“It’s really not a big deal,” Paige insisted when we finally caught up with her at our raincheck lunch that weekend.
“What do you mean, not a big deal?” Julianne said. “Counseling is pretty serious. What’s been going on?”
“Jake’s not helping out with baby stuff. You know, he says he doesn’t care what we name him, or what color we paint the nursery, or any of that stuff. But that feels like normal man behavior, right? And I know that I’ve been probably a bit more enthusiastic than a normal woman. I mean, look at the difference between how Elise is handling things and how I am.”
Julianne and I glanced at each other. Obviously that hadn’t been my experience. Ben was taking the lead in our household. Without him, we’d still be nursery-less, and without any number of baby necessities that he’d been buying and squirrelling away in the nursery. I hadn’t been back in since my baby epiphany, but I was increasingly okay with the fact that Ben was staying hard at work. So, no, it didn’t seem normal to me that Jake was that disconnected from his impending fatherhood.
And, well, I wasn’t a good measuring stick for normal enthusiasm levels.
“Paige, honey,” I said gently. There was no easy way to tell someone you think their spouse is totally off. “Please don’t discount his behavior if it bothers you.”
“It doesn’t really bother me. I want him to be a little more demonstrative of his excitement, but I’m sure it’s a matter of giving him time to adjust to the idea of the baby.”
“How much more time does he need? You could go at any moment,” Julianne said.
“Don’t say that!” Paige said. “We’re only halfway there. Does it really matter that he doesn’t care what color I paint the baby’s room? Really?”
“No. But is he taking an interest in the important things? Has he scheduled time off of work to help out when the baby’s born? Is he willing to go to parenting classes or childbirth classes?”
“We haven’t really talked about that stuff. It’s on the to do list, though.”
“Well, I would suggest bringing those kinds of things up, and gauging his reaction. If he doesn’t want to take the time to learn how to support you during labor, I would be worried.”
Paige frowned and cupped her hands around her belly in a defensive gesture. “Guys. You’re scaring me.”
There was something about Paige that made me feel protective, like she was my little sister. Sure, part of that was that she was a few years younger than me. Part was her innocence. The to do list, for instance, had always struck me as overly simplified. There was too much that could happen to derail a to do list, and her reluctance to acknowledge that seemed...naïve.
“We’re not trying to scare you,” I said. “We want to make sure you aren’t caught off guard down the road.”
“Jake loves me, and he loves our baby. I know it. You don’t have to be worried for me.”
Again, Julianne and I exchanged a glance. Maybe she did know better than we did. After all, it was her personal life. It was so easy to worry. It seemed I always needed something to worry about.
“What about you guys?” Paige said, working to change the subject. “How are things?”
“Our case worker is coming for a home visit next week,” Julianne said. “Everything has to be perfectly clean before she gets there, and I need to make fabulous food to serve her while she’s there. Hopefully, it’ll go off without a hitch.”
“Is there anything we can do to help?”
“Clean my house and bake a pie.” She looked at me. “Not you. Don’t try to cook for the case worker. I want to impress her, remember.”
I held up my right hand. “I promise not to get involved with cooking.”
“You can clean my house, if you want.”
“I don’t even clean my house anymore. That’s what a housekeeper is for.”
“If the visit doesn’t go perfectly, she might say that we’re not good candidates for adoption.”
I guess I wasn’t the only one who was constantly worrying. Geez, it must be catching.
“If she thinks that, she would be wrong,” I said. “And stupid. A clean house does not mean good parents. I think a messy house is best. That way it looks like it’s been lived in.”
“That’s not how they think. At least, as far as I can tell.”
“We’ll do what we can,” Paige said.
“Thank you. I don’t know what I would do without you guys.”
“You’d bake your own pies,” I suggested.
Julianne rolled her eyes. “No, I’d buy my pies, like someone else I know.”
“Store-bought pies are delicious,” I replied. “You’d better not let your case worker catch you saying things like that.”
“Oh, God, good point.”
“Don’t worry,” Paige said. “We’ll come by to help out. It’s the least we can do.”
Paige and I were at Julianne’s house bright and early the morning of her home visit. Paige brought an apple pie, ready to pop in the oven to fill the house with fresh-baked pie smell. I was there for moral support, and planned to stand around until we had to leave. I certainly wasn’t going to be any help with the pie, and house cleaning was out of the question.
Julianne was still frantically cleaning her house. Everything looked spotless to me, but I wasn’t the one judging her. She vacuumed the front entryway after Paige and I arrived, in case we tracked in any dirt. She refused to offer us beverages, not wanting to dirty any glasses, or end up with rings of moisture on the coffee table that would need to be wiped up.
“The house looks great,” I said, settling onto the couch.
“Don’t sit down!” Julianne snapped. “You’ll smoosh the cushion.”
“Jules, I’m twenty-two weeks pregnant. I will sit where I want. If you make me stand, I’ll take back the complements about how great your house looks.”
She paused and turned in a circle, checking out her living room. “Do you think so? I’m here all the time, so I’m only seeing how much better things look from the usual mess.”
“It looks like a catalog shoot in here. Did you change something?” I looked around the room. “You put pictures on the mantle.”
“Yeah. I wanted it to look like we have a lot of wonderful people around us.”
There was a photo from Julianne and Greg’s wedding, photos of their families, and right in the middle, a photo of Julianne, Paige, and me. Indeed, there were a lot of wonderful people around Julianne and Greg. We were all so excited to help them move forward on their journey to parenthood.
“Everything looks great,” I said honestly.
“I can’t help but worry. What if she sees something I missed? I don’t know what she’s looking for.”
“Well, the pie should help.”
The front door opened and Greg walked in.
“What smells so good in here?” he asked after kissing his wife.
“Paige is baking a pie.”
Indeed, the smell of the baking apples was starting to fill up the house. The one drawback to store-bought pies was the lack of delicious aromas.
“Thank you, Paige,” Greg said.
“Elise is messing up the couch,” Julianne said.
“Someone had to tone down the perfection a little,” I replied.
“Well, thank you so much. Might I say, you ladies are the size of houses.”
“We’re definitely getting there,” Paige replied, her hand on her bulging stomach.
“So have you ladies already betrothed the babies to each other? Isn’t that what women do when their friends have kids the same age as their own?”
“I plan to let my daughter make her own decisions,” I replied.
“So you already trust her judgment?”
“I think she’s going to be a lot like her father. A good head on her shoulders. I mean, she already has his nose, so why not his common sense?”
“Good to know she’s turning out okay. What about you, Paige?”
“What about what?”
“Your baby,” Julianne asked. “Do you think he’ll be more like you or more like Jake?”
“I suspect he won’t be anything like Jake,” she replied, her voice flat.
This was the first Julianne and I had heard her speak so negatively about the fact that her son was not biologically related to her husband. Was this anger from something that she and Jake were dealing with in therapy? Had she been holding it back all this time, not wanting to voice the same negativity that Jake was apparently dealing with?
“Sweetie, that’s not how we meant it.”
“Of course it is. Elise’s daughter will be like Ben, but I’ll have no idea how my son is like his father. I picked him out of a catalog, for crying out loud. I know that he’s good at math and over six feet tall, but for all I know, he could be some kind of ax murderer or…an asshole or something.”
“Paige,” I said sharply. “We love you and we love your son, very much. We have not for one second questioned the very difficult choice you made. Please don’t think that we think any less of you, or Jake, or the choice you made, or your son. You did what you needed to do.”
“People are going to ask questions, you know,” she continued. “They’re going to want to know who he resembles and where he got his ears or his chin. I’m going to have to tell them that he got them from an anonymous donor.”
“You don’t have to tell them anything,” I replied. “It’s none of their business.”
“But they will know. The baby won’t look like Jake, and people will start to talk.”
“Why do you care what other people think?”
“My parents don’t even know!”
I glanced at Julianne. Clearly, this was something Paige needed to take back to her therapy sessions, not something Jules and I were qualified to handle. If she and Jake were both this unsure about how they would move forward with a child that is only biologically related to one of them, they should have waited a little bit longer to move forward. Now she was pregnant, and there was nothing they could do about it; they were going to have this child.
“Paige, sweetheart,” I said, taking her arm gently. “You need to go over this with Jake and your therapist. We love you, but we can’t talk you down from this.”
Paige looked up at me. “What if he leaves? What if all this is too much?”
“We’ll hold you up,” Julianne said. “No matter what. I promise.”
“We will always be here,” I said. “You won’t have to worry that you will lose us. You still have some issues that you need to go over, and we really can’t answer those questions for you.”
She nodded. “I know, I’m sorry. I’m a mess. Pregnancy hormones and all that. I should go before I have another breakdown.”
She and I hugged Julianne and Greg good-bye.
“Best of luck today,” I said. “Knock that case worker’s socks off.”