In the course of about two and a half years, I've slowly acquired things that a confirmed bachelor like me never thought I'd have--a dog, a wife, a home, a baby on the way--so why is it that nothing in real life is quite the way I think it's going to be? All those preconceived notions I used to have are rapidly dissolving in the face of reality, and the education I've been getting is pretty interesting.
For example: I always assumed I'd train my dog. Instead, my dog has taught me--I've been trained to throw a tennis ball for hours now, coached to deliberately drop a few forkfuls of spaghetti or sections of breakfast toast when no one else is looking. Barnum is the most dignified clown I've ever known--I mean, I've never met a dog before who constantly chases down cats just pin them and wash their ears. Certainly this is not the dog I thought I'd have--but it's the one I've got, and that's what counts, right?
Likewise with the wife. Who would have imagined that the woman who dumped a full watering can on my head during a budget meeting would end up being the same woman I write passionate love letters on in chocolate sauce? Rose is not quite what I expected, but she's absolutely more than I deserve--a humbling little truth that keeps me going these days. This whole marriage thing is pretty amazing; no wonder it's been legalized.
Similarly, I'm learning that home is more than just the place you drop your hockey gear, and babies on the way are more than just lumps under a T-shirt, although at the moment, that's the general shape of things for us. Or Rose rather, since she's the one doing all the work at the moment. She's taken to wearing one of my older baseball shirts, and the sweetly rounded swell of her once flat tummy is driving me absolutely crazy.
It's so weird. I always assumed that pregnant women looked fat, and that there was nothing sexy about them. Wrong! At the moment, I'm having a lot of trouble fighting down the urge to go pounce on Rose right this minute. She smells so good, and she has this innocent smile that's half sinful half saintly. Everything about her turns me on right now: the way she holds her glass of milk, the green satin bows in her hair, the way she licks her upper lip--
This is more than weird. How can sex be this good? Aren't pregnant women supposed to be uninterested and cranky? They aren't supposed to throw you down and make you yelp for breathless mercy before engaging in personal contact that leaves both parties sweaty and satiated, right? Not that I'm complaining, God no--it's all been the sort of wonderful discovery that I can't exactly share with the rest of the world, and like I said, the preconceived notions are being turned inside out.
I need to go pounce on her---
"I need them."
"You don't need them you just want them--"
"You're driving me crazy, you know that?" MacGyver finally blurted in loving exasperation. Rose picked up a spoon, frowning. She leaned over the counter, or tried to, but the pronounced lump of her belly made it difficult. Outside, the wind howled through the telephone wires, making a lonely whistle.
"How's that?" came her absent mutter. He picked up the shopping list and squinted at it before replying.
"Nothing's what I thought it was-- Just as I'm figuring out that every pregnancy cliché I know is wrong and every preconception I've ever had is out the window, you have to go and follow one right down to the letter, don't you?"
"Mac, I didn't ask to have cravings, okay? It's not as if I spent all day thinking up stuff to have a yen for--honest! You wanna blame someone, blame the Sprog--he or she's the one responsible," Rose grumbled, looking up from her recipe book.
"The Sprog," Mac scoffed cheerfully. "You're telling me that a eight month old sphere is responsible for my having to go out at 8:47 at night to buy exotic Chinese dried fish?"
"Yes. The Sprog has well-defined sensibilities," Rose replied, looking patiently at her husband. MacGyver walked over and ever so lightly thumped her well-rounded abdomen with a knuckle, the way one would a melon.
"You in there--try to grasp the idea that Bombay Duck runs about seventeen dollars a box," he began as Rose giggled.
"Take it out of his or her college fund, okay? I need you back within twenty minutes so this stuff can simmer."
"College fund--at this rate, Sprog better start thinking vocational school." he balefully stated, grabbing his coat and heading for the door.
The mid October night was soft and sweet; Mac loaded Barnum into the back and patted him briskly, earning a long lick of appreciation. "Not much longer, huh Barn? We'll get through this," he assured the dog before climbing into the jeep and starting the engine.
She does crave things--blue cheese, licorice and cotton candy--not all together, thank God, but it does seem to be the weirdest things. My thought is, hey if a few exotic foods are the worst things throughout this pregnancy, then so be it. Rose and I opted out for the early tests, preferring to be surprised. Like the whole pregnancy wasn’t one big one.
Frankly I'm amazed at how well she's doing. All I know is that if it was me going through all these transformations I'd probably get in bed and stay there for the entire nine months. But no, Rose is up and out there, still going to work and helping Trevor run the Marine Studies lab. Sure she waddles now, and doesn't exactly dash up the stairs, but there's no holding her back.
Trust me on this, I know.
Anyway, she signed us up for Lamaze classes through the Foundation and we lucked into a group that had evening sessions. To be honest I was a little leery of the whole thing. Neither my grandfather nor my father were anywhere near the birth process, which seemed to sit just fine with everyone. I'm no stranger to blood or pain mind you, but I'm not good at handling it when it's coming from someone I love dearly. Rose however was determined that I was going to be there whether I liked it or not.
"If you were there for the beginning you can be there for the end," she argued.
"No, no--I think I should get credit for serious attendance at the beginning and the middle and just play hooky for the end," I shot back.
"Hooky or hockey? And don't you dare make a crack about the playoffs or I'll kick you right in the Stanley Cup, Mister!"
So I got roped into coaching her. Despite all my bluster, I wanted to, to be honest--I mean the birth of our child seems like a big enough event to commit to. And then came the first session.
Four couples: Wanda and Charlie, Jolene and Scott, Sonia and Paul and of course Rose and me. They were all teenagers except for the two of us; a detail I noticed right away and I mean they were kids, every one of them. If it weren't for the fact that the girls were obviously pregnant I would have thought I was in a high school class. As I looked around I saw acne, braces, bubble gum--and no wedding rings on any of them. Rose must have loved my expression since she had to pinch me to get my attention again.
"Mac, you look like you just drank a sauerkraut milkshake,"
My wife--she has such a way with words.
"I think if you combined everyone else's age, Rose, you'd get mine." I told her weakly.
"Oh hush, you're just overly sensitive," she chided, but I noticed she'd been looking the room over as well. Once we saw Heidi, the trainer come in, I relaxed a bit. Heidi was our age and quite a bit more.
"Hey guys, are we ready to get cracking?" she chirped, setting down boxes of stuff and glancing at all of us. There were nods, mostly from the girls, since they really didn't have a choice. We guys were hanging back, reluctant almost to a man. Not the kind of male bonding Rose was going to be happy about since she nudged me hard.
"It's okay, gentlemen--birth is not normally your area of expertise. But bear with us, and bear down with us tonight, okay?"
There were groans at the bad pun, but it did break the ice. A couple of the guys helped set up the VCR and the goodies table while Heidi checked everyone in and murmured some words of encouragement. When she reached us she grinned.
"Ah, Mister and Missus Geezer," she teased. Rose rolled her eyes.
"Thanks Heidi--you're not making it any easier to keep Mac here with cracks like that."
The nurse dropped her voice to a whisper.
"Sorry--it's just nice to see people who actually plan their pregnancies."
This time Rose grinned and I had to as well--'planned' wouldn't have been the word we would have chosen--it had been more of an all-out assault, an onslaught of sexuality that made other hobbies pale by comparison. To be honest, if it came to sex or hockey, I know how I'd prefer to score.
So we watched the video for the course, and I know that noble and powerful and impressive as Lamaze is, it's probably a good thing all we guys have to do is give backrubs and encourage breathing. The actual birth was pretty awe-inspiring, and by that point I was already used to the idea that there'd be blood and afterbirth involved, so it wasn't too bad.
The breastfeeding part though--I wasn't sure what to think. I guess I'd gotten spoiled, thinking some of Rose's finer features were my exclusive territory. Again, logically I could understand the whole function, but I admit it-- sharing was not going to be my strong point. Ah well, it would only be for a year or so--
Rose nudged me partway through.
"You're not going to freak out about lactation too, are you?"
"Looking forward to it, actually. Everything else about you tastes pretty good."
"Mac, you are completely orally fixated," she reminded me.
"Guilty. I can tell how much you hate it."
She shot me that exasperated look I've come to know so well. But all in all we did fine, and graduated the class with honors.
As the time went by I started getting a little restless--all those doubts were kicking in, those things that would haunt my thoughts late at night, things like: is it too early to think about Little League? Is NHL an acceptable nursery theme?
And most importantly, what are we going to name this kid?
I loved my parents, but by calling me Angus they pretty much hung an invisible sign around my neck that said "Torment me all through my formative years until I turn into a bitter geek." Thank God for Harry, who called me Mac from the first minute of my life. I latched onto that, and never looked back.
What to name the kid--well, lots of folks important to me have good names--Pete and Jack and Matt. Of course it could be a girl, too, but I'd have to be a little more cautious about my suggestions. Something tells me that Rose wouldn't be too keen on naming our baby after one of my old girlfriends. Go figure. But hey, there's her mom name and my mom's name and I have a secret fondness for Rose, even though she's not that crazy about it.
We may have to open the phone book cover our eyes and point at this rate.
Rose sighed and shifted her weight, biting her lip as another cramp tightened through her. She wished Mac would hurry, since the curry was starting to smell wonderful, the rich spices wafting through the Grotto. With a sigh, she moved over to one of the sofas and gingerly lowered herself onto it, breathing in a sigh as she sank down.
"Oooooh I can't wait for you to be born either, pal!" she told her rounded stomach. "Stop giving mama a hard time with the kicking, okay?"
The lump made no such promise, thumping from inside again, and Rose grumbled. She gritted her teeth against the discomfort, and turned her attention back to the scent of the curry. A low throb made her squirm, and she moved to stand when the sudden rush of wetness surged down between her thighs.
And then it happens. Perfectly ordinary sort of thing, right? I'm in line with the square box of stinky Bombay Ducks, waiting to pay for them behind three people when my cell phone rings.
"Mac, uh, it's time,"
I can hear the words but I'm not breathing or anything. They're echoing in my head, and I'm suddenly gripping the box so hard the top pops off and little dried fish are spilling everywhere.
"Mac! My water broke, Honey, and it's time to go--are you there?" Rose's voice is tinny and getting a little concerned. I'm still standing there like an idiot.
"Time! Yeah, okay, I'll be right there!"
I hang up. I call back. "Do you still want me to get the Bombay Ducks?"
I'm running out the door. The clerk is yelling at me, the manager is chasing me, and out in the jeep Barnum is barking his head off seeing this. I still have the box of Bombay Ducks in my hand. Correction--I have half a box, and I've left a litter of them through the store and into the parking lot. Little expensive stinky dried fish scattered like a Handsel and Gretel bread trail Barnum is wagging his tail like there's no tomorrow, loving all the excitement.
"Yeah, um sorry about that," I'm digging in my wallet, yanking out bills and stuffing them in the guy's hand, twenties, fives, anything to get rid of him and get going. He's startled at receiving about three times more than the fish costs, but takes it while I grin, and say the stupidest thing I've ever said to another man. "Sorry I'm having a baby and it's time."
As I'm pulling out of the parking lot like a maniac I can hear him saying "What the hell--"
Barnum is quiet as I race the jeep home, and I realize he's happily eating about fifty dollars worth of fish from Hong Kong.
Rose hung up the phone and wearily threw the towel down on the carpet, wiping the dampness with her feet. The industrial door rolled open and Mac dashed in, eyes wide.
"Slow down! Evelyn's on her way for Barnum, and I have to put the curry in the fridge. You may want to call Pete too," came her calm reply. He deflated, drawing in a breath as he hurried towards her. Rose rubbed her belly and winced.
"Brat, are you sure you can wait?"
"Yes--Doctor Chun's going to meet us there, but she warned me that I'm probably lots of hours away from anything exciting, so better pack a book,"
Mac ran his hands through his hair, looking concerned and amused at the same time. "War and Peace? Or something smaller?"
"You!" she gave him a playful push to the shoulder. "Something light and amusing okay? One of those Evanovich novels."
Mac nodded, trying to contain his excitement. He glanced over at the nursery, quietly grateful that the thing was finished, from walls to carpet. The only detail missing was going to be supplied fairly shortly by the sound of it. He grinned.
By the time Evelyn had come and gone, Rose was beginning to get anxious. She settled into the jeep with a sigh as Mac climbed in to the drivers' seat and glanced over at her. It was nearly ten-thirty by they time they pulled away from the Grotto, and she closed her eyes enjoying the cool breeze on her face.
Patience. Always thought I had it when I needed it. I usually do around chemicals and fuses and cliffs. After all, patience is a virtue and a darned good thing to have.
I have no patience right now. My wife is leaning on my arm, we're waiting for the elevator and I'm about three seconds from pounding on the metal door. Rose gives me a warning look and I calm down.
When the elevator opens, she waddles in first, and then turns to me. "Damn! I left my purse in the jeep!"
"I'll get it.”
She waggles her fingers at me and gives a tired smile. "Okay, see you up on the sixth floor."
The purse, of course, is right behind the seat where she always leaves it, and I shove it under my arm trying not to grumble. Patience. It's been almost nine months; you think I'd have the waiting down, but Nooooo. I jog back to the foyer of the hospital carrying Rose's purse, feeling just a bit tense.
Back inside I'm in front of the elevator again, bouncing a little now because it's taking another Ice Age--and that's when I notice that it isn't moving at all. The lights for the fourth and fifth floor are both lit up, and a sinking feeling hits my gut. I turn just as the nurse at the reception desk scurries away from her station and shoots a very concerned look my way.
"The elevator--" she mutters, heading towards me.
"Is stuck--" I finish for her. In my head I can a voice announcing that now is the perfect time to panic. I slam up against the door and yell."Rose!"
"Mac . . ." it's ever so faint, but I can hear her and it lets my heart start pumping again.
"Mac, the elevator's stopped. And I have to pee--"
Bad news right there. In this last month, the bladder issue is pretty important to Rose. I sigh. "Brat, did you use the emergency phone--"
The nurse beside me nods and announces, "That's how she reached me, sir. We've got a call into the Otis people--what's your wife coming in for?"
"We're having a baby."
"Oh dear--how far along is she?"
"Ah, let's see, her water broke about two hours ago, and her contractions are about forty minutes apart," I babble, running my hands along the door seam, perfectly aware that I could jimmy them open and climb up to Rose. Or climb down if I took the stairs to the fifth floor . . . already I'm thinking ahead of myself here, anxious to get to her. The nurse is biting her lip and staring at me, so I try to give her a reassuring smile.
She backs up a step, so it must not have been that encouraging."Just relax sir--she's going to be okay--"
"She has to pee," I explain."Which means we have only a few minutes."
"Oh!" Suddenly the nurse understands the situation a little more clearly. She bites her lip again and checks her watch. I sigh.
Time to get to work--
"Brat, I'll be right there," I shout at the doors. Taking the stairs, I jog up the long flights and reach the fifth floor, a little out of breath, but there's no time to worry about it. I reach the elevator, where three people are waiting impatiently, and push past them. Out comes the knife, and I pry the doors open at the lock point a few inches from the floor.
I'm in luck because the top of the elevator is only about two feet lower than the doorway; I step down and look for the service panel.
"Mac? Ummm can you hurry up, sweetie?"
It's nice to be needed.
I pry up the panel and drop into the car, feeling a little proud that I can still do it and see Rose leaning against the wall, phone in her hand, grinning at me. As I reach for her, She winces, doubling over with a contraction. "Oooooo---"
"Time to start breathing, Babe." A quick kiss to her hairline--still tasty, although she wouldn't want to hear it right now I'm sure.
"Lemme take a look at this panel . . ."
The amazing this about elevators is that most of them have been running on the same circuitry since the early sixties. Real basic stuff, easy to follow, and easy to fix.
"I need something small and metallic to close up this circuit," I tell Rose, who's busy puffing like an engine. She dumps her purse out, and all sorts of helpful things spill out: hair clips and earrings and post-it notes and her first aid kit.
Piece of cake--take the hair clip, straighten it, fix it in place on one end the broken wire with a band aid, insulate my hand with the plastic lining of the purse and touch the other end to the rest of the circuitry. The car jumps, the smell of burnt wire fills the air, but three more touches get the car up to the open door of the fifth floor. The three people there have grown to a crowd of eight, all of whom are looking at us like we're Martians.
Rose has scooped up her purse and is groaning."Pottypottypotty!"
Down the hall near the stairs is the restroom, and Rose rushes in while I wait outside. So far, crisis averted.
When she comes out, she looks happier, but that changes when I point out we have to take the stairs up one more floor to the maternity wing.
"Who . . . put it . . . way up here!" she puffs again as we begin the slow ascent.
"It's an old hospital, Hon."
"It's a stupid hospital!" she wails. I don't blame her--here she is in the early stages of labor and she's climbing stairs for crying out-loud. We get to the proper floor and three nurses, one with a wheelchair all start hurrying towards us.
"Flora told us you'd be coming up--into the chair, Mrs. MacGyver," the tallest one insists. Rose does not argue, but drops herself in with a sigh. I trail along in the back, pleased as punch that I've still got it when it counts.
Now comes the REAL test.
The birthing room was cozy, with wooden floors and carpets, flowers, impressionist paintings on the walls--even Mac was surprised at how comfortable the sofas and chairs were.
"Like a living room with a hospital bed in the middle of it," came his wondering murmur. Rose, now in a hospital gown, lumbered over to one of the sofas and sighed.
She sat down heavily, giving him a tired smile."Braid my hair?" she requested.
He nodded.With the ease of long practice, he brushed her auburn curls, and then plaited them in to a smooth rope down her back, tying it off with a rubber band. Rose relaxed under his gentle administrations, making slight happy sounds.
"Better. Listen Mac, I know we're about a month early on this baby and we haven't really decided on names for this Sprog, so I have a deal for you."
"You choose a girl name and I'll choose a boy name, okay?"
"It will give you something to think about . . . Ooohee, oooh . . ."
"Okay, deep breath in, count of six . . ." Mac pressed his hands on her shoulders, firmly. Rose obediently drew in a breath. He glanced at his watch and muttered."Hold, hold . . . .slow release, babe in eight . . .one . . . two . . . three . . ."
A scream split the air, and Rose flinched, letting the breath out in one whoosh; even Mac looked concerned. Giving her a pat, he stepped out to the hall, looking around. The nurse at the station glanced up at him curiously.
"That scream--?" he asked helplessly.
The nurse gave him an understanding look."That's the patient in two oh six."
"Is she all right?" Mac glanced over his shoulder down the hallway at the doors before returning his gaze to the nurse, who shrugged.
"Mr. MacGyver, it's all a matter of pain and preparation. I know the noise is a little nerve-wracking, but you and your wife need to know that not every woman handles having a baby gracefully, all right?"
Mac stared at her, and she continued. "I see that the two of you went through Lamaze, which will give your wife a way to focus instead of panic. Believe me, we're taking care of the girl in two oh six--"
"But she's probably going to scream quite a bit more before her baby is born. I'm sorry, but that's the way things go around here sometimes."
Mac shook his head and went back into the room, straight over to Rose, relating what the nurse had told him.
Rose sighed."Poor kid--listen, think you can find me a little fruit juice?"
"If I have to climb the tree myself, Brat," he promised.
"Well you don't have to go quite that far," Rose yawned through a smile.
Where's Doctor Chun? We've been here for three hours now, and they won't send Rose home since her water broke, but she's not dilating and both of us are frustrated, tired and frankly, bored. The contractions are still half an hour apart, and it's two in the morning. I want to sack out on the sofa so badly--but I'm not that heartless. Poor Rose is sitting in the hospital bed, trying to watch a Twilight Zone rerun and sighing a lot.
I'm still excited. I mean, here we are, set to go, ready for delivery, and Sprog is not cooperating. The nurses are pretty patient, but between the waiting and the screaming from two oh six, I'm also a little on edge.
Then we get the call--Chun's in surgery with an emergency caesarian and suggests inducing labor. Ohhhh. Well the nurses relay the options and the first two have me on the verge of laughing out-loud.
Option one: have sex. I'm not kidding--apparently there are proglandins released in semen that can get labor started, and by coating the uterus--never mind. Rose does not look In The Mood by any means, not with two oh six yelling every few minutes. Can't say it's going to help my concentration either.
Option two: nipple stimulation. The is the point at which I am seriously going to start snickering, since it's certainly one of my favorite hobbies anyway, and who knows, option two just might end up leading to option one--Rose looks at the nurse suspiciously, as if she thinks this is something the woman's made up just to keep up occupied, but the nurse tells her that stimulation will lead to uterine contractions which in turn will . . .
"Or, the most efficient thing would be to start you on an IV of Pitocin," the nurse finishes.
Damn. And I was seriously rooting for option two.
So Rose is hooked to an IV and they gently start pumping Pitocin into her system. She looks relieved that something's' being done, finally, and gives me a big smile.
"We'll save option two for later--" she murmurs sweetly, reading my mind. I nuzzle her ear, thinking I have to be the most terrible male on the face of the planet for wanting to jump a pregnant woman in a hospital bed.
Seven twenty AM.
Glancing at the big clock didn't make the time pass any faster; Mac choked off a grunt of impatience. Rose whimpered her way through another strong contraction, breathing dutifully, but red-faced and tired.
"I'm Callie, folks, and I'll be with you this morning. You're doing beautifully Rose. You're at eight and a half centimeters and should be feeling some real strong pushes . . ." the little African-American nurse soothed her. She shuddered.
"Oh yeah, it's definitely hurting now," She moaned. Mac looked helplessly at Callie, who handed him a washcloth for Rose's face.
"I know, I know--Doctor Chun is right next door in two oh eight but she'll be right here."
"Two oh eight? What happened to two oh six?" Mac asked as he wiped Rose's forehead.
Callie grinned. "Baby girl, seven pounds three ounces. Mom's been sleeping now for about two hours."
"Lucky woman," Rose moaned. "Mac, I have to tell you--"
"We are never having sex again. Thought you might need to know that."
The nurse laughed, patting Rose's knee before adjusting the Pitocin. "Honey, every woman here says that, and none of them ever manage to hold out. Get that look off your face, Mr. MacGyver--that's just her hormones talking."
It's driving me crazy. Not the waiting, because things are happening, finally. Not the breathing, which is kinda soothing even to me. Not the fact that Doctor Chun hasn't even popped in yet, which is just annoying. No, it's seeing Rose all scrunched up in pain, puffing and gasping and crying.
Why did I put her through this? The Demerol is barely helping, and I feel like the biggest bastard in the world, knowing full well this is my entire fault.
And then, pulling me out of my brooding thoughts, Rose grunts my name and clutches my hands hard enough to grind the bones together. "I . . .looooooooove . . . you, Mac!" she manages to chuff out. "And I gotta . . . puuuuuushhhh!"
Oh boy. I dash to the hall, wave to Callie and dash back. Rose has her knees up and a comically grim look on her face I know very well.
Now or never.
The nurse shoots me a calm gaze. "Two oh eight is a breech birth and Chun's busy, so it looks like it's you and me, Mr. MacGyver. Get some gloves on and give me a hand. Rose, on the next one, push, baby--a good strong one, okay?"
Oh God, the next three minutes are incredible. Callie is pressing Rose's thighs open and I can see the rounded bulge, a hard groan from Rose, a squelch and all of a sudden there's this new person all red and outraged and slick in my hands. Callie is chuckling, rubbing Rose's belly with one hand and working calmly.
"Baby?" comes her weak voice.
"Oh yeah--nice and big--gotta be an eight pounder at least, Rose. You did real good."
I can't answer; I'm just too choked up looking at a furious little face, chubby shoulders, and wide open blue eyes. Callie scoops it up and carries it over to the warmer, humming softly as two other nurses are working with the lower half of my wife. She looks at peace, finally, and grins at me from her pillow. "So what is it?"
I'm stunned--I forgot to check. Three steps over to the warmer and I look.
The head turns towards me. Towards me! I can't believe it; my baby already knows my voice. Callie finishes wrapping up the little body and hands it to me as Rose is making impatient noises behind me. Carefully, I carry the sprog to mama, grinning like the complete idiot I now realize I am.
"You get to name him, Brat. He's a boy," I manage in a husky voice I don't even recognize. She lets me continue to hold him, and reaches a finger to stroke his cheek.
Rose is crying, and I've never seen anything so beautiful.
"Hello Harry," she whispers, and I think my heart is going to burst with the overflow of everything good within me. October 18th at seven-forty AM.
I am a father.