Friday, July 2, 2010
Frogs And Snails and Puppy Dog's Tails
Twenty years ago tonight, about this time I was sitting in our stifling hot living room in a wee bungalow listening to the rain as the fifteen day record setting heat was finally broken. I also felt my contractions start as the weather changed. Our dear friend and neighbor, B, was sitting up with me. She wasn’t sleeping well, the heat coupled with a recent lay-off was insomnia making. I appreciated the company, too. I had been home waiting to have a baby for four days and I was bored even though I was relieved to be on maternity after struggling to continue working. I was a NICU/New Born nurse at the time and had to shuttle between the nursery, the mom's rooms and the labor deck. Each unit was positioned down a long long hall and the distance from the nursery and the labor deck was getting longer with each passing hour as my edematous sausage legs and I trudged the stuffy hot hallway as I checked on the babies and moms. I insisted on having the walking job: hoping the activity would stimulate labor so I could just pick up my bag and drive to the hospital down the street. My sweet patients--most of them Spanish speakers--were prone to leaping from the rocking chairs in their hospital rooms so I could sit in my “delicate” and “advanced” condition. They would cluck and carry on about how huge I was and ask me if I was delivering twins. It never failed to make me laugh despite my misery. B and I discussed my last week at work, the grace these Mexican women brought to my life with their ability to care for their caregiver. We talked about how I had been disappointed I wasn’t having a girl. How much I had wanted a girl but I had come to terms with a boy. Because a girl was going to turn 13 and suddenly hate my guts for a decade a so; a son would only hate me for a year or two. I would try to live vicariously through a daughter: pushing and prodding until she was a puking anorexic mess on a therapist’s couch. I didn't tell her how impossibly young I felt in the face of having a child because I couldn't tangibly name what it was that made me feel so terribly young and unprepared. When I look at that picture of me and Wally, he seventeen days old and me younger than my nephew is now, I am alternatively consumed with relief I am twenty years older and seized with a desire to turn back the clock and fix terrible mistakes. But what frightened me most, that night, how would I relate to a boy? I, being so innately feminine and female…what would we talk about?
I was a quick study: We talked about Bear and how much he loved Wally and about road construction, dump trucks, ambulances, fire trucks, trains and dinosaurs. Snails and puppy dog tails stuff. But it wasn't all fun and games and rubber and steel for Wally. He was a deep thinker, that one. He was about two when he had an epiphany at dinner. Wally thoughtfully and reverently intoned:
“My Dad is not a fire dog.”
A big existential moment, to separate one’s parent into the category of human from beast.
I’m not sure how successful we have been staying in the human category. I know I’ve moved back and forth between the two. Tonight I said as much when I reminisced about sitting up the night before he was born. Wally was polite and indulged me as I told him the story of that evening with B. I also told him how thankful I was I had boys even though I wasn’t sure how well I had done relating and how parenting was a really hard education into adulthood for me. We were in the car when I told him all of this. That forced intimacy of a car ride at night made it easier to talk to him about these things. That, and he was a captive audience, too and listened probably because I was giving him a ride some place. He rarely asks for a ride so I volunteered to pick him up later,too. It won’t be the first time I’ve stayed up late waiting for him. I was doing just that, twenty years ago.