Things Were Different Then

“She’s four going on forty.” I heard this phrase many times growing up, well beyond the age of four. My three older sisters and my mother, believed me to be confident, a bit bossy, and capable, so much so that my mother once left a four-year old me, alone with a two-year old for 20 minutes while she brought my father to work one day. This was 1976 and although my mother “minded” a few children in our home, she did not work outside of the house at that time. We had one car, as many families did, and she probably needed it for an appointment of some sort that day. Car seats were not a requirement and my mother describes us as “rolling around in the backseat” on the few occasions that we, as toddlers went on outings. For these reasons, my mom had no qualms about turning the household reins over to me. I actually remember the thrill of feeling that my bossiness (read: leadership skills), would finally be an asset rather than something to be laughed at by my older siblings. All was well, and my mother returned before any catastrophe occurred. Years later, my mother, when questioned by an incredulous adult-me, as I recounted the events for my husband, swatted away my disbelief,  “Ohh, I knew you would be fine. You were always very capable, besides, things were different then.”

Today, feeling a wave of nostalgia, perhaps because my sister is visiting from New Jersey, I asked her if she minded that I intended to use this information in my blog and would  she be concerned that she would be cast as unfit mother. “No, what will they do to me? They can’t take my children away now!”  My sister and I laughed, but she continued. “What?!?” She repeated what she said, years earlier, “things were different then.” This prompted a lively discussion regarding the rather questionable mothering practices of  the 1960’s and 70’s. Specifically, the medicating of children, with, what are now considered narcotics. Apparently, my oldest sister, had Paregoric applied to her swollen baby gums, a common practice in 1962. A quick google search reveals that Paregoric was actually tincture of opium, available over the counter until 1970, which allowed for multitudes of hapless, helpless babies to kick-start their lives with an occasional morphine ingestion, as advised by at least one family doctor, namely ours.  “Well,” My mother sniffed, perhaps miffed by our laughter and cries of injustice, or maybe to justify the fact that she gave us morphine, “my friend [name withheld, lol!] often gave her children Cheracol, to put them to sleep.” Perplexed by the sound of this old medication, which sounded like a toss-up  between a bubblegum flavor or a cherry flavored daily vitamin for seniors, my sister quickly googled it to find, far from a proper sleep aide for children, Cheracol contained codeine and surprisingly, was also available without a prescription in the 1960’s. My sister and I, apparently looking shocked, couldn’t help but laugh when my mother justified it with a shrug and a shamefully plausible explanation, if you are a parent that is. “What? She had five children, all very close in age, what else could she do?”  It is interesting to note, that none of the five “children”, now in their 50’s, are known drug addicts.

It also is interesting to remember, that along with my pre-school drug use, I also careened down hills and over self-made bike jumps, with no helmet. I spent hours outside, without adult supervision, tramping through the woods, crossing streams, and swimming alone, or with other young children. I could have fallen in an abandoned well (I very nearly did, a few times), gotten lost or drowned.  Thirsty? We drank from the hose, not a plastic bottle of spring water. In addition to that, my mother, claims she brought me home from the hospital in a card board box, provided by the hospital, although this seems a bit far-fetched, even for 1972. Not only that, but many times in my childhood, I had Mercurochrome applied to open wounds. For those who did not have the pleasure, Mercurochrome was a topical tincture, which had a very distinctive smell and unfortunately contained  mercury, a substance now handled by someone wearing a hazmat suit. Actually, mercury was always a good time according to my brother-in-law, who upon overhearing our conversation, recounted this now horrifying piece of information, “I remember coming home from the dentist with a ball of mercury in a paper cup, they gave it to you after you had a cavity filled. It was fun!” Now they just hand you a toothbrush. I too, remember having a good time with a ball of mercury, after dropping our glass thermometer on the floor. Come to think of it, that wasn’t the only dangerous thing about our old thermometers, maybe the worst thing was that it was an acceptable practice to insert a piece of glass, containing a hazardous chemical into a squirming, feverish, baby’s bottom. How in the world did we ever survive?

More frightening childhood memories surface: cruising around North Pond in a tiny motor boat with no life jackets, just those square, floating seats, my best friend at the helm, navigating around boulders as we approached an island in the pond, and I sat at the bow, calling out vague instructions as to how to miss these potential life changers. “There’s a big one! it’s on your left, like a foot away, no, actually it’s a few inches, watch out!” Island life, had its own dangers; campfires with no adult present, along with old-fashioned sparklers that burned your hand, or your foot if you dropped it, to spell out SOS, seeing as how we were “stranded on a deserted island.” Home the next day, for a quick tuna fish sandwich while watching the “Days of our lives”, we were back in the boat for the day. We were 11. Really, this was child’s play compared to my husband at 11, who, along with a pack of  ruffians, wandered the streets of Lewiston, seeking fights, cigarettes and alcohol. My husband, after I read this statement to assure accuracy, exclaimed “Hey! We were 12!”  Excuse me, I stand corrected.

Today’s moms, for the most part, are a little more concerned than the moms of my youth. My friend Dana, whom I lovingly refer to as “helicopter mom”, due to excessive worry and hovering over her children, has even extended her rotors to cover me, possibly because one of her two children is in college and now has the distance to shuck off words of wisdom like a coat, if he chooses. She routinely reminds me to renew my epi-pen prescription, sends me links to help me organize so I won’t miss important work obligations, and just the other day,  she shared a public service announcement with me, via Facebook regarding the dangers of looking directly at the sun during the recent solar eclipse without proper eye protection. I love this about her, and I am honored that she has taken me under her wing. However, it could not be more different from the laissez-faire mothers of my youth. Yet, here I am, typing away. I survived infant narcotic use, a cardboard car seat, potential drownings, burns, and deadly bacteria from drinking from the hose, blows to a helmet-less head, and bare hands handling of hazardous substances. I’m not saying that any of these things were a good thing,  just that my mother is right, “things were different then.”

Birthday Twins

IMG_0089.pngSo today, my girl turns 26, her father, 52. Not only were these two born on the same day, they were also born in the same hour, 1 am. How well I remember how furious I was, when at 1100 pm, the night before his birthday, with me in the throes of active labor, my husband, flush with excitement, sealed his fate by grabbing my hand and exclaiming, “you can hold on, you can do it, just one more hour.” Pulling my hand free, and waving him away,  with an angry expression was all I could manage at the time, but I have since mentioned several times, how annoyed I was and if I think about too much, still am. But, “hold on” I did, and although I really didn’t have much say in the matter, I’m happy that it worked out that way. And how fitting, as these two are very much alike in temperament, which has led to many arguments, tears, stomping of feet and slamming of doors, especially in her preteen years. It has also necessitated a still standing family rule that these two never sit side by side in any place that one cannot just simply move away, such as church, airplanes or movie theaters. In these cases, her brother or I sit between them to avoid potential squabbles.

Also fitting, that she was born on the same day that hurricane Bob whipped through central Maine. I wasn’t aware of what was going on in the outside world, my main concern was that when the power went out in the hospital, I was stuck with the head of my bed up in the air, trying to learn how to nurse (which although natural, does not come naturally and is not nearly as easy as it looks, at least at first), in almost complete darkness  and stationed with three other moms in a birthing suite. I think they did away with this room the year after she was born, in fact looking back, it’s incredible that they would house us all together even in 1991. Anyway, the other two moms were fine, both about twice my age, as I was a teen mom at 19, but the other new mom beside me, let it be known in no uncertain terms that she had no intention of feeding her baby, because that’s what the nurses were there for, while she groused about the food and was truly angry that she was not allowed to smoke in her room. Needless to say, I was quite ready to take my baby home and begin a lifetime of motherhood, my favorite job and the one I am most proud of.

My husband, for his part, gallantly gave up his birthday, for most of her childhood. His, was pretty much forgotten with the exception of our daughter’s one request for “peas for dad” tacked on to whatever  she had chosen for her birthday meal that year, usually tacos.  He doesn’t especially like peas, and so, this was another consession he made, not only eating them heartily, but thanking her profusely for remembering how much he “loves them.” Oh, the things we do for our children!! Anyway, If you are a very observant reader, you may have noticed that my husband, would have been 26 at the time of her birth, so that is cool. I’m not really into numbers or their meanings, but it does seem sort of significant that she will be the same age today as he was when she was born. However, I did not wake up at 0100 hours to celebrate. Actually, we have already celebrated with our traditional “guns and cake” party.  “What the…??” you probably are thinking. Simply put, we all go out as a family to a nearby sandpit, put up targets and watermelons, and shoot them with several different sorts of guns, then we go home and sing happy birthday and eat cake. Strange tradition? Not if you live in Maine. And for my international friends, this probably sounds like a bizarre way to celebrate a day of birth, and it also may lend some credence to the American Wild West stereotype. It is true, it is a tad bit weird but its a lot of fun, don’t knock it until you try it! We will get together at some point today, there is talk of going out, the birthday twins may go get a few drinks, while I tag along to drive and prepare to referee any potential quarrels that break out. But, that won’t happen today. These two, although at times, hot heads, also love each other dearly. They are both loyal, generous, and hard-working. I’m so grateful for them  and for the excitement and yes, sometimes even destruction,  that swirls around them, not unlike the hurricane winds that ushered our girl in and made us a family. Happy birthday loves. XOXO

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Mollie and Me

My niece Mollie was home recently for a visit. She and her boyfriend Blake, traveled from NYC to spend a few days in Vacationland, a final farewell before departing for a grand tour of their own design, a year-long, around the world adventure, chasing poker tournaments (Blake is a professional poker player), and bucket lists, all before the age of 35. My niece is a special person, sweet and humble with an old soul and a gypsy spirit. More like a daughter than a niece, we have been close since the day she was born, and although we only see each other once or twice a year, she is never far from my thoughts.

One of the many benefits of being the youngest in a large family is early Aunt-hood. Mollie was born when I was 13, I loved her immediately and took her everywhere. She went to high school games and parties (sorry about that, what did I know, I was only 16?!), we shopped and colored and watched movies together. When I was 17, I met my future husband, AKA Tiny. She accepted him and allowed him to join in on our adventures. Later, she acclimated to all of the apartments we rented through out the early years of marriage, sometimes sleeping on the couch, sometimes sharing a bedroom with our daughter. She came nearly every weekend and for most of the summer. Our household didn’t feel complete unless she was in it.

There aren’t many photos of the two of us together during that time, but I love the ones I do have, especially this one, taken when I was 16, and she was three. In it, we are at my mother’s house on her steps. The paneled walls and orangish carpet scream 1976 which means that it was already outdated for 1988.  I don’t remember why I was sitting there, or why she snuck up behind me while someone snapped a photo, but I love how comfortable we look together. It just captures our relationship so well.

When she came up this time, I had an idea that I wanted to take a picture of us, in the same pose, looking as close as we could to our younger selves, 29 years later. I’ve seen recreated pictures on Facebook, family photos from the early 80’s, with children in various poses, sticky smiles on their faces next to the adult versions, 20 or 30 years later. Grownups with sailboats on their shirts, ice cream grins and arms akimbo. I love looking at the differences, and adults in kid poses are usually pretty ridiculous. So, I was happy that she didn’t mind humoring me in this potentially humiliating endeavor.  I thought it would be easy, I had a brownish sweater somewhere, I still wore bracelets and I knew I could fix my hair to somewhat resemble how it looked that year. Fortunately for me, I was in a “granola” phase at the time. I listened to the Doors and The Who and eschewed the Aqua Net hairspray that the year before I could have bought stock in. However, this must have been only a year-long fad, because the next year, my senior picture shows  me clearly having a love affair with aqua net once again. I will not be recreating that picture, although my husband is in it, if only because I never want to see him sporting a pimp-like moustache like this that ever, ever again! IMG_9461

Anyway, we managed to get the picture taken although the whole production quickly turned into a movie-set like affair, starring Mollie and me as mere doll-like props, Blake as the cameraman, Nana as the producer and Tiny as the director. The cameraman gamely snapped 1000 photos using my phone while Nana, doubling as an assistant blasted a phone flashlight in our faces after someone noticed that we were back-lit by the window at the top of the stairs,  which necessitated a blanket be hastily thrown over it, thus plunging us all into darkness. The director and the producer, squinting at the original, grainy photo and back to the live set, offered helpful instructions and comments that were tossed about like confetti; “move her arm, it looks like a T-Rex”, ” Mollie you are smiling too much”, “bring your hands down more” and “Sue, put your chin down,” Obviously this instruction went unheeded as it was lost among the other commands. Unfortunately, in their quest to get the details right, the pros did not notice that Mollie, in an effort to seem even smaller than her 115 pound adult body, was hunching down in all but like, one photo. After about 10 minutes of  quivering smiles on our end, and several readjustments on Nana’s part, the cameraman handed over the phone to us, “I got tons of them” he said, as he wandered off.  He probably did not expect to hear squeals of disapproval as we flipped through hundreds of hunchy photos. The crew dispersed and Mollie and I were left to sift through 999 terrible ones until we found one that we both thought acceptable. Not perfect, but certainly good enough. Mollie claimed that her head was disproportionately large compared to mine, but I reminded her that just the other day, Tiny had requested that I cut my hair short because “it makes your face look bigger”, proof that I was the one with abnormal head size. This prompted a ridiculous but not atypical veer off topic and a name for our future fictional company; Small Face/Big Head productions.

Digression, and its cousin procrastination, is a family trait, one many in my family  come by honestly and may account, at least in part, for the lateness of this post. It has been a week and a half since they left and finally today, I have made myself sit down and write. Mollie, for her part, got right to work and with some hired help, magically plopped us down on those 1988 steps, darkened my hair, lightened the color of my sweater and may or may not have widened my face. There have certainly been some changes in 29 years, some that are evident and some that are not. But, our relationship remains the same. We do not see each other every day, sometimes one of us texts and the other doesn’t answer for days, even weeks. But, when we are together, nothing has changed. We pick right up where we left off, an easy companionship forged over years of laughter and carved from a thousand conversations. I am so grateful for the time we have spent together and the relationship we have. 29 years from now, we will have to do another one, I will be 74 and she will be 61, no doubt still small faced and big-headed, but together, and happy, nonetheless.