LOIS GREENE STONE - NON - FICTION
Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide. Poetry and personal essays have been included in hard & softcover book anthologies. Collections of her personal items/ photos/ memorabilia are in major museums including twelve different divisions of The Smithsonian. The Smithsonian selected her photo to represent all teens from a specific decade.
"You've never looked more beautiful," my husband whispered; better a positive phrase than an honest appraisal of my bulging body. No one told me I'd have brownish spots on my face, be sick, have problems with my bladder, ankles, back.
Prior to pregnancy, I recall early evening visits with friends. I saw their clean babies in cute pajamas-with-feet, cooing, gurgling. Creatures with no teeth, down hair, miniature features didn't scream, eat, eliminate, ail...did they?
I stopped working and had inner conflicts. I'd taught high school before baby #1, and my paycheck was a nice contribution to the household. My identity was intact, feelings of self-worth encouraged, status in society recognized for my individual accomplishments. At the dinner table, I had a 'day' to contribute to the conversation and opinions to express. Of course I also was Mrs. and his name but MY first name was used on attendance charts, exams, faculty listings.
I wanted a baby; I knew nothing of the responsibility, lifetime emotional commitment, financial realities, difficulty maintaining self-esteem, pulling of others demanding I be wife/mother/housekeeper/cook all at the same time.
Sometimes when I pushed the carriage near a school, I felt envy...just as I had when I'd once looked at bedtime babies. Strange. Same sensation, different role.
Women visited. Lesson plans and vacation dreams were now formulas and toilet habits. Naps, and push toys, and debates about pacifiers took precedence over politics, science, novelists. I was happy; I was miserable.
My husband, after dinner, played with the diapered doll we'd created while I cleaned up soiled dishes. Then he had the newspaper, I had the laundry; he had the television and I anticipated dirty diapers, human screams, disturbed sleep. Sometimes I was jealous of this man I cherished because he continued with the same life but ADDED to it, while mine was dramatically altered.
Adult females visited with cookies, clean changes, cumbersome bags filled with necessities for unexpected emergencies. Other adults who dropped by were usually sales or repair persons. Generally, relatives no longer came to visit me; they came to see the baby. I often felt like a non-person.
Was I immature, selfish? I didn't think so. I once had been a productive adult with feedback; actual baby care was 24 hour-seven-days-a-week work with short-lived satisfactions.
I held, rocked, caressed the human my body had housed. He cried, spit, had rashes, chest colds, allergies. I stroked his silk hair and found cradle cap, rubbed his body with lotions that could not control prickly heat. He was so utterly helpless, yet when he asserted himself as time passed, I was even more burdened.
As calendar pages were pulled off, my parasite developed personality. He responded to my voice. We sat on the floor taking cubes and creating a vertical line. Glee, when the pile tumbled onto the carpet, was contagious. I hummed in our kitchen while my husband repeated this learning event after supper. It was daddy's time. I lingered over the last scoured pot so father-child could have additional privacy. It was special. I was pleased.
The three of us went to the zoo, had picnics, waded at a beach. The three of us took car trips, made snowmen, planted zinnia seeds. The three of us were family.
I shared, contributed, taught at dinner meal we all ate together. I had stories of wonder and exploration I was privileged to be party to.
My immediate friends and I took turns reading and reviewing the latest books while our children banged on pots, shredded paper, or crayoned.
The novelty of a 'baby' grew stale and when relatives began to visit they talked to my husband and me! They shared our child's special events; he became reason to have a celebration. Some, who otherwise might not have made a trip to see us, came bringing gifts to this new generation.
I began to recognize the dignity of my labor. This job was not as static as it first appeared. I had to re-evaluate priorities, become flexible, face situations for which I had no frame of reference, handle accidents and illness rationally. I learned how to manage time, conserve energy. Pleasures from fingerpaints, clay, crayons, picture books, singing, hugging, helping, letting-go were enormous. Being mother had a special mystique and challenge. My self-worth soared. Imagine, I'd influence this human's values, philosophy, attitudes! In my control was encouragement and individualism; in my control was dependency and conformity. This was power.
My husband continued to follow his routine as prescribed by his profession. I occasionally sat back and noticed how dynamic my weeks really were. I realized my whole life would require me to assume identities as I'd move from one role to another. My challenges were ongoing, with fear and exhilaration as each would be encountered. His seeming-freedom from a 24 hour baby care day was a restriction and he was locked into a job. His concern for costs was more draining than some sleepless nights cuddling a croupy child. I was the lucky one.
I read Plath's "The Bell Jar". So she felt alienated as she sat in a pediatrician's office feeling she'd go mad caring for a baby all day. We all feel alienation at times; just knowing it is a universal state is comforting. I read Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique". She forgot to inflame women who file folders all day, and men whose sole job is to screw one assembly line nut on one bolt. Why incite housewives and encourage an uprising? She didn't see that cleaning hotels, hauling garbage, shop clerks re-hanging tried on clothing was hum-drum. I really enjoyed A.A. Milne and Dr. Seuss more than I ever would have imagined. I looked forward to re-reading, because of my child, my girlhood favorite dog and horse novels...Lad...Flicka.... My past was being used again. Nice.
Spoons fell, cups tilted, food found its way into his hair, and I focused on my goal to assist my son towards independence. A fine balance between enough/too much control brought uneasiness. I pondered the position in which I'd placed myself: could I let my child leave as a young adult who would have no need for me and still feel personal satisfaction? Closer, could I accept the loss of control when he'd exit the house for kindergarten? Would jealousy jump in as my all-knowing state would be challenged by others? He'd have his own day to share with dinner conversation; I'd have a new batch of diapers and formulas from his sibling.
Touching my husband's hand, I realized we faced a future that would come full circle and we needed to continue to find and develop our 'oneness'. The child was not an extension of ourselves but a being we chose to put on this earth. His accomplishments should not give us status and identification else we'd encourage areas of development for selfish reasons. What would be best for HIM certainly isn't an immature or self-centered attitude. Was I ripening, getting considerate?
The small foot outgrew fitting into my palm. Sporting his new, low, hard soled oxfords, we all went to a flower show. Again pregnant, I held our son upright against my cheek. Lilacs formed a backdrop. My husband pressed a camera shutter. I felt beautiful.
©1995 All About Kids
reprinted: 2001 Shemom
reprinted: 2017 Indiana Voice
"Watch me. Watch me, Mom.. It’s 2019 already, and my birthday month." I look to the sky and whisper to the quiet air. Within my mind, I re-play some meaningful markers of my passages through time.
"Can I’ve the creepy paper? Can I?" I giggle at Mommy.
"Crepe paper, not creepy."
I wrap the crinkly stuff around my skirt but it tears when I try and tuck it into the elastic at my waist. Mommy smiles, and fixes it. She puts a piece over my satin hairbow, and I climb on a table.
"Watch me. Watch me." I shout and begin dancing. "I’m five. I’m five." I twirl and like the sound of the paper moving. Baby sister who’s only one, and big sister now seven, pay no attention to me. "Whee." I pretend to tap dance to get their attention but Mommy reminds me to be careful on the table ‘cause I can fall off. So what. I can’t get hurt. I’m five.
I see Mommy light a match, touch the stove to turn on flames, and start cooking my special-day meal. All I want is cake. And I can blow out my own candles now. And I’ll go to kindergarten this year with my big sister holding my hand and crossing the wide-wide street with me. Oh five is just such fun.
I put baby, holding her all by myself to do this, into the wicker basket of clean clothes and diapers Mommy’s taken off the line that’s on the roof of the apartment building. I shove the basket towards the radiator and sister seems to like that. Since it is April, the radiator isn’t hot anymore and I can’t get reminded to not go near it or get burned. I climb in the basket and my creepy paper skirt tears even more.
"Don’t let Joy eat that paper!" Mommy warns. "And you’re getting your shoes all over the clean clothes."
"I know. It’s soft in here. I’ve shiny-shiny patent leather shoes on. They’re so special they can’t get anything dirty." Mommy grins and shakes her head. She doesn’t want to scold me on my birthday. With motions, I take the baby’s hands and recite ‘Birthday me, birthday me baker’s man, bake me a cake as fast as you can’. Seven year old Carole helps Mommy at the stove but I know she’s happy for me. I put out my right hand: I’m the age of all my fingers there.
"Dear Diary. I’m nine." I’m writing this in my own bedroom. When I was six, and we all saw this house, I ran upstairs first and found a sunlit room with a window that had an outside box of flowers leaning against the house, and the floor was not wood but like Grandma’s kitchen one yet with checker board and other games designed right into the linoleum. I shouted that this was mine. I didn’t know my parents had never before lived in a house.
"Diary. I’m never-ever going to be a single number again after this." I imagined the double-digit of ten was going to open magic doors for me to walk through and I would really be a big girl. Nine was great, and I was going to a different summer camp in three months and was excited about that. Mom was already sewing labels into all of my clothing. "Diary. Wait until I tell you about my birthday ice cream that Daddy had a place make into shapes. Real shapes. There’s a horse, and a ballerina, and ice skates, and everything. They’re sitting in something called dry ice, but how can ice be dry, and why won’t he allow me to touch it and says it’ll burn my skin. Makes no sense. But the ice cream is wonderful to look at. I’ll have the best party ever."
Sixteen. Carole has made me a corsage of pink ribbons and sugar, like I did for her two years ago. My dress is sheer brown silk over turquoise taffeta and has a brown velvet band circling my tiny waistline. I know I’m pretty. The dining room is elegant, as Mom always makes it, and Dad has his flood lights and 16mm bulky camera ready to take movies when guests come.
Twelve year old Joy helps Mom with the finishing touches on the table, and Carole turns on the record player in the living room and my guests begin to dance. Mom and Dad have the luxury of carpeting now, but we dance on that just like we used to on the wood except our feet sometimes sink in the lush pile. I know the meal will be perfect but I don’t tell Mom, and the cake is so gorgeous I’ll hate to disturb it with a knife. This is a grown up party; I’m the center of attention; I like that.
Twenty. I’m a junior in college. I’d rather not take the train home for my April birthday and will celebrate it at school. After all, I can always have a belated one with family at some point. The universe still revolves around me, and I love school, the scenery of the campus with rolling hills and two lakes, studies, the sensation I have surrounded by all the books in the library, running on the track early in the morning before exams, performing in theatre productions, being the songstress in my dorm, writing skits and doing artwork for inter-college activities, and sharing my school tales with loving parents who always listen to me and don’t mind the expense of my long-distance phone calls. Pieces of me, inside, still love hair bows and crepe paper. The sewing skills my mother taught me are used as are my decade of piano lessons when I’m at a dorm party where there’s a piano. Seems nothing of my childhood was wasted; even ballet made me move gracefully. I telephone and share my day; they understand and give me freedom to grow without guilt. We bury my father in May.
2019. Numbers. Grade point averages, price of postage stamps, tax percentages, clothing sizes, calendar dates, birthdays....... All digits affect us..
We hear a cliche ‘you’re only as old as you feel’ and know the expression is quite ridiculous. Many of us feel we’re still seventeen while the numbers are decades more, but we’re not seventeen and the gift of moments has a ticking clock.
My tiny dress size, and hair color that continually grows without grey anyplace defies time. Yet, on the annual specific date my mother’s body ushered in my life, I’m aware of the very word ‘years’. At my current numeral, my mother was dead from contaminated blood she’d received during open-heart surgery, having spent 32 years of her life as a widow, alone, never even dating another man. At my sum, my older sister was dead from the ravages of stomach cancer. I’ve had multiple decades of living more than my father was allotted during his brief 45 years.
Numbers. My spouse, since we were both in our twenties, holds my hand and knows we’re privileged with our 3 children, their mates, the 15 offspring from their bodies, the 7 great-grandchildren, so far, sharing ‘life’. As a physician, he witnesses how fragile the human body really is and doesn’t take for granted our longevity.
"Mommy. Can you fix my creepy paper skirt?" Inside my head, I’m dancing on the mahogany coffee table in an apartment with radiators, ice box, stove lit with a match to ignite flame, wicker basket of line-dried-on-the-roof cotton clothes, diapers and baby sister, oilcloth kitchen floor. Inside my head, I feel big sister’s hand helping me cross a wide boulevard for kindergarten, I see my age 6 very own bedroom in a big house with forced air heat and no radiators, I taste the coldness and sweetness of the ice cream shapes at my 9th party, I smell the fragrance of the dining room flowers and foods arranged carefully for my Sweet Sixteen.
"Watch me. Watch me." I look to the sky and whisper to the quiet air. "You’ve watched over me, and I’m thankful." I force a shallow sigh. "But watch me twirl. I can still do it. Can you see? Do you remember? Thanks......."
©2011 Poetica Magazine
Might “MeToo” mean inclusion?
“Ooh. That’s so pretty!” Sounds from a bridal shower 2019. The all-female guests are wearing jeggings or skinny jeans, untucked wide tops carrying cross-body purses. The little champagne glasses have frail bubbles making quiet fizzy sounds as each are being refilled. Same scene decades ago except the attendees would have been in dresses, hosiery, high heels that coordinated with the outfit, carrying clutch purses and proper white gloves. Baby showers filled the same purpose with audience and gifts.
“I’ll never have that and won’t go to one either; it’s sexist, but also humiliating. My-gift-is-better-than-your-gift is horrible!” My parents nodded with understanding as, in girlhood, I spewed these words after noticing part of this event at a neighbor’s backyard.
While I preferred women and men gatherings growing up, at age seventeen I knew many universities were male-only; there were some female-only ones, but I’d intentionally selected co-ed for undergrad school. Separate dorms, dress-codes, curfews for women were enforced but none knew any better. These were society’s standards. “Showers” with pretend-elation while feeling inadequate/superior, depending on a gift’s expense, were not part of college life.
When I got engaged, my widow mother made a large party at home. Men and women spoke to one another, although each family seemed to eventually gravitate to familiar faces. I noticed my mother’s ability to make food displays elegant, and entertain gracefully no matter how many people were in the house. Dishwashers did not yet exist, yet the plentiful food was served on real China plates she’d clean by hand. Those who brought gifts did not see them displayed. I carried packages upstairs to my mother’s bedroom; my fiancé and I opened each after guests had gone, while my mother used pencil and paper creating a careful list of item-and-giver so my hand-written thank you notes would be specific and genuine.
Fast-forward: my daughter was engaged. Well-meaning acquaintances just absolutely wanted to make her a bridal shower. I’d totally avoided being an attendee at any, hearing my own words, “I’ll never have that and won’t go to one either; it’s sexist, but also humiliating. My-gift-is-better-than-your-gift is horrible!” I said that the mother-of-the-bride won’t be there so really don’t bother. My husband and I made an engagement party, had ‘old-fashioned’ invitations created with raised print on white cardstock, and gift-bringers were spared embarrassment of having individual items opened in front of everyone. When her baby #1 was due, and I saw she probably wanted the specialness, I still could not put a person in a position to feel awkward about having less money to spend on a purchase than another, nor a sexist situation. Eventually, her firstborn was able to travel the 1200 miles to our house, and my husband and I made a ‘welcome our first grandchild’ celebration.
21st Century. Is it true that a woman might write “x” next to a newborn’s gender on a legal birth certificate? Friedan’s 1960's book seems tame. There are no dress codes, curfews, and such in colleges or most anyplace. Transgender has even moved into the modeling profession. Films and tv shows celebrate homosexuals and lesbians, and the drag-queens once so shocking in “La Cage” are seen as excellent dancers and impersonators. Women painters’ works are part of the Museum of Modern Art, the field of politics has aspiring American Presidents, and an annual gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art has fewer ball gowns and more body-revealing unusual-designed attire. Employers cannot ask if a young applicant intends to become pregnant, and living-together rather than legal union has no stigma. Single-mother is totally okay.
October 2019. I passed a banquet room at a local restaurant. Stopping to look through an open door, the area was filled with only women, and a table of gifts was placed near one single guest-of-honor for her to open and reveal contents to all present. A sign noted ‘bridal shower’. My husband said he’d also heard of ‘gender showers’ where a mother-to-be reveals to a female audience the biologic sex of her unborn, and ‘baby showers’, women-guests-only, still exist as well.
Some places have banned the use of fireMEN, policeMEN, MANhole cover in a road, mailMAN, and such, and Wimbledon’s tennis in England has been accused of using male last names only for men but addressing each female tennis participant with Miss or Mrs and her last name as a courtesy. Somehow that seems to be a stigma for women players. So: Why is an all-women ‘shower’ with the necessary ‘ooh’ and ‘oh that’s adorable’ utterance still so engaging?
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