Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Day 7 - Someone who has made your life worth living

From Thirty Days of Truth

I would say it all depends on the time in my life.

It's no secret, my childhood and teen years sucked...big time. But there were a few people in my life when I was child whose unconditional love and kindness made me acutely aware that my family circumstances were exceptional and not the 'norm.' They gave me a glimpse of what a family could be. Then, of course, later I met Tom, who I will always credit with rescuing me from my family and myself.

My mother's sister, Sally, was the first person to talk to me like a real person, not just some annoying kid, and she was my mommy role model. Aunt Sally took being a wife and mother very seriously but approached it with great joy and humor. She loved her family unconditionally, even through some very rough times, a trait unheard of in my family. Aunt Sally viewed her role as a job she loved and cleaned, cooked, shopped, laundered and whatever else necessary to create a warm, clean, loving and fun environment in which her children would grow. I always looked forward to the time when I would get sick at school, sometimes even faking illness, because my Aunt Sally would always be the go-to person who would come to school, pick me up and take me to her house where she would feed me, shower me with love and kindness and crack jokes. I thought she was one of the funniest people I'd ever known and I loved her hear her laugh. God, I loved that laugh and, to this day, I still do.

My maternal grandmother was the second person who talked to me like a person even though I was a kid. When I visited her house, I would follow her around the kitchen while she cooked or I would sit next to her on the couch while she did crossword puzzles and we would carry on conversations about, of all things, my school, my friends, my likes and dislikes. She wanted to know what interested ME. Imagine that.

When I was 18, with the maturity and emotional intelligence of a 12-year old, I was, as the song goes, "lookin' for love in all the wrong places." As a result, I got pregnant, quickly married the equally immature and emotionally ignorant father of my child and delivered a baby boy 9 months later. With a husband and father who would have rather played at drag racing all day long instead working at his job to pay the rent, the marriage went pretty sour from the outset, so shortly after my oldest son was born, I moved back to my parents' home.

It was hell. Every time Mike would cry, my mother would pontificate her evaluation of my son's needs: That's a hungry cry. That's a wet diaper cry. That's an over-tired cry. That's a 'pain' cry. Then she would grab my son out of my arms because whatever I was doing to soothe him was unequivocally wrong and would attempt to soothe him herself if she wasn't otherwise occupied or hand him off to one of my younger sisters, who ranged in age from 11 to 16-years old and, of course, had not yet ever had children, but whom my mother felt were more suited than I to care for an agitated, wailing infant.

Initially, I tried to breast feed, but when the baby woke up every 3 hours or so to be fed, my mother would rail about baby sleeping patterns, that he should be sleeping a minimum of 4-hours at a time and so determined, without the benefit of medical council, that my breast milk wasn't nourishing enough and I was starving my son to death. So, at 1-1/2-months old, at my 'expert' mother's insistence, I allowed my breast milk to dry up, put my son on my mother's recipe for liquid formula comprised of water, canned evaporated milk and dark Karo syrup in a baby bottle, in addition to starting him on baby cereal twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. Luckily, the poor little guy slept the required 4 hours at least twice a day, otherwise my mother would have put him on strained meat and vegetables.

The rest of the time, Mike would sleep, wake up and cry, like babies do, but rather than hesitate for a minute or two to see if he would go back to sleep, one or more of my family members would beat me to the crib, pick him up and carry him around or hold him until he fell back to sleep. By the time Mike was 6-months old, he was awake most of the day, agitated, often crying, and hadn't slept through the night once. It became a vicious cycle and I became exhausted from lack of sleep and stress.

When Mike was about 6-months old, I took him with me on a 5 -hour bus trip from San Jose to Fresno to visit my grandparents and my aunts and uncles. I stayed at my grandparents' house. Surprisingly, once we settled in after hellos and hugs, Mike cried very little the first day. He was unusually quiet and calm. I was shocked. I didn't even hold him much and neither did my grandparents, except to feed, burp or change him. I spread a baby blanket down on the couch and Mike slept or laid quietly between my grandmother and me most of the afternoon and evening.

After his evening cereal and bottle, it was time to put Mike down for the night. I apologized to my grandparents in advance for the inevitable 2:00am feeding frenzy but my grandmother was nonchalant. It will be fine, she said and she helped me fix his bottle in advance and put it in the refrigerator, then took out a pot, filled it about 1/3 full and placed it on the stove. I was ready for the middle of the night feeding.

The only thing I could take with me on the bus was my son and his diaper bag jammed full of his stuff and mine, so when it came time to put him down for the night, my grandmother pulled a drawer out of the dresser in the spare bedroom, lined it with a flannel blanket and laid it next to the bed where I would be sleeping. I changed Mike's diaper, wrapped him a baby blanket and rocked him to sleep. When he finally dozed, I put him in the makeshift bed, turned out the light, stepped out of the bedroom and sighed.

A few moments after I sat down on the couch again, I heard Mike whimper, then he began to cry. I started to jump up from the couch when my grandmother said, "Give him a minute, honey. Let's see if he stops crying?" I didn't think he'd stop. He never did before. But in less than a minute, his cry changed to a whimper and his whimper gave way to a silent sleep. When I finally went to bed about an hour later, I tiptoed around in the dark changing into my pajamas, quietly crawled into bed and quickly fell asleep.

I awoke the next morning to a bedroom filled with sunlight. Startled that it was no longer dark, I sat up straight in bed and realized that I had slept through the night...and so had Mike. My heart started to pound. Why didn't Mike wake up during the night to be fed? Oh my God, did something happen to him? I swung my body to a sitting position at the side of the bed and looked down at the baby in the drawer, watching closely for a breath, then touched his cheek. He stirred. Immediately, tears of relief streamed down my cheeks. Wiping my cheeks, I headed for the bathroom, peed, then went to the kitchen to start warming the baby bottle before Mike woke up. The morning ritual felt uncharacteristically calm, almost normal. No morning chaos. No one pulling at me or grabbing the baby from my arms while I tried to ready a bottle and cereal.

My grandmother came into the kitchen as I began warming the bottle. She glanced over at its full contents and knew immediately Mike had slept through the night. "I can't believe it, Grandma. He slept through the night," I said. "And he's still asleep. This is the first time he's slept through the night!." Then I heard Mike whimper from the bedroom. While my grandmother checked the bottle for the correct temperature and wiped the outside with a kitchen towel, I went to the bedroom to get Mike.

I sat in the kitchen with my grandmother, my baby in my arms, talking about how difficult it was to get Mike to sleep and stay asleep for more than a few minutes at a time, how tired I was, how inept I felt and how irritated I was with everyone telling me what to do and not to do. She listened quietly for a long time while I described the chaos, judgment and domination I lived with every day. When I finally took a breath, my grandmother leaned across the table toward me, looked me in the eyes and said, "That baby doesn't need anything but you and a little peace and quiet."

That one simple sentence, spoken by a person whom I knew loved me and whom I trusted, implied that I was enough, that I didn't need anyone to fill in for my lack of experience or shortcomings. I was an okay, fairly capable person, with good intentions and pretty decent judgment. And I should trust myself.

I never, ever felt any judgment from my grandmother. She never chastised me for getting pregnant or keeping the baby instead of giving him up for adoption or marrying an idiot and finally divorcing him. She only wanted for me what I wanted for myself, deep down in my heart: to find the strength to free myself from my parents' domination in order to grow into the person I chose to be so I could create a good life for myself and my son. No small feat. But her love and support made me feel like it was actually do-able.

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