Adam’s son was asleep when my mother and I arrived at the barbecue. It was at his mother’s home and from the moment we began the long walk up the driveway I was flooded with memories of our shared childhood; head underwater with memories. Their back yard was now nearly a forest and a small orchard was encased with deer-proof fencing. We had once hit golf balls up onto the hill from where the fence now wrapped around, and there was no longer anything approaching a fairway drive.
This was the long driveway my mother picked me up from after school, and we picked him up on the way to school, in those long foggy mornings of junior high. It was also the long driveway from which my father — on multiple occasions, after I would call him and plead my inability to fall asleep at two o’clock in the morning — would pick me up from scrubbed sleepovers. I had always thought I was homesick (and I was) but in looking back, perhaps it was the insomnia in itself that was the problem. I spent so much time inside that house, and yet neither of my parents had ever been inside before.
There are times now when I forget that my mother was also actually once a new mother, but I see it here and the other times she is around babies. The smile, the joy, the sense of her motherhood returned, hinting at grandmotherhood.
On the deck, on his mother’s shoulder, his new son slept through the midday heat. The baby frowned, and looked so much like Adam’s stern face framed by his wife’s Mediterranean skin. I smelled his head — something I’d learned from other mothers, who seemed to be clued into that new human fragrance — and he did smell sweet, perhaps something familiar to my sister when she was born and I was five.
Their house also smelled familiar, both of comfort and of homesickness. Which was such a confusing experience I am still flummoxed by — to want to be exactly where I am, and yet need to be somewhere else at the same time. Did that have a different label? Or was that just the human experience, as well summarized as anything else?
Adam and his wife had moved to Colorado, but they hadn’t planned on getting pregnant anytime soon. In fact, she was in to her twenty-third week before she knew she was twenty-three weeks pregnant. She’d had no morning sickness, and the other subtle signs were attributed to the change in altitude. Freshly settled into a new city, just barely making friends, the pregnancy was already half-way over.
I am afraid of becoming a parent, and yet I keep finding myself drawn toward the whole endeavor, foolishly. Occasionally my intuition says I’ll be okay at it, that I won’t shrink away. But that I do sometimes, if I allow myself, feel like I’ve failed before I’ve begun, as nearly all of my friends have already brought children into the world, and that a lot of them seem to do it around the same time. But I should allow myself, in those moments of unfounded grief and anxiety paired against the pride and joy of watching others fall head over heels in love with the half-versions of themselves, a fair degree of freedom. Some of them were already divorced, too, so what did speed really have to say about it?
I think I’m afraid of fatherhood, in a similar way I am to most relationships, of the strong gravitational pull of wanting another person to like me so much that I’ll forget to provide all of the parenting things like boundaries and tough love and consequences and lessons and challenging questions and answers. But today, I can try to just enjoy again being a spectator to this wild encounter of my oldest friend now trying out the crucible of fatherhood for the first time. And appreciate that it was a place I wanted to be, but that I didn’t need to be. At least, not yet.
Adam sat on a cooler and I sat cross-legged on the ground in the alcove above the deck, in the shade, and I asked him about Colorado. It was good, full of everything that you could want, a certain cardinal poetry in his answer; the Rockies to the west, Denver to the north, Skiing to the south. Everything you could want except for the ocean, and a loneliness and a lack of work he hadn’t anticipated. His wife really wants to move back, and he is less sure of himself here; he wants her to be happy but doesn’t want to move back home, at least not yet — because it feels like a failure. Even though everyone else wants them to move back, too. They could potentially live in his other childhood home, the smaller one with the smaller driveway.
What could I say about being a parent yet? Except that, no, that didn’t seem like anything resembling a failure, at all. He knew that he liked being away from here, but they hadn’t planned on having a baby this soon, and they probably wouldn’t have moved at all if she had been pregnant earlier. Both of their families were here, and their friends, too. To raise a family, it was so much easier if you had some version of support, and it would be a challenge to build a new life with a new child in a new city. I could just hear it in his voice, though. Something like when I would call for the early morning ride home.
But he’s a sweet father, already, and caring and kind. He was also hot headed and we would fight so much, as friends, we’d adopted an acronym to end a debate. I don’t really remember what the fights were about, except for the end, when one or both of us would shout “E.O.D.!”
“Aries and Pisces,” my mom said, on the walk back down the driveway to the car.
When it came time for the tougher parenting things, whatever motivated his conviction would probably serve him quite well, actually.
For someone who is so conflict adverse, I actually really miss those fights. Perhaps it was because our friendship was strong and bound in a form of unconditional love. It was a relationship I felt safe enough to be myself in, and really say what I felt. Perhaps because I wasn’t worried any longer about him liking me, that I wanted us to decide who was right, even though I always thought I was right. And so, perhaps, I’d have a different set of challenges if and when parenting was my crucible, too.