Monday, April 21, 2014

The Chronicles of Nannia - Episode One

         Kiley hasn't been up to much this week, which means she's been behaving like a normal three-month-old. Babies can be all drama at times, cranky or content, stressful or soothing, exasperating or adorable, easy or difficult. But most of the time they are not up to much. Let's face it, a life that consists primarily of eating and sleeping isn't exactly the stuff that gripping entertainment is fashioned from. But that's not a problem, it's a blessing. The boring baby is almost as desirable as the sleeping baby. Still, it leaves me without much to report on the Kiley front. Fortunately, Kiley is not the only child I have ever been exposed to (or is it unfortunately?). Anyway, I have many child related experiences with which to amaze you. So let me take you back thirty years to a time when both the world and I were much younger and childcare was both different and the same. On second thought, let's make it forty.

        The year is 1974, a hit TV show "Happy Days" premiers cashing in on nostalgia for the 1950's, Dr. Christiaan Barnard performs the first human heart transplant, Nixon refuses to surrender the Watergate tapes, Patty Hearst is kidnapped by the SLA, the Arab Oil Embargo is on and oil prices are skyrocketing, my first daughter has just been born, and I am eighteen years old. In '74 my husband, our baby girl, and I are living in a cheap apartment we can barely afford on his income as a production worker in a chemical manufacturing plant (the same plant that he works in today). Our apartment is right above the furnace that heats the entire building so we are toasty warm 24/7. In fact, we have to keep some windows open in the dead of winter just to make it bearable. We are living on the edge as many young couples do, bouncing from one financial crisis to another as we try to cope with building a life and family together with never enough money. We are always one car-break-down away from ruin.

        In '74, mothers who work outside the home are still somewhat of a rarity and the booming daycare industry that so many rely on today does not yet exist. For those mothers who must work in order to survive, the daycare options are limited and consist mostly of available family and friends. Feeling strongly about the benefits of a stay at home mom, we never even consider that option despite the financial difficulties it creates. My husband is working shift work and all the overtime he can get, which is hard because it means that most of the time he is either working or asleep. This means that the baby, let's call her No.1, and I are mostly on our own. But that's okay, we are up for it. No.1 is six months old and she and I are practically attached at the hip, an inseparable team. It's we two against the world and we share the load equitably, each playing to her respective strengths which, as providence would have it, compliment each other – she is in charge of filling diapers, spitting up, and cuteness & adorability, and I handle the rest.

        I have become acquainted with the girl who lives across the hall; Sherry (not her real name) is nineteen and also a stay at home wife and mother. Her son is about the same age as No.1. I have also met Gladys who lives down the hall. She is in her fifties and her husband works as a janitor in a local school. Having friends nearby makes things a lot easier and relieves the feeling of isolation I would no doubt experience if not for their occasional company. I have a large extended family that lives in the surrounding area, I am the seventh of ten children, but with only one car my freedom to wander any farther than walking distance from our apartment is often limited. Most of the time it is just me and the baby.

        On a June day of that year, I am planning to put No.1 in the stroller and walk over to the local mall which is about half a mile away, just for a pleasant walk and some window shopping, something to do. I am packing up the baby's stuff when there is a frantic banging on my door. I open it to find Sherry with eyes as big as dinner plates and a blue baby limp in her arms! Sherry's baby has stopped breathing and she doesn't know what to do! I snatch him from her arms, dangle him upside down over my arm, and give him a hard thump on the back. At the time, this is the most common remedy for dealing with a choking baby and still is today. In fact, it is actually the Heimlich Maneuver for infants though Henry Heimlich won't publish his famous method until later that very same month. I learned it in health class. Nothing happens when I do this and I feel panic beginning to rise. I yell at Sherry to call for an ambulance. There is no 911 system yet so getting help in an emergency can take a lot of time. Everyone has a list of emergency numbers taped to the wall next to their phone. To get an ambulance you have to call the local Fire Company. Sherry is freaking as she runs to the phone and starts scanning my list for the right number. She has trouble finding it even though it is right there. I was taught mouth-to-mouth in health class so I lay the baby on the sofa and breathe into his mouth. I'm shocked when, in just a few moments, he gasps for air and comes around. The baby is crying, Sherry is crying, and my heart is pounding like a jackhammer. The ambulance never does come. Over the next few months Sherry's baby will have a string of medical emergencies – high fevers, convulsions, trouble breathing - and Sherry will call me for help each time. Most of the time, however, he is just fine and though there was a medical diagnosis Sherry didn't know what it meant and I have no idea what was wrong with him. But on that particular day we don't have a car, and everything seems okay so we just go back to what we were doing before Sherry's baby almost died. Still, I am shaken by the close call. What if it had been my baby?

         About six months after the incident with Sherry's baby, Sherry and her husband split up. We help her move herself and her baby to her mother's house about fifty miles away and I never see her again. I guess their marriage succumbed to the usual destroyers of young couples – too much stress over money, the responsibilities of parenthood (especially with a sick baby), and being too young to cope with it all had driven them apart. They had been married for less than two years. My husband and I are under similar stresses and are just as young but we are desperately in love, with the kind of intensity that only the very young can feel, and those same challenges pull us together rather than push us apart. We cling to each other for comfort and support, and are optimistic about the future. The responsibilities of parenthood weigh heavily on us, being not yet fully adults ourselves, but in spite of this No.1 has drawn us closer together and cemented us as a family. She is such a joy to us that we want to have more children. We decide, however, to wait until we can save enough money to buy a house before we have another baby. That will take six years.


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