We took a moment to banter about names, always one of our favorite parts. "Finally we can name a child Gideon!" I said. "Giddie! Such a great nickname!"
"You think Gideon Samuel sounds too Jewish," I accused, and he declined to comment.
"I still like Kenny," I mused.
"I still like Miranda for a girl."
I said this only as a prompt for his reminder: "A criminal defense attorney cannot name his daughter Miranda."
But I was worried. This child was so much younger than the others that he would be an only child by middle school. (I felt it was a boy.) Instead of food fights at dinnertime in the noisy kitchen, there'd be a poorly lit dining room heavy with the silence of impeccable manners. Instead of raucous Hanukkahs and crowds of mittened friends stomping into the front hall, there would be long winter weekends during which the pale fellow wandered quietly from room to room, turning the cold pages of coffee table art books while his elderly mother upstairs took a three-hour nap.
"I'm not sure this is a good idea," I said the next day. "I'm not sure I can do this again. I can't really picture this kid's childhood."
Donny, taken aback, nodded somberly, tactfully.
It was a weekend of hard rain and high wind. I sat at the kitchen table anguished by confusion and fear. The children were mystified by my sorrow. "Look! Look at Dad!" yelled Seth, fourteen. Below the kitchen bay window, on the brick patio behind the house, Donny, in the downpour, was wrestling with contraptions and wire.
"What on earth?" I said. "Run, help him. What is he trying to do?"
Eager to cheer me up, Donny had driven to a garden store and purchased a bird feeder. Now he was jerry-rigging it so that he could hoist it by wire ten feet above the patio to swing in midair beside the bay window where I miserably sat. Engineering is not one of Donny's strong points, nor is he happy when wet. I watched him struggle in the rain, drenched, calling out instructions to Seth as if they were sailors trying to turn a boat in a gale. It was the most loving gift, the most romantic thing I have ever seen.
The next day, I started to lose the pregnancy. I hurried to bed and elevated my feet. I called the doctor's office. I drank herbal teas and hugged a hot-water bottle. As I was losing the baby, I suddenly realized how much I wanted it, how much I wanted him. Far from a goofy and embarrassing situation to have conceived a child in my mid-forties, it now seemed brilliant, miraculous, one in a million. Gideon! I held my belly. "I'm sorry I said this would be too hard. Really I wanted you. I do want you. Please stay." But it was over.
I was overcome with grief and remorse. Why had I not welcomed the new life wholeheartedly from the first second of its delicate touching down? I'd been offered a gift beyond measure, and instead of rejoicing, I'd whined. I'd made wisecracks. Now I blamed myself. Five was a marvelous number of children to have! It was a prime number, too, and prime numbers were Seth's favorites! What had I thought was more important? What "data" had I thought it was urgent to collect, to weigh what kind of decision? Now it was too late.
Life was short - for the little zygote, life had been six weeks long. Life was short, and our family capacity was big: both Donny and I had started to make room for a fifth child. Again he longed to cheer me up, but he doubted that another bird feeder would do the trick. "Listen," he said one night as he punched socks into his overstuffed dresser drawer and I lay mournfully on my side in bed, my stack of books untouched, my lamp turned off. "If we really want another child, why don't we adopt one?"
Excerpted from No Biking in the House Without a Helmet by Melissa Fay Greene. Copyright © 2011 by Melissa Fay Greene. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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