This piece was meant for Mother’s Day, but time got the better of me. Still, a rumination on my wife as mother is always timely.
My wife’s motherhood began inauspiciously enough with pregnancy. Though we had been married for a little over a year when she became pregnant, the pregnancy was a surprise. But to those of you who may be alarmed at an unplanned pregnancy, well even with planning, the rest is a gamble – unless you have a trust fund, and as we saw this week with the sad ending of a Kennedy wife, even with money all of existence is fraught.
My wife was diligent about her pregnancy. She ate well, and since this was our late hippy period, we ate lots of veggies, whole grains and so forth. We favored big salads for supper, or stir fried vegetables over millet or brown rice. Breakfasts were usually whole grain oatmeal or cornmeal (the cornmeal was cooked in a double boiler). We took walks most evenings and up until then end, Monta (my wife’s name) was healthy and active.
Monta didn’t learn that she was pregnant until the fourth month - we were in Europe when the odyssey began – a long story better told on its own. But the constant travel from Ireland to Great Britain to Holland and back to Britain made everything like an out of body experience – so under those unusual circumstances, a new pregnancy could be missed.
I can’t imagine a less promising start, just back from a four month meander, no jobs, no home, meager insurance (a lousy personal policy) but we somehow managed. We had to pay $500 up front to the medical practice (an awful lot of money in those days) in order to be accepted as a patient, but we did. I’ll spare you further details of the pregnancy, except to add that Monta’s water broke on the afternoon of Friday September 1 while I was driving home from work (it was a shitty job, but there you go).
The birth itself was by C-Section, so all of our Lamaze classes went for naught, and in just a few days, Monta was home with Nick.
Like most new parents, we slept little over the first month or so. Nick was a good baby, but even the best newborn gets up in the middle of the night. We were earnest new parents, even using cloth diapers for a while – but reality soon got the better of us. As Monta settled into being the mother of a baby, my role began to diminish.
For Nick, things went well. He was healthy and grew normally. He walked, talked and seemed to do everything on time. We struggled. If it wasn’t for how thrifty my wife was (our furniture was largely second hand, as were most of Nick’s clothes) we wouldn’t have been able to afford anything. At the time, our only income was from my job at Rike’s Department Store in Dayton Ohio (actually at their store in Springfield, Upper Valley Mall). I was at various times a stock boy, a display artist (was a terrible one) and a janitor. Each payday, we were usually down to about $5. Of course we needed help, and got it eagerly from mother in law (who purchased food and clothes for Nick).
Nick’s first real Christmas was the one after his first birthday. He was now walking, and Monta did everything to make Christmas special. With almost no money to spare, Monta found a small Match-Box train set: an engine, maybe two or three cars, and a small oval of plastic tracks. She also found a beautiful illustrated book about trains, Huck Scarry’s Steam Train Journey (Google it – it remains a classic). I believe she asked her mother to buy it – I doubt we could have afforded both the little train set and the book. And then there was the train board. Monta found a piece of plywood maybe 2ft x 4ft (or 2 x 3) and glued on piece of heavy chipboard. Then she painted a layout with little roads and a track-bed for the train. Considering the cost, the effect was magical.
For our Christmas Tree, Monta found a used artificial tree – small, no more than 2 or 3 feet tall. She strung popcorn, and we put lights on. Oh one more thing, I made the ornaments – all out of special paper that I had had left over from art school.
Thing remained tough for years. When Nick was 3 we moved back to NJ and when he was 6, I started to work in the insurance industry. Through it all, my wife always made sure Nick had a nice costume for Halloween (she sewed one) and always made sure he had enough clothes to wear – again, much of it second hand.
Those days are over, as is my son’s need for parental input. At 33, my son has his own place and really is fully on his own.
For myself, I don’t miss our poverty, but while I am grateful that we can afford to have what we have now (nothing remarkable, but we don’t need to scrimp anymore) - no amount of money can recreate the magic some 30 years ago, when a mother of a toddler managed to create Christmas magic out of colored paper, paint, popcorn and a few lights.