I noticed there hasn't been one story on the blog that deals with a wheeler who is trying to make a baby or dealing with parenthood (or impending parenthood). So that's the focus of this story. Hope you enjoy! Please let me know your thoughts!!!
Reasons not to ever have children
1. I am 36 years old, which is considered advanced maternal age, which means my risk of complications both for myself and my unborn child is significantly increased.
2. The lifetime cost of raising a child is a quarter of a million dollars.
3. I would have to change diapers.
4. While I would of course properly clean my hands after changing the child’s diapers, I could not guarantee anyone else (such as my parents) would do so, which means people with hands contaminated with fecal matter would be in my home. I suppose I could ask them to leave immediately after changing a diaper, although this seems like the sort of thing my husband Matt says does not endear me to people.
5. We have 36 light sockets in my house, all of which would be a terrible opportunity for the baby to be electrocuted. Yes, we would use socket protectors, but I suspect any child of mine would be intelligent enough to easily circumvent such a precaution.
6. The baby might vomit. And then we’d have to have the entire house sterilized.
7. The amount of time I would lose from work for both the labor itself and the subsequent maternity leave, not to mention any time I would need to be absent for the child being sick, would seriously jeopardize my career and chances of promotion.
8. What if the baby tried to eat a banana and choked on it?
9. What if the baby tried to eat a grape and choked on it?
10. What if while I was driving in the car, the baby managed to open its car seat, and then I got into an accident while the baby was out of the car seat?
11. What if the baby doesn’t like me? After all, most people don’t.
Reasons to have children:
1. I am beginning to think my husband wants one.
Anna and I have been married for two years.
If someone told me ten years ago, when I was ogling Anna Flint spraying down her cubicle with Lysol that someday she’d be my wife, I would have told them they were as crazy as she was. Well, I wouldn’t have said it like that. I didn’t go around calling Anna crazy the way other people did, but I would have thought it in my head.
Yet here we are, driving to Luciano’s for our second anniversary dinner. And when I look over at Anna while we’re stopped at a red light, she smiles at me and tucks a few loose strands of her blond hair behind her ear. And I think to myself that I didn’t think I’d ever love a woman as much as I love this one. Something that would have made the Matt from ten years ago roll his eyes.
Luciano’s is an Italian restaurant about three miles from our house. A few years ago, going out to a restaurant with Anna would have been unthinkable. It still is, if I’m being honest. Anna worries a lot about the cleanliness of food she doesn’t prepare herself. She thinks restaurants don’t wash the dishes properly and, I don’t know, piss in the soup. So before I took her to Luciano’s, I contacted the owner, a man in his sixties named Freddy Luciano. I explained to him Anna’s issues and asked if he might let her look in the kitchen to make sure everything was on the up-and-up.
If someone else had made that kind of request, they might have gotten punched in the nose, but I had two things going in my favor. First, Freddy Luciano was a nice guy with five daughters, who understood that sometimes “women be crazy.” Second, the fact that I use a wheelchair works in my favor at times. Aside from getting me to the front of the line in some theoretical amusement park ride if I decided I wanted to mess up my spine further, it also means people are nicer to me a lot of the time—sometimes too nice.
So Anna and I went into the kitchen at Luciano’s so she could see them preparing the food according to the health department regulations. She could see they were washing the dishes with soap, not just rinsing them off and throwing them back into the pile. (When she asked Freddy about that, I nearly slapped myself in the forehead.) Anna also took it one step further and called the board of health to verify Luciano’s A rating.
Thanks to these efforts, Anna is willing to eat at Luciano’s. I tried to do something similar with another restaurant, but she was resistant. “Why bother?” she asked. “We’ve got Luciano’s.” Anna does not enjoy trying new things.
I pull into the handicapped parking spot in front of Luciano’s. There are zero steps to the front door, so that’s one thing I don’t have to worry about. The truth is, I get nervous about trying new things too, because accessibility is always a big question mark. Will I be able to get in the front door or will I have to circle around to find a ramp? Will I be able to navigate through the restaurant or will the tables be positioned inches apart?
Anna’s right. We’ve got Luciano’s. And anyway, she’s a great cook.
Freddy Luciano is the host today, and he beams at us when we enter. He likes us, which is good because we can’t go anywhere else. He thinks Anna is hilarious, which is the best possible way he could take some of the comments she’s made during our visits here. He jumps out of his seat when I roll over the carpeting at the entrance, his large belly jiggling from the movement.
“Matt!” he exclaims, reaching out to clap me on the shoulder. He looks over at Anna and smiles at her, but knows better than to touch her. “Anna, you look beautiful.”
Her white cheeks flush pink. I’m with Freddy on this—Anna looks beautiful. She’s wearing a simple white blouse and tan skirt without any makeup because she doesn’t believe in it. Her blond hair is shiny and soft when I touch it. (I’m the only one who can touch her hair.) She looks ten years younger than her age. Every time I look at her, I want to grab her and pull her into my lap, as much as I did on the day I married her.
But I know she wouldn’t like that, so instead I slip my hands into hers for a moment before Freddy leads us to our seats. In the last several years, my hands have gotten deeply calloused from wheeling myself around a hundred percent of the time. I get self-conscious about it when I shake hands with someone new, but Anna’s never commented on it. Not even once, and she comments on everything.
Anna’s and my usual table is on the right side of the restaurant, by the window, but there’s already a couple sitting there, so we get seated also on the right side of the restaurant, also by the window, but not in our usual table. I can see Anna hesitating as Freddy pulls her chair out for her. She wants our usual table—I can see it all over her face. And it is, after all, our anniversary.
“We can wait for the other table,” I tell her, “if you want.”
She frowns, thinking it over. “No,” she finally decides. “Let’s sit here. It’s the same.”
I let out a sigh of relief. Settling for a table other than our usual table would have also been unthinkable in the past. Anna’s been through a lot of cognitive behavioral therapy since we’ve been together. It’s helped, but I suspect the pills she pops every night help even more. She’s got two medications she takes every night, then a “rescue” medication for bad days. On top of that, she takes a birth control pill. She puts them in pill boxes at the beginning of every week, because she’s Anna and that’s what she likes doing.
I’ve got a whole bunch of pills I take too. We’re like a couple of old people with all the pills we swallow every day.
Freddy pulls away the other chair entirely from the table so I can park my wheelchair. It’s been close to four years that I’ve been using my chair all the time. Before that, I was walking, but barely. In retrospect, it was pathetic how long I tried to stay out of the chair. There was a good year when I almost never left the house because I was so freaked out about falling.
All my old braces and crutches are stuffed into the back of my closet, untouched for four years. I can move my hips a little, but nothing in my knees or ankles. Walking isn’t a possibility, and that’s fine with me. I do everything I used to do before, for the most part. I work, I drive, and I can make love to my wife as long as I don’t have to be on top. The progressive form of multiple sclerosis that put me in this wheelchair has been stable.
Anna slides into her own seat, where she starts her inspection. She tries to be sneaky about it, so I don’t see, but I know her really well. She looks at the plate to make sure it’s clean. She lifts each utensil briefly, making sure both sides are clean. She’ll do the same with our water glasses when they arrive. Years ago, this process would have taken an hour and we probably would have had to end up leaving when she found some teeny tiny smudge on a plate, but now the cursory inspection is enough.
“So,” I say as I reach for her hand again. “Two years, huh?”
“Two is a good number,” Anna says. Her hands used to be cracked and dry from all the times she washed them during the day, but now they’re soft. “It’s the smallest prime number.”
“It’s also the only even prime number,” I add.
“Two is also the base of the binary system,” she says.
I search my brain, trying to come up with another interesting fact about the number two. I’m coming up blank. I’m a big nerd—I mean, I work as a computer programmer, so I almost have to be—but Anna will always win this game.
“Two is also the first factorial prime,” she says helpfully.
I don’t know what a factorial prime is. I don’t think I want to know.
“I guess two is an interesting number,” I say.
“Every number is interesting,” she says.
She nods. “Because say there were a set of numbers that wasn’t interesting. One of those numbers would be the smallest non-interesting number. And that, obviously, would make it interesting. Proof by contradiction. So all numbers are therefore interesting.”
I squeeze Anna’s hand. Nobody would argue that my wife is not interesting.
The waiter comes by with our water glasses and Anna does a quick inspection of the glass. I hold my breath for a moment, knowing the glass will probably meet her approval but not being entirely sure. While Anna’s OCD is controlled with medications, those meds don’t always work the way they’re supposed to. She went through multiple medication switches before she got on a combination of pills that worked for her. And even once things were controlled, she had to switch from Prozac to Paxil last year because the Prozac just randomly stopped working. Her psychiatrist explained that can sometimes happen, but it freaked me out.
“Is everything satisfactory, Miss?” the waiter asks.
We both look at Anna, who hastily finishes checking the water glass, then nods. She doesn’t even ask the waiter where the water came from. I let out a breath.
Anna orders her usual—pasta primavera. She doesn’t trust “outside meat.” I get spaghetti and meatballs. I always order something different when we come here since it’s the only variety I get. I’ve tried every single item on the menu at Luciano’s. My favorite is the veal parmigiana, but I feel guilty because of what they do to those baby cows.
Once the waiter has rushed off with our orders, Anna and I stare into each other’s eyes. She has really pretty blue eyes. There’s nothing about Anna I don’t like. Well, not physically, at least.
“I’m glad we’re married,” Anna bursts out, as if she’d been contemplating over the last few minutes whether getting hitched was actually the right decision.
Her eyes widen. “Do you agree?”
“Anna.” I shake my head at her. There are a lot of responses on the tip of my tongue: You’re the best thing that ever happened to me. I love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone before, even my mom. You’re the first woman who’s ever made me truly happy. But it all sounds sappy. Anna doesn’t like sappy and neither do I. So instead, I just say, “Of course I agree.”
“Good,” she says. “Now we can exchange presents.”
My stomach churns. Anna is notoriously impossible to buy presents for. She thinks flowers are “pointless,” she won’t eat chocolate or candy that she doesn’t inspect and pick out herself, and she doesn’t own one piece of jewelry. So all the experience I had buying presents for girlfriends and female family members is useless when it comes to Anna.
So I have to be creative. For Christmas, I bought her a hammock for the porch that I thought she’d enjoy sitting in. She looked at me like I’d just gifted her a giant pile of dog shit. (Or a giant hammock.)
“You first,” she says to me.
I reach behind me for the small backpack I keep behind my wheelchair. I pull out a square jewelry box. Anna’s eyes grow large, but not in a good way. She’s thinking I’m about to give her another present disaster. And maybe she’s right. We’ll see.
“Jewelry,” she says without enthusiasm.
“Not exactly.” I hand her the box, which she holds for a moment, just frowning. “You can open it.”
She cracks the box open slowly, cautiously. When she’s got it about twenty-five percent of the way open, her frown deepens. “It’s a watch.”
She holds up her left wrist. “I have a watch.”
“But it’s a new watch,” I say. I pry the box from her hand and remove the silver watch. I tug on it the way the guy in the store showed me. “And look, it’s got a cell phone charger in it. So you can charge your phone anywhere you go.”
Anna’s eyes light up. It’s one of her big phobias to be somewhere with a low charge on her phone and not be able to charge it. It’s not entirely rational, considering Anna only goes to work, where she has a charger, and sometimes to her parents’ or sister’s houses, and they have chargers too. She also has a charger in her car. So the chances of her being caught somewhere with an uncharged phone is next to zero. But she still worries.
“This is great!” she cries. “I love it.”
I actually got Anna a present she likes. Score.
“Now it’s your turn,” she says.
Conversely, Anna always gets me great presents. Last year, she bought me an Xbox that now makes up a large chunk of my social life. For my birthday, she got me a really cool camera drone that my niece Haley liked so much, she almost walked out the door with it last time they came to visit.
When she hands me the box, I’m relieved to see she’s only wrapped the present twice. Until recently, Anna used to wrap all presents eleven times. My wife is slightly obsessed with the number eleven. It’s the smallest palindrome, which is a word or number that’s the same backwards as forwards, such as her name: A-N-N-A. Before the meds kicked in, Anna used to have to do all her rituals eleven times. To be honest, she still does sometimes. The meds work well, but they’re not magic.
When I get through the second layer, I see that Anna’s gotten me one of those 3-D pens. Which is… great. It’s a really cool gift. I can’t wait to get home and play with it. Except…
“Do you like it?” she asks eagerly.
“Yeah,” I say. “It’s great.”
It’s great. It’s a great present. I love it.
But it’s not what I really wanted for our second anniversary.
What I want is to have a baby with my wife.