April 4, 2017

CNF/Essay by Lois Greene Stone: "Diapered Doll"

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.


Pixabay-digital manipulation






DIAPERED DOLL  
"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.
It stopped.
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.   


~Lois Greene Stone



  ©1995 All About Kids
reprinted:   spring-summer-2001,    Shemom

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