Thursday, December 10, 2009
Sisters Sandy and Ellie, Babsie (me, 8 yrs old) with Grandma Becky
The first time I fell in love, it was with two boys at the same time. I loved their tiny hands, the way they bounced on my back, stuck their fingers in my ears and blew raspberries in my face. Sixteen-month old twins Todd and Larry Klein were irresistible to me. At the age of eight, I was the older woman in their lives.
We lived on the first floor of a courtyard building in Hyde Park on the south side of Chicago. The entryway, decorated with faded floral wallpaper, black and white checkered tiles and worn burgundy carpet, always smelled of garlic, onions and tomato soup. The Kleins lived across the hall. When I came home from school, I could hear the twins banging and shrieking as they chomped on the wooden slats of their cribs. It wasn’t long before I was spending every afternoon with the twins who squealed when they saw me, gave me sloppy kisses, pulled my cheeks, stuck their fingers in my mouth, called me ‘Baba’ and asked me for ‘cuks’ – cookies.
I was oblivious to their mother’s disheveled, burgeoning appearance, the dirty laundry or baby detritus on every flat surface. I changed their diapers and played peek a boo until my mother called me home for dinner. While Mrs. Klein treated me like an expensive gift, I failed to notice she was swelling up like a balloon. By June she was enormous. In September she gave birth to triplets and the family of seven moved to a larger home. I never saw them again.
Few memories from my childhood linger with the intensity of that experience. Mrs. Klein, heaped across her over-stuffed chair, hair matted to her forehead, breathing heavily. The twins, wrapping their arms around my neck, giggling when I tickled them. By the time I graduated from high school, Todd and Larry had become a dim memory like a favorite toy or a great birthday gift. But the experience framed my life, the choices I made, and the path I took.
During the early 1940’s, women were encouraged to work for the war effort, then pressured to retire when the veterans returned home. Out of this milieu emerged leaders like Gloria Steinem and Marilyn French who captured the angst and frustration women suffered and transformed it into a movement in the early seventies, long after I’d married and had given birth to three of our five children. And while I support every woman’s right to choose, to explore her destiny, to have access to a career, to compete on an equal field with any man, my choice had been made years earlier.
My fascination with babies, children, motherhood have not diminished. I continue to write stories about the pitfalls, challenges, humor and angst of family life from the perspective of a mom, child development specialist, teacher and grandmother. Some will make you laugh, others might make you cry. I think of them as snapshots from my life that offer insight, appreciation, truth, angst, and most of all, love.