The Best Stories Can Happen When Things Don’t Go as Planned
One of my favorite stories my mother ever told me was of when she informed my dad he was going to be a father.
It was a warm night in June, 1980. She had been to the doctor earlier that day and when my father returned home from playing softball with his local league, she was waiting for him in a special pale-green nightgown. She smiled at him as he walked in and said, “Sweetheart, you’re going to be a daddy.” He ran to her (after taking off his cleats) and placed his hand on the pale-green nightgown trying to imagine the baby he would meet in February. (Me!).
It was the most romantic story I’d ever been told and from the moment I heard it, I was determined to replicate it should I ever become a mother. I would secretly discover my pregnancy. I would keep it quiet the whole day and patiently wait for my husband to return from some evening event and then I would tell him. And of course, I would wear a green nightie.
* * *
It was a Monday night in August 2010 and the heat was starting to get to me. I was tired and crabby as my husband Michael and I headed over to a friend’s house to watch the finale of The Bachelorette. After two excruciating hours of listening to Ali say, “I think Chris could really be my husband,” and “I could see Roberto as my husband,” I couldn’t handle it anymore. I didn’t know if it was the nauseating faux-love story or the glass of wine that just didn’t taste quite right, but whatever it was, we left early.
On the way home, I had a thought. What if I am pregnant?
As soon as the thought entered my head, I knew I would need proof in order to get it out. Casually, I asked Michael to stop at a drugstore and we walked out with the cheapest pregnancy test (that came with a bonus ovulation stick), a bargain two-pack of generic Windex, and six cans of Miller Lite. I was sure the checkout lady was judging us.
When we got home, Michael settled on the couch, opened a beer, and turned on the remainder of the Ali’s love story with Chris and/or Roberto while I slipped away into the bathroom, took the pregnancy test, and played Tetris on my phone while I waited for the stick to dry. After about two minutes, and three levels, I paused the game to check the test. Two lines.
Of course, when you buy the cheapest pregnancy test, even when it gives you an answer, you’re still not sure what the answer is. I pulled the directions out of the box and apparently two lines means “pregnant.”
As I stood in our tiny starter-home bathroom, now strangely crowded by the two pink lines, I realized I had a bit of a problem. The story I had always dreamed of, the story my mother had told me and I hoped to recreate for myself, was in serious jeopardy. Michael was sitting in the other room, not away with his buddies at a softball game. My test-taking wasn’t secret—he knew I was doing it right then.
And obviously, I didn’t have a green nightgown.
I stood there with my hands on the sink and made up my mind. For the sake of the story, I would lie. When he asked how the test turned out, I would say it was negative and then figure the rest out tomorrow.
“How’d the test go?” he asked as I returned to the living room. I looked at him. I rehearsed what I was supposed to say in my head, “I’m not pregnant.” But instead, it came out the opposite: “I’m pregnant!” I blurted.
Shoot! That was not what I was supposed to say!
Michael looked at me. “You can’t joke about that, Kindra.”
“I’m not joking!” Shoot! Why do I keep telling the truth! I am ruining the story! We both stood and marched into the bathroom. We hovered over the counter and stared at those two pink lines—my hands on my hips, his behind his back. Michael pointed out that it didn’t say anything. I explained that’s what happens when you buy the cheap-o tests that come with a free ovulation stick. Worst. Story. Ever.
Michael walked out of the bathroom. I followed. We walked around the house in circles for several minutes until we stopped, on opposite sides of the living room, looking at the other like we had never seen each other before. Strangers. Then I spoke: a line I had been practicing my whole life. “You’re going to be a dad.”
It didn’t sound as sweet as the way my mother said it, and it certainly wasn’t as fashionable without the green nightgown, but Michael smiled, and so started a story all our own.
* * *
If I learned anything from that night (a lesson I’ve been relearning a lot lately), it’s that the stories we plan and the way they actually happen are often two very different things. And while it can feel like a disaster in the moment, some of the greatest stories unfold in the most unexpected, unplanned ways.
And we are better for it.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2021 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Photo by 2112.sonya/Twenty20
Kindra Hall is the bestselling author of Stories That Stick and a sought-after keynote speaker. She is the president of Steller Collective, a marketing agency focused on the power of storytelling to overcome communication challenges.
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