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"Renovating the house is just like getting pregnant," I announced to the spouse.
He responded, as he often does, by looking incredulous.
"It's true," I insisted. "It begins with macho men in black trucks marked "Renegade" or "No Fear", which they park on the road with careless abandon. They assure you everything will be wonderful; the difficult project you're beginning to change your mind about will be easy. You get carried away with the thought of producing a beautiful addition, and you let them have their way without realizing how many birth pangs you will have to endure."
"Hmmph," replied the spouse, deeply engrossed in the hardware-store flyer.
I continued to brood. Some of these seducers are roofers, some do formwork. There are alluring electricians and darkly compelling stucco men. They are all men, the renovators who invade your personal space and establish a strange and intimate rapport with you, based on the fact they see you regularly in your PJs.
I remember the first day of our renovation. At 7 a.m. we had barely opened our eyes when what sounded like an entire male escort service arrived, thundering onto the roof, hurling shingles on the perennial bed and exchanging loud and merry cries of "This job is impossible!" At 7:01, men began impetuously destroying the fence and wrenching wood off the sun porch. At 7:03, the dog decided she hated having the house renovated. At 7:04, the children rose to find three strange men staring in the bathroom window.
Those four minutes were typical of the next four months of prenatal upheaval and physical discomfort. The motley array of midwives was fascinating. I got to know them all intimately as they poured through, around and over the house, diagnosing various ailments and prescribing cures.
The first thing that struck me about Ron the Carpenter was his very loud voice. "HEY DAVE, HOW YA DOIN'?" The first thing that struck the dog about Ron was his very noisy compressor. She got into the habit of quietly wedging herself under our bed as soon as she heard Ron arriving.
I loved Ron, and enjoyed hearing him issuing instructions to his helpers. "What do I do with the garage key, Ron?"
"OKAY, DAVE, THIS IS WHAT YOU DO. TAKE IT DOWN TO THE LUNCHROOM [our basement], "AND FIND A FINISHING NAIL. YOU KNOW WHAT A FINISHING NAIL LOOKS LIKE? AND HAMMER THAT NAIL INTO A LITTLE BIT OF WOODWORK AND WE'LL HANG THE KEY UP ON IT. YA GOT THAT, DAVE?"
"What did you say a finishing nail was, Ron?"
Ron had hidden depths. After a few days, he asked the spouse when he'd been Saved. Slightly taken aback, the spouse replied he didn't think he had been, and Ron shook his head pityingly and told him about Bible study. Ron and I subsequently became involved in metaphysical debates over coffee, and I discovered he was a millennialist. That was why he wasn't going to get married. I told him he must – it might avert the end of the world – but he was dubious.
He kept an avuncular eye on my son, filling me in on his day when I had been out. "WELL, HE HAD TWO MUFFINS AND SOME JUICE FOR HIS SNACK, AND HE TOOK THE BUS TO SOCCER. HE HAD KIND OF A BAD DAY AT SCHOOL, TOO."
Dave, Ron's gofer, was gentle and worried. His baby was sick and they hadn't slept all night. He sure would like to get a Rottweiler. "The wife won't let me, though. We used to have a German shepherd, but she destroyed six telephones."
Ryan, the drywall man, told me about his wife's difficult pregnancy. I began to think of him as my gynecologist, since we discussed so many details of intimate anatomy ("Well, her ovaries are kinda weirdly shaped, you know?"). It was almost an anti-climax when his wife had the baby, but then postpartum issues could be covered.
We saw a lot of each other (postnatal checkups, you might say) since the new roof leaked and Ryan was always coming in to patch the walls. He would begin his swooping-and-spreading dance with a palette of drywall paste and a trowel, and once again we'd explore the nature of breastfeeding. I missed him when the roof was finally waterproof, and felt I should at least have been asked to be godmother.
As so often happens, my own home birth came suddenly. One day our contractor was popping in on me through a new hole in the basement wall and the guys were making a cozy commotion in the lunchroom, and the next day they were all gone and we were left with an infant.
Only this infant was not red and wrinkled, but pale apricot and smooth, with sunshine pouring in through its windows. I was shaky, but full of optimism. The dog, like a new father, was ready for some tranquillizers. She took to standing with her head between my ankles when men came to the door.
And Ron the millennialist? He married his girlfriend. The spouse met him and Dave (the best man) at McDonald's a few months later and Ron was radiant about his marriage and his own personal renewal project: "I'M GETTIN' MARRIED, MR. CLARK, AND HAVIN' A BABY, TOO!" He didn't seem to remember about the millennium.
Helen Clark lives in Ottawa.