The older I get the more I reflect on the times when I was young. Oh, how many things I would change if I could! Hindsight is always twenty-twenty when we can look back with the benefit of knowing the outcomes of our decisions. On the other hand, how many things I would leave exactly as they were, for looking back they now seem pristine in their perfection. How much of the former is due to the caution of age now, in contrast with the spontaneity of youth then? How much of the latter is to the "misty, water colored" nature of the past? Memories can be tricky things. Let's look back again at the past as I remember it knowing full well that, to paraphrase Barbara Streisand, time may have rewritten every line.
The year is 1976. "The Gong Show" premiers on network TV and soon becomes a sensation. Stephen Wozniak and Steven Jobs found Apple Computer. Jimmy Carter is elected President of the United States, the first one from the "Deep South" since the Civil War. All of New York City is terrified as a serial killer begins a yearlong murder spree, leaving promises of more killings to come in psychotic letters signed "The Son of Sam". Dorothy Hamill wins "the gold" in the Olympic Figure Skating competition spawning renewed public interest in figure skating and a new hair style fad. My daughter is going on three years old and I am not quite twenty-one.
In '76 our little family (my husband, myself, and our daughter "No. 1") are beginning to prosper. My husband works in a chemical manufacturing plant and, as was much more common at that time, belongs to a labor union. The union negotiates yearly raises for its members. The union contract also provides for longevity raises at one year, two years, three years and five years of company service. These two benefits together result in my husband getting a raise in his hourly wages just about every six months. Even more, his growing union seniority makes it possible for him to move into higher paying positions within the company as they become available. All of this results in a rapid increase in our income and standard of living. After just three years of marriage my husband's income is more than double what it was on our wedding day.
One of the greatest benefits of our increased income is our ability to buy a second car. Both of our cars are used but they are reliable and the second car gives me the mobility and freedom I must have to do the things I need to do as a wife and mother. Our first apartment is in a not so great neighborhood and I have always worried about No.1 and I being alone at night while my husband is at work. And so, with No. 1 in tow and sporting my new "Dorothy Hamill hair-do" I use my new mobility to go searching for a new apartment. I use the seat belt to strap No.1 into the back seat during these forays. Child car seats, and seat belts for that matter, are not commonly used yet and won't be for another decade or so. I find a great apartment in a much more affluent, and therefore safer, area. The apartment building is brand new and I would actually get to choose the carpeting that went into it. It has central air! Yes! There is a security door at the entrance to the building and visitors have to be "buzzed in" by a tenant in order to enter. Can you imagine! There is a washer and dryer right in the apartment so I won't have to go down to the basement to use the common facilities, which always made me nervous. There is even a little balcony where we could cook on a grill or something and relax on a nice evening.
I am determined to get this apartment but I have to move quick. The problem, of course, is the cost. The rent on our old apartment is 175 dollars per month. The new apartment is 235. That's a big increase. My husband is real tight with a buck, as am I, coming from a large family. But this is a great home for our family and my strategy has always been to find the right apartment then convince my husband through argument, logic, and, I admit, a little manipulation to see the wisdom in my plan. My strategy is successful and we are soon happily ensconced in our new digs.
It's winter and snowing quite hard. We have been in our fabulous new apartment for about eight months. I am providing day care for my sister's son who is the same age as "No.1". That means about 40 dollars per month in extra income. It doesn't sound like much but in 1976 forty dollars buys a week's worth of groceries (with diligent couponing). But I'm not doing it for the money, she's my sister, and besides having a playmate for my daughter has tremendous benefits for both children. Unfortunately, it also means potty training two toddlers at the same time. It's the "terrible twos" times two with "dueling potty chairs" thrown into the bargain. Life is an adventure.
I am in the kitchen doing I forget what and the two kids are just around the corner in the living room. My husband is at work. The next thing I know I hear a scary kind of thump followed by my daughter's "pain scream". (As every mother is aware, our children have different screams and cries for different occasions. Their "pain screams" are different in pitch, intensity, and emotion from their "anger screams " or "fear screams" etc. It's a kind of primitive language for conveying raw emotions.) I can tell right away the noise isn't coming from the living room, it's coming from the bedroom. So I rush to the bedroom and find No. 1 on the floor with blood all down the front of her and my nephew standing nearby with a worried look on his face. Apparently, they had snuck off to the bedroom and had decided to climb up onto, then jump off of, a desk. My daughter's less than perfect landing had resulted in her chin contacting the floor, which had driven her upper front teeth through her lower lip. It's Emergency Room time, every mother's favorite way to pass an afternoon.
Trying to stop the bleeding as best I can with a bath towel, (not easy to do with an uncooperative and terrified not-quite-three-year-old), while simultaneously keeping a rein on my nephew, I realize that I am not going to be able to get this circus to the emergency room in a snow storm on my own. So I call for an ambulance. The parking lot in my apartment complex is like Mount Everest; it's a ridiculously steep hill. People park there cars at the top of the hill when snow is predicted because that is the only way to get out of there once the snow starts. As I'm trying to get the kids dressed for the snow, while continuing to control the bleeding, I contemplate trudging up the hill to meet the ambulance to ensure it won't get stuck at the bottom and make it impossible for us to get to the Emergency Room. (I have a horrible vision of me holding a needle and thread while the doctor "talks me through it" over the phone). The ambulance, however, arrives before I can do that and the guys apply first aid. As they hustle us all into the ambulance I assure them that we are not getting up that hill in the snow. The driver assures me that we are getting up that hill one way or another and proves himself right with surprisingly little effort. These guys are like heroes to me. The rest of the ride is slippery and hazardous but otherwise uneventful and they drop us off at the local emergency room where the staff takes over.
We are ushered into a room where the stitching will take place. They intend to suture her lip without the use of Novocain. This, they inform me, is standard procedure with small children. They don't want the wound to be numb because if it is sore the child will not mess with it and possibly undo the sutures. They don't want me in the room when they do it. When I balk at this they become insistent. (This is before the age of ultra-litigation that we live in today and some doctors are much more imperious and accustomed to having their way than they are at present.) I don't want to leave her but they are adamant and I acquiesce when they insist that they will not give my daughter the care she needs until I obey. They are strapping her to a flat, wooden board as I leave the room. I sit in the waiting room with my nephew on my lap and listen to my daughter scream as she is being repaired. It's a scream I've never heard before, a combination of fear, pain, anger, and abandonment that is a new addition to her "scream vocabulary". Thankfully, I have never heard it again. I call my husband at work when they are done and he eventually gets there through the storm to pick us up and take us home. The medical bills are not a concern. The health insurance we get through my husband's employer pays 100% of emergency services with no deductible. As everyone knows, an ambulance ride can be very expensive but we support the local volunteer fire-company with yearly donations. That puts us on "the list" and the ambulance is free. My daughter, of course, is in a highly agitated state all that night and when I finally get her to sleep I collapse from physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. I have to sleep fast because my nephew will be at the front door at 7am. My birthday is just a few weeks away. I'll be twenty-one. Maybe these kinds of things will be easier then. I'll be an adult.
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