion that your shyness was a big part of it”.
“I find that very hard to believe; it looks to me as if I frustrate you more than anything else”.
“Yes, sometimes you do. But then I think about what you just said – that you’ve been afraid to talk to me about this, because you didn’t want to hurt me. I tend to forget about that sort of thing – I just blurt out exactly what I’m thinking and feeling, at any time, without stopping to think how it’s going to affect people, or how they’re going to feel about it”.
“And I love that about you. I wish I could be more like that”.
“No, Tom”, she said softly; “I don’t want you to be more like me. I want you to teach me to be more like you sometimes. After all, it was your love for me that made you slow to speak about this – the fact that you didn’t want to hurt me”.
“Now I’m confused. Didn’t you just say a moment ago that the best way to hurt you was to keep things from you?”
“Yes, and that’s true, and I know that you’ll try harder in the future not to do that – because you’ll still be thinking about my feelings, which you already do, and you’ll just be wiser about the way you do it. Your method may have been wrong, but your motivation was right on. But my motivation isn’t always right on; I could use to stop sometimes and think about what I’m going to say, and how it’s going to touch people’s hearts, rather than just blurting it out, like I tend to do”.
I looked at her for a moment, and then I smiled and said, “Say what you like, Kelly, you are an amazing woman”.
“Not as amazing as you”.
We were both smiling now, and she said, “So, just for the record, who was it that you were discussing the inner workings of our marriage with?”
“Ah”, she said with a mischievous grin, “you guys were having a little male bonding time, were you, talking about your problems with the women back home?”
“It wasn’t like that, Kelly. To be quite honest with you, I can’t even remember how it came up, but he got the truth out of me, because he’s good at that”.
“Yeah, he is”. She thought for a minute, and then said, “Do you remember when we started writing to each other, and you used to talk about how you were totally turned off by your dad’s devotion to success and material wealth? How was it you said it? It was ‘soul-destroying and barren’, and it made you want to find a better way of living”.
“I remember; that’s still true”.
“It was like your dissatisfaction with your dad’s way of doing things gave you the boost you needed to look for a better alternative. And it worked, didn’t it? You’ve found what you were looking for”.
“I guess so. I’m not all the way there yet, but I’m certainly happier and more content now than I’ve ever been”.
“Well, then, maybe it’s good that you’re afraid you’ll turn out to be the sort of father your dad was. Maybe that fear will keep you motivated to find a better way. Maybe you can make that fear your friend”.
“But didn’t we just read the other night that perfect love casts out fear?”
“Yeah, but I’m not sure either of us has reached perfection yet, have we?”
I shook my head; “No, I suppose we haven’t”.
She leaned forward, picked up her mug from the table, and took a sip of tea. “So Joe was the one who talked to you about Becca?”
“Yeah – he told me that I seemed to have done a great job in being a big brother to her, and that she loves me and looks up to me, which I know is true – especially since we got over our troubles”.
“And I’ll bet you didn’t go into that relationship with some great master plan of how to be a good brother. Haven’t you always told me that when she was first born, all you were thinking of was that you’d always wanted a sister, and now you had one, and you just wanted to love her and enjoy her?”
“Yeah, that just about sums it up”.
“Well then, your instincts turned out to be pretty good, didn’t they?”
“I suppose they did”.
“So why don’t you try trusting yourself a little more? Don’t worry about it right now – I’m not even pregnant yet. When the time comes, trust your love for our child. And don’t be afraid to just enjoy him – or her”.
“Her, remember? Emma Dawn?”
“Right”, she replied with a sudden smile of delight; “Emma Dawn”.
“Can I ask you something?” I said, and then I stopped and shook my head; “Okay, silly question, I know!”
“What is it?”
“Are you ever scared about the thought of becoming a parent?”
“Sometimes I’m terrified”.
“Wow – that’s a strong word”.
“Honestly, Tom, when I look at Jake, and how totally dependent he is on Ellie and Joe – I mean, they wouldn’t have to do very much neglecting for that little guy to die, would they?”
“No, I suppose not”.
“That’s a terrifying thought – the idea that I’m going to have a child who will be just as dependent on me. I’m honestly not sure I’m up to that level of responsibility”.
“Come on, Kelly – you’re going to be an excellent mother. You’ve been dreaming about it for nearly half your life”.
“Yeah, I know, that’s what I keep telling myself, and most of the time, I believe that. But that other voice never completely goes away either”.
“I never realized you had that other voice, too”.
She inclined her head a little and looked at me with a bemused expression on her face. “So I guess I haven’t been completely honest with you either, have I?”
“That’s hard to believe”.
“It’s true, though”. She smiled; “Time for me to listen to my own advice here, I guess”.
“One day our kids will look up to us and think we’re adults, but inside we’re still going to feel like kids”.
She gave me a wry grin; “Isn’t that the truth?”