I was at a writers’ conference in Chicago this past weekend, and one by one, I revealed to every new friend I made that I was pregnant. I would always follow it up with the phrase, “if it lives…” just to show I’m not some naive sophomore who doesn’t realize an eight-week old embryo has a long way to go before it cries and needs its diaper changed.
During the day, I would attend panels in which editors would say what kind of stories they sought for their magazines. At night, there was usually a dinner or cocktail reception at which you’d talk to other writers. My husband, Bruce, who flew out there with me, would join us at that point. Last night, we went out for pizza, and he said all of the woman seated around him were pregnant. I couldn’t hear them. I was enthralled in a conversation with a travel writer who’d decided that having two children, aged four and seven, was not going to stop her from traveling. In fact she and her husband decided to take off for a year with their kids and travel around the globe. Her husband was able to do it because he worked for a municipal government in Canada, which allows employees to set aside 20% of their salary for four years, and in the fifth year, they can recoup that money as salary while on vacation. The Canadian government is so nice to its people. The American government, in comparison, are mean parents who don’t care about their children.
After dinner, we took a detour back to the hotel, stopping at Millennium Park, which has an outdoor amphitheater in which free concerts are held. People go there with chairs and coolers full of food, cartons of fried chicken and sacks of grapes and cherries. They set up tables with white linen, wine glasses and candelabras. We got there for the last two songs of a classical music concert.
We found a space on the ground and lay back on the grass, staring up at the sky and the offices and apartment buildings that surround the park. Just then, a young girl ran by our heads, so close you could almost hear her shoelaces flap. I thought she was going to step on us. Bruce sprang up and sat upright for the rest of the concert, guarding our slice of lawn like a sentry. It’s nice to be pregnant. He’s become my bodyguard –even if it does feel a little like he’s the king guarding the heir to his throne.
As we were leaving the park, we came upon a Spanish dance and music show in which these large paper mache’ insects came to life and started spraying and snapping at each other like lobsters. They were enormous puppets, controlled by a man in a little truck that looked like a backhoe, who would move the insect’s long arms and legs by pulling various levers. We stood right next to a metal table with benches, and Bruce asked me if I wanted to stand up on the bench to see better over the crowd. I said no. I didn’t want to block the people behind me. Minutes later, three young girls came walking over and climbed up on the table and stood right in front of us, completely obscuring our view.
“Hey, hey. You can’t do that,” I said to the young girl in front of me, touching her arm.
She climbed down from the table, though her friends lingered a while longer. I felt a little bad for her. She was the only one who got scolded by the mean lady.
I dreamed last night there was an intruder in my house. He somehow had me, an older woman – a caretaker of some sort – and a man who I didn’t recognize trapped in the attic of what was supposed to be my house. Suddenly, he slashed the older woman’s arm, and her blood began squirting all over the top of my head. I had my hair in a bun, and I felt the top of my hair was damp.
“Why’d you do that?” I cried.
And as soon as the intruder turned around for a moment, I ran. When I reached the door to go outside, I calmly unlatched the deadbolt and then the chain lock and threw open the door and ran outside. I kept pushing myself forward, leaping over fences, hedges, gates, whatever was in my way. As I tried to figure out where to hide, I realized this intruder was part of some evil all-knowing network and that there wasn’t anywhere I could hide that they couldn’t find me. They had x-ray eyes, and extra-sensory noses. They could sense humans by the heat of their body. There was nowhere to tuck myself away.
As I ran down the street, I came across my cat, which I’d inadvertently left behind in the house with the intruder. I was horrified to see two of her paws had been snapped off at the elbow, though the skin and fur had already grown over what should have been stumps. I felt guilty I’d left her behind. I’d left her in harm’s way. I wonder if I’ll ever have confidence in my parenting skills, or if I’ll always feel like a mean parent who’s neglected her children.