I was playing hooky the day they handed out the mother gene. I had no idea what I was doing – or what was to be done. I spent all my time reading about being pregnant when I was pregnant, so I never got to the being a mom books till after the fact. Actually, just the one – Dr. Spock. It’s like the Betty Crocker Cookbook – as generic as it gets and indispensable. When anything went wrong, consult the index and then read the answer. Periodically I’d remember something about how some years back there had been a groundswell of antipathy for the good doctor, but I couldn’t remember if everyone had their knickers in a twist because he was too harsh or too gentle. To me, he was perfect. Well, maybe he wasn’t perfect, but the index was. If my child had an ailment, from pink toes to a spotty bum, I would look up pink toes or spotty bum in the index, and there it would be. The answers were always so simple too – whatever it called for, we either had in the cupboard already or I knew exactly what aisle to find it in at the store up the street. Just like Betty Crocker recipes – you’re bound to have all the ingredients at home, but if you don’t, she’s not going to make you drive to some little store three towns over to find fresh garam marsala. So Dr. Spock got us through the tough spots, and the rest of the time we winged it, going with whatever worked – we let our imaginations roll and went wherever they took us.
They were right about not getting any sleep, though. There simply wasn’t enough time for sleep. Dennis and I ran our lives by the division of labor theory. He got up at the crack of dawn each morning and went into town to work for the man extraordinarily long hours and when he wasn’t doing that, he was off on one of many business trips. He got to go to some very neat places, like Jamaica and British Guyana, but on balance the division worked very much in my favor. I stayed home and played with the kids. Or at least rested on the floor while they played around me. Babies is just another word for sleep deprivation.
As we walked out of the hospital with Sean, the nurse in charge of making sure new mothers got it right admonished me to sleep when baby slept. There’s nothing that can’t wait, dearie. It sounded very reasonable to me. I am nothing if not a sleep enthusiast. That worked right up until Day 3. By then it was getting obvious that “nothing that can’t wait” was a make-believe story. The pile of dishes in the sink had done waiting – they were ready to walk. As were the contents of the Detol-filled diaper pail. And the piles of laundry at various stages of doneness, every stage except for the one where they are put away. What milk is left is starting to curdle and that’s the best of a sorry state of affairs in the fridge. As far as division of labor was concerned, all of this fell on my side of the line. Sleeping was fast becoming a privilege.
For the first few months I worked on sleep fumes. Nursing baby–intensive sleep fumes. My deepest thoughts were whether to put water softener in the diaper load and should we have pork chops or Hamburger Helper for dinner. During the baby years I didn’t have a lot of room for extraneous thoughts, let alone religious ones. There were a lot of things I didn’t think of during those years. If it didn’t have to do with babies, dishes, cooking, laundry, making beds, and cleaning up icky stuff, then it wasn’t on my radar. There just wasn’t time. A few weeks after Sean was born it got to be Halloween night. It wasn’t until the first gaggle of goblins and princesses rang the doorbell and were standing there on the porch with their bags wide open that I realized I hadn’t gotten any candies for all the trick or treaters – their procurement, or lack thereof, being something that fell on my side of the line. We were in big trouble. It was too late to close the curtains, turn off all the lights and pretend no one was home – they were all staring up at me with dreams of chocolate and more chocolate in their eyes. And I had nothing to give them unless they wanted some pork chops out of the freezer. Then it came to me. I dashed upstairs and hauled out our bag of summer poker earnings. Finally a way to get rid of our accumulated small change that didn’t include counting. I dumped the lot of it into a big bowl and told everyone to open their hands up wide and dig in as deep as they could go. A fistful of copper doesn’t have quite the appeal of candy, but I think we all went away happy that night. Now if I could only apply this kind of quick thinking to Christmas, we might muddle through. Hey, if worse came to worse, we had pork chops in the freezer.
The only way to double the fun was to have another. Two years later our daughter, Bridget, was born. Double the pleasure. And I’d solved the sleep problem. Bridget’s nursery had been the guest room, but living in a house with relatively cramped living quarters, there was no place to store the bed once the crib was moved in. That was perfect for me. With Sean, he’d had to suffer through middle of the night feedings/singsongs in the rocking chair. But with Bridget, the two of us could lie down in the spare bed. I was asleep before she was. With no off-key singing to keep her awake, she was out like a light too.
With two comes the art of juggling. The trick is to keep everything up in the air at the same time, and just make sure not to drop the babies. I came to learn later that motherhood means many things, but in the beginning all I wanted was to hold them close and protect them. Beyond that it was a bit of the blind leading the blind as we went along – this was the first time they were babies and this was my first time being a mother – everything we learned, we learned together. I don’t know about them, but I had a great time; I wouldn’t trade a day of it for all the tea in China.
The other trick is to take it down to their level, which is not so much of a trick really: 24/7/365 of young children, of which 12/7/365 is spent almost exclusively in the company of young children, and you’re pretty much assured of being reduced to the level of a child. It’s a great place to be, but it does come with its side effects, the worst being brain mush, when you can’t remember the last time you had an adult conversation. There are times when too much of a good thing is, well, too much of a good thing. Time spent solely in the company of adults would be like Lawrence of Arabia finding a mojita bar out in the middle of the desert: the chances are slim to nonexistent, but if it comes up, go for it.
So when they announced that Van was coming to town in April 1990, I was ready for a night out. This was one I didn’t want to miss. I could tell the kids all about it in the morning.