Saturday, May 12, 2012

Saturday Musings, 12 May 2012

Good morning,

A note in my electronic inbox mentions my mother. I'm happy to see this picture of my Aunt Lucy, writes my cousin Angela, who worked with my mother in the early 1970s. She briefly reflects on how my mother and she laughed and laughed. Her reminiscing strikes a note that rings true: My mother loved to laugh, and she brought joy to others with the infectious nature of her mirth.

My mother set examples that I have tried to apply in my own parenting, and whether or not I succeeded in emulating the goodness of her teaching remains to be seen. On the day before this Mother's Day, in the year that my son will turn 21, I feel as though my parenting, for better or for worse, has unfolded as far as I can take it, and the rest lies in the province of fate, or my child's own volition. The impact of his choices now will outweigh even the indelible stamp of mine.

But he will never shake the effect of several of my choices, the first among them being the choice to have him. I could have waffled in that. I could have fallen on the side of ease -- choosing the emotional trauma of abortion over the unmistakably difficult but immeasurably rewarding decision to bear a child whose biological progenitor had already made his choice to be absent. On the heals of several miscarriages over fifteen years of sporadic attempts to bear a child, I saw my pregnancy with my son to be the last opportunity to parent a biological child, and so, at age 35, I stepped into the breach.

During pregnancy, I became obsessed with having what I perceived as the accouterments of a "normal" childhood for the baby whose life I anticipated would contain many hallmarks of abnormality -- the only child of a single, disabled, middle-aged mother, this little guy would doubtless encounter endless taunts from the smug offspring of coupled twenty-somethings. Among the numerous and now thankfully forgotten fixations that I developed, I count my unnatural insistence that Patrick have a particular child's swing, which had the option of sitting table-top, running on house current or batteries, and which could provide endless, side-to-side rocking that supposedly mimicked the exact movement of cradling, maternal arms.

In other words, a battery-powered back-up to replace the second parent that he would not have.

My sister Joyce found this thing in a J.C. Penney catalog. "Online" had not yet become the ordering arena of choice, and I lived in Northwest Arkansas, which had Penney's so small they looked at me with confusion when I tried to describe what I wanted, and cast a roving eye at their own outdated copy of the company's catalog to no avail. But Joyce found it, and ordered it, and the package came a week or so after the departure of my oldest sister who had come to assist me in my first week home from the hospital.

The UPS man arrived one click after the nick of time. I had been desperate for days, exhausted from the stress of the surgery by which my son came into the world and his constant crying which we had not yet determined stemmed from lactose intolerance triggered by the gagging volumes of milk that I consumed to provide the calcium my body needed. I did not sleep. I nursed, and walked, and cajoled and begged and collapsed in a heap on the couch in the living room of my tiny apartment, questioning my decision to have him in the face of all the doubts expressed by some of my more candid friends and half of my family.

I tore into the the box with a frantic mixture of glee and relief. I pulled forth the white plastic baby-throne and its heavy pedestal. I wrenched the D batteries from their blister pack and crammed them into their slots, getting the wrong end round in my haste. Having righted them with shaking fingers, I searched for the switch to activate my salvation, and stood, awed, in front of the machine as, indeed, it shifted back, and forth, and back, and forth, with a small, nearly imperceptible hum.

Oh baby, I thought. You are gonna love this. And Mama's gonna get her some sleep.

I retrieved my fussy baby from his cradle, changed his diaper, and marveled, for a few minutes, over his sweet smile, and the smoothness of his small head with its mass of black curls. I dressed him in a fresh Pooh onesie and sang his favorite James Taylor song while I got him ready to nurse. Then I sat in the rocker given to me by friends who owned a used furniture store, and fed my boy, only slightly distracted by the thought that after he ate, I would be able to put him in the new contraption, activate the one-hour batteries, and take a nap on the couch beside my contented bundle of joy.

I didn't dare think about the possibility that after I napped, I might be able to take a shower. No point in being too hopeful.

Once he had had his fill, and burped his silly, baby burp, I approached the rocking machine and gently set my son in its curved seat, on the soft blanket that I had placed there, and fastened the plastic buckling strap around him. He gazed at me with eyes that I felt held trust, and so, without further thought, I flipped the switch.

And my precious child, this boy whom I had awaited for 36 years, a tiny bundle of happiness born six weeks before his due date but still weighing nearly 8 pounds, let out a wail that pierced my heart and sent the neighbors pounding on my door.

I wrenched him from the baby swing and held him close. After assuring my neighbor that neither I nor my child had been injured, I walked him around the small living room until his tiny chest stopped shuddering and he eased into my embrace. He was just surprised, I told myself. He'll get used to it.

But he didn't.

Over the next several days, we repeated the routine. Feed, burp, set into baby seat, activate motion, wail. Each time, I snatched him from the seat sooner and sooner, and I am not ashamed to admit that my haste had more to do with my fear that Social Services would intervene than my concern for his sensibilities. His crying between these periodic experiments grew worse and worse, but the most intense, the most anguished, occurred when I started that machine, the very moment at which, according to its marketing, he should have fallen into a contented stupor.

By the end of the week, I had not bathed for days, my son and I had become something less than uneasy allies, and the apartment looked like a war zone.

One night, late, I called my sister long distance. Not the sister who had given me the coveted baby-rocker, but the sister who had come to Fayetteville. She assured me that all new mothers go through trying times. She listened to me cry. She suggested that I get someone to come stay with Patrick while I slept. And there were people who could come, a couple of them, but they couldn't move into the apartment with me or raise my child, assuming that I did not murder him in what little sleep he got between bouts of nursing and screaming.

The next day, I called the other sister, the one who had indulged my obsession with this white hunk of battery-powered plastic. Oh, Mary, she said (and I did not even notice her using my despised first name). Just go to Wal-Mart, get a Grayco swing-o-matic, and use that.

I did as she suggested. I put my screaming son into his car seat, and drove, shabby maternity dress thrown over my sweaty body, to the nearest Wal-Mart. I bought a Grayco Swing-O-Matic for 1/5 the cost of the monstrosity that I had insisted I had to have. I put it together with the provided Allen wrench, and put my son, with his Pooh bear, into the seat, and cranked the handle.

With the first forward movement, Patrick fell asleep, his head slumping sideways, and a silly smile settling on his angelic face.

I collapsed beside the swing, and he and I slept for forty-five minutes, which is the length of time that a single full wind provides. I woke to his soft cooing, as he reached his tiny fingers to touch his bear's nose. I wound the thing again, and sank to the floor. I think I fell asleep before he did.

A week or so later, clean, long hair washed and braided, attired in freshly laundered clothing, I took the table-top, dual-powered, modern baby-rocker to the local J. C. Penney's to return. The lady at the counter noticed that I had made no entry in the box labeled, "Reason for Return". She raised her head with its tight, grey curls, and asked, in a casual, unsuspecting way, what the reason for my returning the item could be. Do I have to say? I asked. I can't file the form without a reason, she snapped.

Okay then, I told her. Write, "Whenever I put my baby in it, he screamed as though I had poured boiling oil over him."

Her eyebrows drew together. We stood looking at each other without speaking. Finally, she pulled the form closer to her rounded, matronly bosom, and said, I'll just write, "Did not live up to expectations."


Few of the events of the next twenty-one years did, quite, match what I expected them to be. Some of them wildly exceeded any dream that I might have had. Some, not many, fell woefully short of what I had hoped would occur. In the latter group, I put T-ball, Boy Scouts, and Catholic elementary school, where I forced my son to go for the fifth and sixth grades, a decision that everyone knew I would regret. But in the former group -- the category that a customer service agent might describe as "Surpassing even my wildest dreams for motherhood", I put almost everything else -- including two trips to Minnesota for treatment at the Mayo Clinic for my son, which gave me sweet memories of my son riding his bike through Rochester and of him asking, in his mild, endearing way, if we could live in the hotel forever.

Mother's Day will dawn slightly bittersweet. I lost my mother in 1985, and I would by lying if I did not say I still miss her with an intensity that I expected would have by now faded. But I have lived the whole of my life as a mother in the span of time since she went home to the peaceful eternity that she knew would cradle her. As I sit on my sun-lit porch, a porch that I know she would find as welcoming as I do, I can only hope that I have lived up to her expectations.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Happy Mother's Day, to all the mothers reading this.

In Memory of Lucille Johanna Lyons Corley, 10 September 1926 - 21 August 1985, and in memory of all the lost mothers, including the most recently lost mother of our friend Shelley Bishop, Shirley Ann (Little) Moon. May we all remember them with love, and joy, and the knowledge that their daughters learned to be good mothers by their example.

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The Missouri Mugwump™

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.