Pregnancy, DIY and the heroic journey
Moses, Christ, Buddha… John McClane, Luke Skywalker; everywhere we turn there are examples of the heroic journey that we, as men, are expected to take.
Joseph Campbell, in his hugely influential work of comparative mythology, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, described it thus:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
I should know about this: I cycled 140 miles in a single day just to get to my own wedding. For me, simply driving to Devon or getting the train there like everyone else didn’t seem like enough. No, I had to arrive at the church like a hero returning from the battlefield, my brow dripping with sweat, my reluctant thighs screaming with lactic acid, my anxious tuxedo and best man waiting for me behind the belfry. In the end it was fine, I was only fifteen minutes late, with my lateness, let’s face it, only making me more heroic.
Birth is, of course, the original heroic journey. It is one we all make when we are babies but it is also an ultimate heroic journey for the woman who becomes the chief protagonist in the midst of creation.
And so it was too with my wife’s pregnancy.
Although I didn’t realise it at the time, my wife’s intrepidness in nurturing and carrying the new life which was to become our firstborn child made me feel quite competitive. I was not to be outdone in the heroic journey stakes, so naturally I decided I’d get decorating in preparation for the new baby.
DIY would be the medium for my baby-centric heroic journey.
Heroism in paint, plaster and… lead
My wife had suggested that we get her friend’s husband, Rob, a professional painter and decorator, in to sort out the appointed nursery in readiness for the arrival of our baby in the autumn.
I told her “no”, arguing that not only would we be incurring unnecessary expense, we might also end up with an adequate but inferior job. What’s more, I said, I was the father and just as she was busy ensuring the right conditions for baby in her womb, I would be doing the same in the room which would be its haven once born.
So, after considerable discussion, my wife finally conceded that mushroom was indeed the best colour for the main walls, while doorframes and skirting boards would wait for my inspiration. I began the work at week 25 of the pregnancy.
My wife had suggested that a simple sugar soap followed by a couple of coats of paint would suffice for the walls, but, obviously, with this being a heroic journey and everything, I felt that this wouldn’t be enough.
“We can’t just keep adding paint,” I argued. “The room will get smaller and smaller. Children need space and if I strip everything down, it will feel fresh and renewed.”
Little did I know that beneath the uppermost layers of paint were further layers of a green colour which I can only describe as “hideous”.
“That paint you’ve uncovered,” my wife ventured one Saturday night after I’d spend a good twelve hours sanding, my shoulder now aching and my hands stippled with burgeoning blisters, “it looks pretty old, perhaps it’s leaded.”
To be honest, I didn’t know at first what she meant. But the next day I took her advice and bought a leaded paint test kit. The result? Positive.
All of this meant that by now, there was lead contaminated paint dust all over the house. And given that there is no safe level of lead for children and pregnant women and that it is a dangerous neurotoxin, there was only one thing to do: call Rob.
Unfortunately, the danger presented by the lead dust also meant that we had to move out until it was all cleared up, so we went to stay with my mother-in-law until, eight days later, the job was done.
The morale of the story? Resist the call to heroism when painting, decorating and DIYing in pregnancy. There are enough other things to do and supporting your partner through pregnancy is likely to be heroic enough.
So, when your wife says a couple of coats will be enough – listen to her!