I had one goal for Sunday: to spend as much time as possible watching football. My plan was to invite Kenn and Drue over and eat cheap pizza in the basement and fart and complain about the Bears offense until we fell asleep. Then we’d rouse ourselves in time for the late game on ESPN. It would be heaven. Instead, I found myself in an outlet mall in Indiana, maternity shopping.
Apparently I had promised a long time ago, and Sarah had it on her calendar for weeks. I don’t have a calendar, so I had no recourse. My only plan was make the experience so miserable for both of us that she would never make me do it again. I whined. I groused. I groaned. I rolled my eyes and even tried the silent treatment for a time, which tends not to work when the other person doesn’t notice.
Sarah, who never bothered to play the “I might have chicken pox” card, was thrilled to have me there, which made me even more miserable. And when we got to the Motherhood Maternity store, there were no men with whom to commiserate. My nerves were stretched tight as a rope.
I don’t even like shopping for myself, much less for anyone else. The complications involved in finding acceptable maternity clothes were far beyond my skill set, and Sarah doesn’t know her exact size, so she has to reinvent the wheel every time she tries something on. I was getting sent back to the rack a zillion times looking for the same thing in different sizes, only to return to the dressing room and be told, “That’s not periwinkle, that’s royal blue. See if they’ve got it in periwinkle.” Periwinkle?
When 3:00 rolled around, and I realized the second wave of games were beginning and I was still nowhere near a TV, I sank into my bench in the dressing room. At my feet were mounds of elastic pants, baggy v-necked shirts with inexplicable pouches in weird places, and gigantic, complicated bras—all of which Sarah had tried on and rejected. In my hands was a pair of what looked like clown pants, that Sarah had decided were keepers. Next to me was Sarah, trying on another pair of clown pants. Not only was I not watching football, what I was doing may have been the exact opposite of watching football.
An hour later, I was standing in a checkout line that wasn’t moving, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I gave Sarah the most passive-aggressive kiss I could muster, handed her the clothes, and said I’d wait outside.
I found a comfortable bench next to a hot dog stand and sat down just as an elderly couple walked up. “I want to look at some shoes,” the woman told her husband. “Why don’t you just sit here? I’ll be in that store over there.” She walked away; he plopped down next to me, expressionless. We sat in silence for 10 minutes, watching people go by and smelling the hot dogs.
At some point, I glanced into the maternity store window, and suddenly realized: Only half of women in there appeared to be pregnant. The rest were well beyond their childbearing years. And those who were pregnant were accompanied by the older women.
Around the store, enthusiastic pairs were holding up clothes to each other’s bodies and laughing and enjoying themselves in what I presumed to be an important mother-daughter ritual. Then I thought of Sarah in line, alone, and my heart broke. Her mother had been her best friend and she missed her terribly. Yet she there she was in the store, going about this whole thing in her usual good spirits, stuck with an impatient jerk for a shopping partner.
I was scanning the parking lot for a moving SUV to throw myself under when Sarah walked up with a goofy smile on her face. Before I could apologize, she strolled right up to me and kissed me square on the mouth. “Thank you for doing this with me,” she said. “You win husband of the year.”
I wanted to tell her what I had been thinking, but I couldn’t. It was too sad. Instead, we walked to our car, holding hands, and saying nothing at all. For some reason, I turned too see if the old man was still sitting on the bench; he was. I squeezed Sarah’s hand and thought I don’t deserve to hold this hand. I did hold the bags, though.
3 days ago