Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Dawn of Mommy's Life

What a pleasant experience it was watching Christopher Reeve's first Superman movie back in December 1978, in Tallahassee.

But Papa was a little on edge during the film. His mind kept drifting off to things that could happen, you know, in the real world where you can't turn back time.

Probably it was because MaMel was due to have a baby any time, they thought, probably not tonight but in a few days, certainly no more than a week.

But it was MaMel who told Papa to quit hanging around their little place in Florida State's Trailer Park Arms, 
asking if there were any changes, is it almost time, should I call a doctor or boil some water, we're set on the whole Lamaze thing, right?

"Just go to the movies, it'll probably be another week," she told him. "Superman is in town. Go see it and take Roy with you
 (by “Roy,” I mean “Uncle Roy,” Gabe and Zack's dad)."

So Papa and Roy went, and the movie was really fun, even if Papa kept thinking, "Maybe we should leave. Superman is longer than I thought it was. What if MaMel is already having the baby? And I wonder if you really could turn back time by reversing the rotation of the earth?"

When Roy and Papa got back home, guess what? Still no baby!

It still hadn't come after Christmas break when Papa returned to studying and teaching at FSU, but their doctor said, "It's close, now. It's about ready." 

Their doctor was a woman. Her name was Mancuso, not Womancuso. She had a first name, too, but no one knows what it is.

Still, she is famous, but more about that later.

The first week of January, Papa's well-meaning FSU friends never failed to greet him with "Did it come yet? Do you have a baby? And if so, was it a girl or a boy?"

By January 10, 1979, Papa was getting really tired of hearing that question. He was nice about it, of course, always courteous, that's the way he was brought up, but he wanted to say, and did say in his head, "Do you really think I'd be sitting here in my office grading essays if the baby had been born since I saw you yesterday? I'll tell you when it arrives, so please leave me alone!”

He said it so loud in his head, that some of his friends claimed they could hear it.

Oh why, oh why can’t people learn how to be caring and concerned without being such pains in the butt? That’s what Papa wanted to know!

Imagine how sick of it he was by February 12. 

Then two more days passed, and it was Valentine's Day, and somehow the unborn baby’s stubbornness, its refusal to be born, made the silliness going on up and down the English Teaching-Assistant Hall even more annoying. 

"No one should be celebrating till my baby is born! So cut it out!" Papa said loudly to himself.

A few days later, late at night actually, Papa was studying a huge Victorian book (Victorian books are always very big, filled with many never-ending stories) for a class called "Huge Victorian Novels," when he heard a newborn baby cry out a single short syllable, a sort of half-note. 

The sound seemed to come from the bedroom where MaMel was sleeping. Papa's bulky book fell to the floor as he raced back to find . . . nothing unusual. Only MaMel, tired from being pregnant, sound asleep. Just to be sure, Papa checked the floor around and under the bed, but no babies were there, none at all.

(Looking back, of course, Papa now knows what happened that night: Something that he will never, ever understand!)

On the evening of February 18, MaMel and Papa were watching  a creepy movie called "Marathon Man" on a lousy, old, small, black-and-white TV, the picture fading in and out, then at roughly the time when one of the characters asked, "Is it safe," all hell broke loose. 

In other words, MaMel said, "It is definitely time to have this baby! No doubt about it! Go tell our neighbor Hilda that Roy is gonna spend the night with her and her twins Stacey and Tracey who are the same age as Roy, one being talkative and outgoing and the other more thoughtful and creative, living mostly internally, inside her mind, so to speak, so much so that her stepdad lovingly -- I think it's lovingly -- refers to her as Spacey Stacey. Let's go to the hospital now!"

They did! Papa drove! Their car was a school-bus yellow 1977 Toyota Corolla with no air conditioning or radio! MaMel picked it out herself! 

Plus nobody had baby-child-safety-restraint seats back then! Or seat-belts! Gosh!

Plus Papa already knew all that stuff about the twins!

Anyway, the hospital was too cold, of course, and added to Papa's shivering nervousness, something that always happened to him when MaMel was having a baby, but did not happen to MaMel. She was concentrating!

Papa remembered all the teaching he and MaMel got from their Lamaze ("How to Have a Baby in the Right Way") instructor, and was ready for action. Their instructor had warned them repeatedly that during the actual delivery there would be discomfort, not pain. Remember that, she said, discomfort, not pain.

But Papa didn't really feel pain or discomfort, just excitement and anxiety, then pure joy when, near sunrise, the world's population grew by one female, Jessica Dawn.

Yes, yes, at dawn on February 19, 1979, Jessica Dawn was born. Get it?

Yes! She was named Dawn, after MaMel's dad Deaune, a name with French roots which is sometimes spelled correctly, sometimes not. It is pronounced "dawn."

As for "Jessica," it was and is a beautiful name, and it just happens that a band called the Allman Brothers (get it? "All man brothers," not "all women brothers," which would be silly) had two songs that Papa and MaMel, esp. Papa, loved back then: "Melissa" and "Jessica." 

Papa, a deep thinker, his brain addled by literary allusions and hidden meanings, thought "Jessica" would be better, since that song had no words, so, he reasoned in a reflective moment, "She would write her own words with the life she lived."

(Of course, there were other discussions about names: 

MaMel: "What if she has a best friend named Jessica?" 


MaMel: "If it's a girl, how about Claudia? It has a full, rich sound, the way it takes up your whole mouth and part of your sinus passage to pronounce it. Try it!"

Papa: "No, that's a name for another day."

MaMel: "If it's a boy, we could name it Samuel. It's from a Hebrew word meaning 'God has heard' or 'name of God,' or something like that. And if it's a girl, Samantha would be nice, and we could call her Sam, like that woman on Bewitched."

Papa: "No, that's a name for another day.")

Anyway, that's how Jessica Dawn got her name -- according to legend, anyway.

Almost immediately after Jessica Dawn was born, Dr. Mancuso carefully wrapped her in a soft blanket and placed her in Papa's arms, and this is what went through his mind and heart:

"So fresh from Heaven, she's still trailing clouds of glory, still a shiny new gift to the world, a Child of God. She is so close to the boundary line that separates Here from Not Here, so I better hold her close, so small, so barely on this side. 'You're welcome here,' he thought to her, 'We want you to stay. It's fun to be on Earth. Lots to see and do.'"

Jessica Dawn and MaMel had to stay at the hospital for a while so Dr. Mancuso could make sure everything was okay, so Papa drove the Toyota back home, then went to FSU long enough to tell his friends they could now shut up asking him if he had a baby yet, and there were cigars passed around, as was the custom back then, and hugs and stuff like that, but Papa left as soon he could.

Why? Because he wanted to clean the yards to give Jessica Dawn a good first impression of her home. She was so beautiful, he did not want her seeing a yard cluttered with limbs and leaves.
Young Jessie samples raw cake

Jessica Dawn soon became Jessie, even though it irritated Mama Joyce, and she soon begin to let MaMel and Papa know who she was. She was stubborn, for example, about taking naps. She refused! But Papa would trick her into it by taking her on a bike ride (no helmets!) right after she ate, and would go round and round a nearby neighborhood until he felt her little head bump against his back, then rest there, signaling sleepy-time.

Then the trick was to get her off the bike and inside the house before she woke up. Try that some time! Almost impossible! And when she awoke, she would cry because she knew her dad had tricked her. No fair!

She developed her own language, and here are three examples. Can you tell what she was saying? If not, ask your mommy: "Noooo. Tan up'n hol' me!"  "Utter one (pointing)!" "Pinger fainting!"

She also loved raisins and always ate too many of them when they were available. MaMel would have to make her look at something else, then whisk the raisins out of sight, to keep Jessie from eating the whole box.
Jessie with Cathy, Queen of Babysitters

When Jessie had been on Earth about a month, MaMel went back to teaching at a middle school, and Jessie stayed with Papa. When Papa had a morning class to teach, she would stay with her all-time favorite babysitter, Cathy, who had a very high voice and knew exactly how to think like a baby.

But one day, Cathy got sick and Papa had a class and nowhere to take Jessie. So he took her, when she was still new and wrapped in swaddling clothes, to FSU and brought her to class.

Every one of the girls in his class wanted to hold Jessie, and several of them did, and Jessie didn't mind. Plus the girls and the boys kept looking at Papa and grinning, trying not to laugh, and he thought, "Gosh, now that I've brought in a beautiful little baby, they like me even more!"
Cathy wisely allows Jessie to consume 39 grams of sugar.
Then a very pretty girl held up her hand and said to Papa, "You have something gross in your beard." Papa felt around in his beard long enough to find a glob of soggy, gummed teething cookie that was, in fact, very gross indeed. Jessie had rubbed it into his beard while he was holding her earlier, but probably not on purpose. But who knows? Ask your mommy!
The very same beard Jessie rubbed her teething cookie in

But as the sun sets on our little story of Jessie's early days on Earth, we must share one last unforgettable image:

Shortly after she learned to walk, Jessie went outside to play while Papa raked the yards and dragged more oak limbs into the nearby forest. Jessie watched for a while, then walked over next to him and picked up a little limb of her own, and the two of them walked toward the forest.

Papa glanced quickly over to his little daughter and found her face reflecting several feelings at once. Her eyebrows were lifted, her eyes lit with joy; her mouth tight with determination, but revealing a trace of a smile. She was being a big person. She was helping. She was doing something new. She was side by side with her dad, making his work easier. She was a part of something that was More than Jessie, but better because of Jessie.

With that face Jessie showed she knew the secret of life without even knowing it was a secret. And she really did. And that really is the secret of life.
Papa, MaMel and Jessie shortly after her baptism

Oh, and about Dr. Mancuso: Now that Jessie has grown up and continued to move figurative limbs out of figurative yards, Dr. Mancuso is considered one of the great doctors of her time, in both America and Japan. "She is," many people say in Japanese and English, "the One. The One who helped MaMel give birth to Jessie, who kept Papa from fainting, and who made it possible, on another day, for the names 'Claudia' and 'Sam' to find homes with two wonderful young humans."

And that is the end of our story. Oyasumi! 

"Okay, where did you put the raisins?"

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