Caught Into the Human

September 26, 2009

. . . I had never known a newborn, you
had to arrive into the arms of an amateur.
No one has known my ignorance so well, . . .
 . . . And from no one have I learned
as I learned from you, you brought me forward 
. . .  you caught me into the human.
                      — Sharon Olds, b. 1942
                          American poet

Evelyn Rose DeAngelis, my darling but no longer my stringbean, still dew, still gold, still perfect, turns 24 years old today. At left she is pictured with her boyfriend, Matt, a young man who, so far, has proved worthy of her.

I was half way to 39 when Lynn was born. “My God!” said an acquaintance upon hearing the news of the impending event.  “Was this planned?” She was someone I knew in an aerobics class, a woman who frequently wore a t-shirt that said “Better 40 than pregnant.” When I told her that I was almost both, she was incredulous. We had little else to say to each other.

Ron was ten years beyond that and had three other children, a daughter 22 and another 20, as well as a son who would turn 19 the day before Lynn was born. We’d been married two years. “Oh I was so hoping this would happen!” his mother said when I told her. The older girl, however, remembered that her conversation with her grandmother was more along the lines of “I warned him this would happen!” As an experienced mother myself now, I understand her caution and her skepticism, both of which are at the root of my apparently provisional approval of the sweet and sensitive Matt. Ron’s mother turned 70 that spring. Her sister had already ordered a gift, a turtleneck with “Eva’s Grandchildren” embroidered on the cuff and “Diane-Patty-Danny” repeated in several rows at the neckline. She had “And Lynn too!” added at the bottom, but it didn’t look quite right.

While the older girls were growing up, the family lived on three acres in a semi-rural area of the school district where I taught. (That’s how I met Ron, through a blind date arranged by the second daughter.) They kept Morgan horses that the girls showed, winning ribbons in Western style (Diane) and English (Patty). At my first visit with my obstetrician I noticed his diploma from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. “Do you have any questions?” he asked me at the end. “Well, yeah . . . ” After practicing as a vet for several years, he went to Penn’s other medical school and undertook ob-gyn work because he and his wife had a distressing experience with the gestation and birth of their first child. When asked about my progress and well-being, Ron would sometimes say, “Well, we had the vet take a look at her and . . . ”

The newborn Lynn certainly had to arrive into the arms of an amateur mother. Her father’s experience, shaped by the sensibilities of the 1950s that sharply divided women’s work and men’s work, was not much better. When Diane was about to be born, her mother was wheeled away upon her arrival at the hospital. Presently, a nurse came out and told Ron that this would take some time, and he should probably go to work, which he did. In late afternoon he was informed by telephone that he had a daughter and was told when visiting hours were. Anything he might have known about the care of infants had been forgotten or was no longer relevant. He would say later that his experience of Lynn’s birth and early years was very different from the one he’d had with his other children, because he was a different person.

When Ron and I were married, he moved into the house I already owned. I’d seen the new subdivision in Susquehanna Township several weekends before my first wedding. It was a muddy swath through a former farm with just three houses near the entrance, one of which was about to be occupied by a classmate who was the real estate agent for the builder. I didn’t much care where it was — it was a nice house put up by a reputable builder at a price we could afford. That it was in a school district famous for its excellence that thoughtful parents with values and attitudes like mine would seek to live in was not a consideration, since children were not really a consideration for me in those days. In the seven years before my life changed I’d watched the neighborhood grow up around me and developed at least a casual acquaintance with some of the young families who began populating it.

Those friendships were in place for me when Lynn was born. Woodridge experienced something of a baby boomlet that year, although many of the mothers of the children who would become Lynn’s friends were producing their last child, not their first. The other mothers became my allies and my role models, and my love for them continues even though we no longer spend summer evenings from dinner time till dusk standing in the street in front of Marilyn’s house supervising the kids. Raising Lynn in this neighborhood among these people is part of the unparalleled joy I have known these 24 years.

“Well, your life is certainly going to change! It will never be the same!” I heard this repeatedly as I waited for Lynn to be born, mostly from people I didn’t know very well and wouldn’t see much of again. It was expressed often as a warning or a prediction of doom, as if I had to say goodbye to so many good things — disposable income, leisurely weekends, a carefree life. “Little buckle shoes on your leather sofa! Won’t that be fun!” “Spit up on your crewel pillows! You’ll see!” “Just wait till she becomes a teenager!”

The leather sofa survived, as did the crewel pillows. Even the “L.D.” magic-markered into the ivory center of a hand-knotted wool rug faded with a careful and vigorous application of Woolite. And the teenage years, like all the other years, were filled with the music of her laughter, and that of her many wonderful friends and their families.

My cynical friends were right, though. When Lynn was born, my life was changed more than it had been changed by any other event, even my spiritual awakening five years before, and I was never the same. I was better. I was caught into the human, brought forward, able to become the woman I am now.

Thank you, Wunski. I love you.

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