BooWho

Things I want to keep in mind.

Category: Kids

Kids are the best teachers

I am a lucky mom.  My kids have been a treasure.  We grew up together.

I had my first child when I was 23.  It was November and I was living about five hours from my family and friends.  I was petrified to bring her home as I had no idea how to care for an infant.  She wasn’t an easy baby, not at first.  She cried every night for about an hour until she was six weeks old.  After that, she was a peach;  happy, smart, adorable and very loving.  We spent every waking moment together and she was my world.

My second child was born when I was 25.  He was a very large baby and very peaceful, rarely cried and quite pleasant.  He had these huge cheeks, wispy blond hair, dark brown eyes and was always happy.  I was much more confident bringing him home but then, at that time, we were living near family.  His sister was not thrilled at his presence.  Oh sure, she thought he was cute, but he took a little bit too much attention…  For six months of his life, we were a fun little trio.  Then, I had to go to work and things got a whole lot more complicated.

I had my third child when I was 30.  In the interim between child 2 and child 3, I had divorced, remarried, and had 2 miscarriages.  She was our little miracle girl.  The smallest baby thus far, she was like a little china doll with fair skin and light brown hair. We were all thrilled at her arrival.  Such a pretty, smart and dainty girl, she was all smiles and giggles.  She adored her siblings and they adored her.

My fourth child was a surprise package I delivered the very next year when I was 31.  He was born a little bigger than child 3 but he looked smaller because he was so thin.  His hair and skin were dark and his eyes were almost black, at first.  The first two months of his life, if he wasn’t sleeping, he was eating.  He eventually filled out very nicely.  Child 3 dubbed him “boy” and that is what we called him for the first few years of his life.  By now, I was an old hat at bringing babies home from the hospital.  I had lots of help and he was an easy baby, very happy, handsome and laidback.

As I look back now, I enjoyed motherhood.  Although at the time, it was very labor intensive and I was constantly filled with self doubt.  I had divorced when child 1 and 2 were very small and I worried about them constantly.  They didn’t see there dad very often and visitation was hard on them.  Also having to deal with a “step” family was an adjustment for them as well.  I was also working full-time and had to shuffle between shift work, babysitters and school.  It was exhausting and my time was spread very thin. Above all, I wanted all four of them to know they were loved but to grow into good citizens, caring people, loving parents.

I often felt inept as a mother and had to learn as they grew.  Lots of mistakes were made and some were corrected on subsequent children.  If I knew then what I know now – wouldn’t it have been better?  If wishes were fishes.

What I do know is that I am very proud of my children.  So much of what they are today has more to do with their own personalities and growth as adults than my abilities as a mother.  They are intelligent and caring people; loving to their partners; great parents – loving to their children but also intent on teaching them to be good people; they have good friends; they are good to each other as siblings.  I am go grateful to have grown up with them.  They taught me so much.

Advertisements

Who really knows?

Parenting is hard.  Not everyone should do it.  There are lots of “manuals” in the form of “self-help” books, thousands of them.  Every theory, every strategy, every study, every child-rearing notion known to man available in print.  Oh, and blogs galore!  Present company included.

I can honestly say that, as a parent, I read my fair share of books.  I also observed other parents and their children to help me decide what was the better plan of attack.  Raising children is like planning a war – preparing for battle each day – and you will all get plenty of battle scars, parent and child alike.  If you are a parent, you know exactly what I mean.  (They don’t want to wear that, they want to wear that.  Put it on and they don’t want to wear that either.  They don’t want to eat that not even one single bite.  They don’t want to read OR to take a nap OR to pee!)  It is exhausting!

My husband and I were very strict with our children.  We had very rigid rules:

  • No screaming unless you are bleeding or dying.
  • You must clean your plate – if you take it, you eat it.  (And you must try everything – at least a small portion)
  • Good manners are important.  No talking with your mouth full.  Say “please” and “thank you”.
  • No fighting!
  • Saturday was chore day – everyone must clean their room (older children had to help younger children)
  • Mom & Dad were in charge and there was NO ARGUING and you should never have to be told something twice.
  • If you are out playing and you hear my whistle – stop what you are doing and come to me. (this still works to this day and they are adults!)
  • If you make a mess, clean up after yourself.

I’m sure there were plenty of others (my kids could probably add to the list) but those are the major rules that I remember.  Of course, in hindsight, I do realize that in some cases we were far too rigid.  Meal times were often very stressful because my husband was adamant that everyone learn those good manners.  We both regret it now — although, they DO have good manners and could make a good showing at a meal with foreign dignitaries – but mealtimes should be a time of sharing and relaxation.

I do know that, as a mother, I needed to have these rules in order to keep my household moving forward.  When I was in my thirties, my friend told me about John Rosemond, an author on parenting.  I bought his book, The Six Point Plan for Raising Happy, Healthy Children.  It helped me immensely!  That was back in 1994 or so — but so many of his ideas remain true (to my mind anyway).

Life has changed.  There is so much technology and lives move much faster.  With divorces, same sex marriages, single parents – the core family looks very different.  There have been many new studies and there are new theories on how to raise children, as a species we continue to evolve in that regard.  But I am old fashioned, I still believe that the parent has to be in charge and while you can be less rigid than we may have been – you still have to call the ball.  You make the rules and you enforce them.  Children need to know that you are watching over them – they may not like it sometimes, but they know where they stand in the grand scheme.

BUT.  Parenting is hard.  Sometimes, you are co-parenting with someone who has no parenting skills.  You spend much of your time doing damage control.  Sometimes, you work a full-time job and are exhausted before you arrive home to your second job – parenting.  Who wants to continue the battle – 24/7?  Take it from me – rules do help.  In this day and age of loving the child and trying not to hinder their spirit – things do get muddled.  Before I understood what my true role as a “mother” was – I wore myself out trying to reason and argue and yell – basically, begging my children to behave.  Rosemond’s book helped me to realize that I was expending all of my energy and they were learning how to ignore me.  I wanted them to behave but I didn’t expect them to do so.

“Tolerant parents repeat themselves, threaten, bluster and otherwise work themselves into a state of frustration that eventually expresses itself in yelling. Intolerant parents do none of that. They are mean. A parent who qualifies as mean does not yell. Said parent is virtually unflappable, which is to say cool, calm, and collected.

From a child’s perspective, a parent (or teacher) is mean if the child discovers that the parent says precisely what he means and means precisely what he says. No means no. It does not mean maybe. “I (parent) want you (child) to do thus and so” means the child is going to do it. It does not mean anything short of that.”  John Rosemond

Once I finally understood this and began to implement this attitude., I was truly amazed at the difference for my stress level.  The kids didn’t like it and it took a while for them to adjust but eventually they knew that the dance had changed.   I would love to say that I was a calm and stern mother for the rest of their young lives – that would be an exaggeration.  I still had moments of doubting myself and falling back into feeling like I needed to let them have their way because I did so love them.  There is a magnitude of outside influences for all of us.  Each one of us has our own road to travel and struggles to endure.  No two children are alike but they can accept (and need) guidelines and boundaries.  They need to know what to expect and what is expected of them.

Even with the manuals, self-help books and advice from scads of sources — parenting is hard.  We do the best we can and when we know better, we do better.  It’s all in the knowing…and who really knows?

Silliness is essential

Boogers.  Co-sleeping on just 12″ of bed.  Running.  Hiding.  Laughing.  Speaking with a british accent or a very high, strawberry shortcake voice.  The joys of gawee-hood.  Seeing those happy little faces and hearing them squeal your name in delight is beyond precious.  Even before they can speak your name, they wrinkle their noses and smile, waving their arms in glee.  And when those arms reach for you….priceless.

Being a gawee is so much easier than being a mother ever was…there aren’t the competing impediments and anxieties of household chores, jobs, daycare issues, school necessities, clothing inadequacies, financial balancing and just sheer exhaustion from keeping all those balls in the air – day in and day out.  When you are the gawee, you can just PLAY.

I am a very silly gawee.  I am still young (or so I like to think) and I will run, jump and do goofy things just to hear them giggle.  I don’t mind climbing into small areas and pretending it is a cave or that a bed is a boat or that playdoh is dinner.  I will sing off key, making up the words as I go; and holler at the imaginary lions.   But that isn’t half the fun – the true joy is in how they react and join-in.  Watching them use their imaginations, when they stare at my face and try to match my enthusiasm.  Together, we will quote important lines from Disney movies or we will talk about wild animals on the trails as we walk.  When they get tired and ask me to carry them, I ask if they can carry me instead.  I try, unsuccessfully, to crawl into their arms while they laugh and do their best to lift me.  We also tell stories in the bathroom – as a practice routine for potty training.  They will be on the commode and I will sit on the footstool and tell them exaggerated stories while they relax and go “poo”.  They always offer to do the same for me – but I have a pretty well-established routine by now.

As they get older, I know they won’t have the same reactions and desires for frolic and imaginary games.  Life happens and other influences come into play.  The thought of them out-growing Gawee is heartbreaking.  Oh, I know, they will always love me and we will always have a fond, heartfelt relationship but there will eventually be other friends, activities, interests, peers, and the need for independence from old, sillier days as they grow older and go to school.  The most important part of that shift, from giggly toddler to school-age child, is for them to know that I will always be in their corner.  (I don’t HAVE to be silly, but I can be at a moments’ notice).

For now, I will bask in the joy of their adoration.  We will play, laugh, wrestle and run.  I hope to teach them that playing is a lifelong enchantment, one for which they should never feel shame.   And when those sweet and sticky little hands encircle my neck – I know I am living the best life.

The gift of peace

My mother-in-law passed away peacefully on June 10.  She was in hospice care for one week.  I hope she has gotten back to her bridge club.

Funerals are difficult and no one likes attending them.  It is a time to say goodbye; to show support for family or friends; a time to reflect on the life and times shared with the dearly departed.  Depending on the person, a funeral can be very personal or very religious or very long or very short and not so sweet or a combination of all the above.  There can be music, prayers, readings, masses, poems, speeches, fire and brimstone, tearful goodbyes.

My family lost four important members in a 4 year succession.  We learned a lot about funerals and how to plan and implement a decent, respectful and personal service.  There are so many details that you just don’t know about – so many choices to make.  What type of service?  Where will it be held?  Who will preside? Will there be a viewing?  Casket or urn?   Flowers? Special program for the service? Who will write the obituary?   Where will they be laid to rest? Who will be pall bearers?  Will there be a reception afterwards?  Where will it be held?  Who will bring food?

These are all details that people have to think of when they are at their weakest and most vulnerable.  For some of us, having something constructive to “do” actually helps.   For others, it is overwhelming.  It is a very emotional and raw time.

In the case of my mother-in-law, she requested a full catholic mass.  She belonged to a large church and the priest did not know her personally.  The service was typical of a full mass and because the priest knew nothing about her, he read her obituary during the sermon portion of the service.  He mispronounced her name and the name of her home town (Butt? Montana).  He had not read through the obituary beforehand so it was read in a choppy manner and it was hard to understand.  It was supposed to be a celebration of her life and it really wasn’t.  Fortunately, at the reception afterwards, the family held a more personal service in remembrance of their mother.

There is a saying, “Funerals bring out the worst in people”.  Families have broken apart in the aftermath of a funeral – the loss of a loved one and the arguments that ensue.  Past hurts come to the forefront and the battle over material things can be a detriment to most families.   Wars are waged and lines drawn in the sand over grandma’s crystal gravy boat or the diamond dinner ring.  It just isn’t worth it but it happens frequently.  Having a will is very important for legal reasons but it is the responsibility of the survivors to deal with division of property and personal items with consideration for each other and in honor of the memory of the departed.

I realized after my dad’s funeral that it is important to think about, and to make known, what your wishes are prior to your death.   But it will save your family a lot of stress if you also plan what you want as a final goodbye.  I have a file titled – “when I die” and it talks about what I want for a service.  It is not overly specific, just little tidbits.  Songs I like, that have special meaning to me; things I feel would be nice to say about my personality; my feelings about religion; how much I love my kids,  grandkids and my husband.  Most importantly, I have included my wishes that my children stay close – rely on each other – no matter what.

I’ve heard it said that it is morbid and depressing to think and talk about those things.  I don’t feel it is because it provides clear instructions for your loved ones and saves them the stress of having to wonder what you would prefer.  It can be as specific or generalized as you want it to be.  In truth, there are so many things that we don’t know about each other and that we don’t normally share.  I’m certain that my mother, who now has dementia/alzheimers, had no idea that she would never have the chance to say the many things that she was saving for “someday”.   There are so many things about her that we don’t know, she never shared, and now there is no one to ask.

It is sad to think of your final days, your final resting place, leaving those you love behind.  None of us knows WHEN that will happen, but we do know that it WILL happen.  To provide a means of saying a final goodbye and of saving your loved ones from that difficult process is truly a gift.  Your final wishes conveyed in black and white will give all of you peace.

 

Puppy

When the kids were little, they loved puppies.  They wanted to pick them up and hold them.  It took a lot of effort for them to learn not to hold them too tight.  The puppy would choke or struggle to get free.  We had to teach them to just sit still and hold the puppy very gently.  The puppy would then relax and welcome the attention of their soft, gentle hands.  The puppy may even fall asleep.  Sometimes, though, the puppy would want to get down from their lap.  This was disturbing to them as they WANTED the puppy to stay with them, they wanted the puppy to WANT to stay with them.

Recently, I’ve been struggling with holding on to the proverbial “puppy” too tightly; trying to make it stay on my lap.  It would be so much easier if the silly thing would just cooperate.  Sit still, go to sleep, stay here where I can see you and watch over you.  I don’t want to have to chase after you.

Wouldn’t it be lovely, if all of our “puppies” could stay in our little circle of control?

Unfortunately, parents get dementia.  Their bodies start to give out.  No matter how tight we hold them – they will leave our circle.  Kids grow up and have kids of their own.  They move in different directions and different rates of speed.  We all start to get OLD.

We wish and wish that time would slow down. We hope our parents go peacefully, with our blessing and gratitude for a life well lived. We hope that our children stay together and maintain a close relationship with each other.  May they always know that there is nothing like a sibling, always and forever – beyond all else.  We wish the grandkids stay little forever and, please, let me stay young enough to get down on the floor and play with them….

We have to hold the puppy gently, with kind and loving hands.  We have to let the puppy get down from our lap when he wants to – we can’t force him to stay.  The puppy needs to run and play and grow and so do we.

Welcome back to comfort

Writing for comfort.  When I am away from my computer and I am not able to write – either because I am busy or I can’t find a topic – I really do miss it.  (For some reason, I don’t feel as comfortable just writing with pen and paper…).  In some ways, not writing makes me feel lonely; as though I am missing someone.  That someone is me.

When I was a child, I played alone a lot.  I talked to myself and had elaborate games in my own imagination.  I mimicked different accents and dialects and developed new scenarios for the characters I portrayed.  I lived inside my head and had dreams of being an actress on a soap opera.  Lofty goals.  As I aged, I realized the possibility of being discovered for my acting skills in a very small rural community in Montana were slim to none.  Still, I enjoyed fantasizing about fame and fortune as a diva on The Young and the Restless.

In college, I was living in a strange place, with no real friends.   I held tight to my life back at home by writing to friends and family.  Everyday, I wrote at least 3 letters.  I would fill the letters with anecdotes and details about my days.  In return, I would receive at least one letter a day from someone — usually my mom.  As I made friends, the need for maintaining contact with my old life began to wane.  I didn’t write as many letters but I used writing letters as an outlet for expressing my happiness, sadness or loneliness.  Writing became a habit and though I never really kept a journal – I “journaled” by writing letters.  To this day, if I need to express something I can do it best by writing TO someone.

I have written a play and receive royalties for it in September and April.  It is always exciting to open that envelope and realize that a drama club or group has performed MY play.  It has been performed in Canada, the UK and in several places in the U.S.  I’ve started several other plays but just can’t get beyond the first outline.  Not sure why — maybe the first play was just a fluky thing.  Perhaps if I wrote a play as if it were a letter I might have better luck.

Being retired has given me the opportunity of having more TIME although it feels as though I am just as busy now as I was when I was working and I wonder how I ever had time to do anything before!  I have a couple of writing projects that I’ve started but can never seem to finish.

One project is to write about my life just for general principle.   When my mom developed dementia, I realized that I don’t really know much about her.  She never really talked about herself.  I’ve been thinking about having to help write her obituary when she dies and it won’t be easy.  So many details we don’t know.  I wonder if my kids know me any better?

Do they know how much I love the sun and warm summer days?  Do they know how much I love tacos and salad and cold cereal?  How much I loved to play basketball?  That I can sing? (or that I used to be able to sing…)  My favorite color is green – not forest green but sage green.  I like Coke over Pepsi.  I hate onions.  I don’t like to ride a bike, I hate jogging but I love to walk.  I was chubby in college.  I wore braces in high school.  I was the shortest girl in my class in 8th grade and the tallest as a senior.   I was anemic and sickly as a child.  I never did work to my full potential in school because I never believed I was very smart (I now know better).

I am very proud of them – this, I think they know.  I love to play with my grandchildren – they know that too.  I love to laugh with them and to watch them laugh with each other.  I love it when we are all together and there is no strife or worry.  Those days are the very best, the days I cherish the most.  I find great comfort in writing about those days…

It’s in the knowing

We all have triggers.  It doesn’t matter how old you are – how strong you have become – there are things that will set off a chain of reactions before you realize it is happening.  It is a natural tendency, a trained response.  In any addiction, those triggers are the biggest obstacle.  In any lifetime, addiction or no, those triggers plague us all.

Any self-help book will tell you that you must first learn to identify those triggers and then be ever vigilant to their influence.  Easier said than done, they are sneaky, devious and ambiguous.  If you are like most of us – there are multiple triggers and they are always hovering just under the radar -waiting to slide in, create chaos, then slip back out totally undetected.  Score!!  Slippery little buggers!

I can always tell when they have breezed through my world.  I suddenly feel as though I’m ten years old.  My knees are knobby, my face is pale and my hair is just this side of boyish.  I pull myself as far into myself as I can – trying to make myself very small.  Fear ripples through my mind and stomach.  I have to work very hard to hold down the panic.  Someone is mad at me and I have to rush to figure out why and what I can do to make amends.  Even writing about it makes my stomach turn.  The trigger could be someone actually being mad at me but, usually, it is just my fear that they are or will be.  I have said or done something unfavorable and am at risk of being judged an idiot or a fool.   I am like a little puppy – I must find my way back into the good graces of my pack.  This is the affliction of being a “people-pleaser”, you spend a lifetime trying to overcome that malady.

And here is the nub: we can certainly identify the triggers but affecting the change necessary to establish new responses is the true hardship.  For most of us, these responses are a lifelong routine, a means of emotional survival.  While those responses were developed by a child, they are believed to be a safety net as an adult.  We always fall back into the net — without thinking — because we know we can.  Stopping ourselves before we fall back is hard.  It requires a lot of awareness and butt loads of self talk.

I often have to talk to that little 10 year old girl with the knobby knees and tell her that it is going to be okay.  The world is not crumbling.   Sometimes people do get mad.  Sometimes people do judge.   Nonetheless, she still has a pack and the pack still loves her.

When we know better, we do better.  It’s the knowing that is the challenge.

Sunshine

Back from the cruise and feeling a little wobbly.  If I move too fast it feels like I’m still on the ship.  The trip was fun – great to get away in the middle of the ice, snow and cold season.  We arrived in Orlando at 9pm and it was about 65 degrees and humid.  When I stepped out of the airport you could almost hear a “boing” as my hair immediately curled in all different directions!

I love the heat, the sun, the warmth that reaches all the way to your core.  Glorious.  This was my kind of place.  We boarded the very large ship at noon  (4300 guests and 1700 crew members) and began our seven day adventure in the sunshine.  Unlimited food and beverage, shows, games, places to go and PLENTY of people to see.

I am a trained observer.  I love to watch people, to read their body language, to eavesdrop on their conversations – listening to their accents.  I am pretty good at reading lips too – partly because of a mild hearing loss and partly from years of experience; watching, watching, watching.  The average age on this cruise was about 72.  We felt like teenagers by comparison!  Many of the people we met were retired and living in Florida.  Lots of east coast accents.   As a little getaway, they take a cruise.  Where else can you get a room, drinks, food and transportation (translation: to be waited on hand and foot) all for one monies?

Most of them traveled in large groups – perhaps their card playing group, or their retirement wing group, or a group from their old neighborhood.  They were fun to watch – if you squinted your eyes, you could almost see a shadow of their former lives in the easy way they laughed together and their raucous teasing.  We talked about how nice it would be to move to Florida where it is always warm and sunny – or at least a majority of the time.  Buy a nice condo – live there all winter and be footloose and fancy free.  Take a quick cruise when you are bored with daily life.

I can tell you there was plenty of flesh to see as well – lots of bikinis and bellies.  And let us not forget the botox and plastic surgery!   It was a good testament for me — on occasion I consider a quick nip here, a shot of botox there (especially with my recent onslaught of face wrinkles!).  But alas, I don’t want to spend my final days looking like a ventriloquist’s doll, with a permanent look of surprise, barely able to close my eyes or have a genuine smile.  I do not begrudge those who choose that route though — not at all.  To each their own.  We all have our vanities.

The shows on board were wonderful.  They had dancers that were incredibly talented (and young).  There was another show about drag queens (or cross dressers?  Transgender performers?  Not sure what is politically correct?) which was very well done also.  Several great comedians and a magician/comedian who was phenomenal.  The entertainment was topnotch.

Seven days in the sun was just lovely.  We visited a beautiful beach with volcanic rock formations (and lots of people) in Tortola.  We also went zip lining in St. Thomas.  VERY fun and exhilarating!  We enjoyed white sand and warm water on a quiet island – with great food and cold drinks!  By the 6th day – even though you know it is cold and snowy at home…you are ready to get back to your own bed and pillow.

In my case, I needed to get home and find out how my kids and grandkids were doing?  To see their faces and hear their voices.  Perhaps when I am in my 70’s and they are all so much older, I could move to a sunshine state – live out my days with dark wrinkled skin (no botox and no bikinis!).  For now,  I will continue living in my own home state and bask in the sunshine that is my family.

img_3566

Baby, it’s cold outside

It is early morning and pitch dark – a very cold winter day. It is 9 degrees here in Montana. They say we are due for about a weeks’ worth of “artic blast”. Lovely.

I am not a winter person, I don’t ski or snowshoe. I can barely tolerate the walk from my door to the mailbox. I have all the cold weather gear necessary for walking in the cold temps – but I don’t. Becoming a snowbird in Arizona is looking more and more enticing!

When I was a little girl, I loved going out in the snow. We would go sledding or ice skating at my grandmother’s house. She had a pond and a great sledding hill. Of course, in those days, we didn’t have the matching snow pants and coat, the thinsulate gloves and the warm snow boots. We wore layers of old pants, socks and mismatched mittens. Boots were usually way too big, usually hand-me-downs, if we could find them. I remember having so much fun that we didn’t feel cold – until we went inside. Then our hands and feet were FREEZING. There were many times that I was certain I had frostbite and would probably lose at least one appendage!

My grandmother lived at the base of the mountain and at the top of a wonderful hill. The county road went directly up past her house and that was our sledding hill. In the old days, the county didn’t get out to gravel the hill right away so it was the perfect sledding hill in the winter. We would pile on our old sleds and see who could make it the farthest down the road or we would make a train of all the sleds together. Good times.

It’s easy to love the snow and winter when you are a child. You never have to worry about driving in icy conditions or water pipes freezing or shoveling sidewalks and driveways. Not when there are snow angels to make and sledding hills to fashion and snowmen and snow tunnels – and snowball fights! Of course, we tolerate the cold better when we are younger. It has a totally different connotation for us then. Joy, laughter and fun! When we are old, we switch from running and sliding on the ice to worrying about falling on the ice and breaking a hip!

I now live just beyond the bottom of my grandmother’s hill. This year, we took my grandson, Jack, to the hill on Christmas night. It had snowed all day and the county didn’t come out to plow so the hill was just like it used to be in those old days. Jack LOVED it! He would squeal with glee as we glided down the hill. Then, after we crashed into the ditch, covered in white, fluffy snow, he would jump up and start pulling the sled back up again. Listening to his exuberant chatter and laughter, made me like the snow again. It was early evening and getting dark. The snow was white and clean and all of us were covered in it, laughing and playing, trying the hill over and over again. Sometimes, if you let yourself, you can appreciate the cold.

Happy Birthday Jackie!

This is how I remember it:  Around 4:30 am,  I feel a strange discharge and wonder what it could be?  My water breaking?  It wasn’t a gush, just a trickle – not a flow but a dribble.  I go to the bathroom and I have some minor cramping.  Contractions?

I wake my husband.  We are so excited, we are giddy.  We try to be quiet.  We are staying at my parents’ house and don’t want to wake them.  But, of course, we do.  Around 6, we shower.  Mom and dad are up – dad is so nervous he pours orange juice into his coffee.  7 am we call the hospital, they recommend we come in to be checked – to confirm that it is amniotic fluid that is “leaking”.  Contractions are coming regularly but they are far apart and not very intense.

As we drive the 20 miles to the hospital, I feel very nervous.  This is really IT.  My husband talks nonstop – as is his way.  It is a cold November day, with some fog and expected rain.  It is Saturday and the day of the Bobcat-Grizzly football rivalry game.  On our way to town, we pass an old motel on Evaro Hill.  There are fire trucks everywhere and remnants of smoke and steam.  During the night, several of the rooms were gutted by fire.  It wasn’t a total loss.  I will always remember the day it burned….though it has nothing to do with my labor story.  Little trivial things of which your brain takes note.

We arrive at the hospital and I get the “litmus” test for amniotic fluid.  Sure enough, my water has broken so we are a “go”.  I call my nursing student who will be witnessing the labor and delivery as part of her training.  We call other family members to let them know we are in labor.  These are early stages – contractions are far apart and not overly strong.  I walk the hall and they get stronger, I have to stop several times to breath.  I get back into bed and they slow down again.  It is going to be a long day.

I am 23 years old, my husband is 21.  Neither of us is very mature for our age.  Our relationship isn’t such that we talk about these things – other than to discuss surface excitement and lofty dreams of our future as parents.  We know where we want to go but have NO IDEA how to get there.

I am scared shitless.  I have been through a lamaze class (as a stand-in coach for my sister-in-law).  I have listened to a lot of birthing stories and my best advisor just had a baby 7 months before.  My mothers’ only words of comfort?  “A year from now you won’t even remember the pain.”

This is 1981 – hospitals and doctors are only beginning to look at new, calmer ways of delivering babies.  Mothers are given the choice of delivering their babies in their laboring room, in special beds that have stirrups and the foot of the bed drops down and out of the way for delivery.  I was given that option; sounded way too “new-age” – I chose the delivery room.  Also during this period, doctors were moving away from pain medications and spinal block – or epidurals.  They would use them in difficult cases but mothers were encouraged to use minimal pain medications as this was better for the baby.  (I didn’t know a lot but I did know that).  However, I was told (by a friend) that if I wanted any pain medication, there was only a small window of opportunity for taking it.  If it was offered, best to take it whether I needed it or not – just in case things got worse.   If you waited until it was time to push, that was the point of no return and they would no longer administer the pain meds.  A little over halfway through the labor, I was asked about my pain level and though it was tolerable, I feared the worst and opted for the medication.   I believe I was given demerol.  After that point, things got a little foggy. (To this day, I regret that decision.  While it helped me tolerate the pain, I think I missed a lot of the experience because I was affected by the medication.)

There is no google, no birthing apps, no youtube videos.   There are books with photos if you have the stomach for it.  There was a 4 week lamaze class that you could take through the hospital – but being naive and rather timid, I didn’t even consider that option.  I went into my first labor and delivery relatively ignorant and not very blissful.

I don’t remember a lot of details about the actual birth.  I think it was around 3:30pm.   I remember things like having to go to the bathroom and feeling fearful of peeing and then delivering my child in the toilet at the same time.  I remember my doctor arriving from the Bobcat-Grizzly game.  I have no recollection of how long I pushed or how many times.  I remember hearing that I had a little girl.  Exclamations by the doctor about her size and all of her dark hair.  Something about the placenta and too much blood.  A nurse pushing on my stomach and another administering pitocin – everyone moving rather frantically.

Then, a warm little bundle on my chest.  Her dark hair is matted with blood and amniotic fluid.  Her eyes are little slits and she is gently crying.  She has a dark complexion and a full, chubby face.  She is here. She has arrived amidst a flurry of panic, worry and fear.  Warm.  Soft.  The best, biggest and brightest thing that has ever happened to me.  She calms me to my very soul.  She gives me purpose – I will learn, I will grow, I will be strong, I will become the best I can be as a person.  In that one last push, in that first full breath, she made me a mom.

Today is her 35th birthday.  We have been through a lot together.  As my first child, she suffered all of my inexperience, ignorance and mistakes along the way.  We survived a divorce and all of those trappings together.  In the middle years, I feared I would lose her forever to teenage anger and resentment.  She often threatened to move away – to a larger, more sophisticated city – never to return.  I believed her.   But then, through the gentle gift of time, we came back around.  We started listening to each other, sharing all the important bits and pieces.  Through her, I have learned many essential life lessons.  Happy Birthday Jackie!  And thank you for giving me so much.