Is it Only in My Mind – The First Years (BC)
Caught up in circles confusion is nothing new
Flashback, warm nights almost left behind
suitcases of memories
Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time
Is it only in my mind that a life different then this one existed for me? A world where there were those who had room for my joy and my sadness knowing that neither was the whole of me? I look at the world around me and even giving room for the skewed view characterized in depressions, I am still mystified as to find my way out of this isolation into the world out there. Was it ever really different. Was the me I think I was before I learned all the ways I didn’t measure up to the expectation in my marriage and the churches that took me into, did that me really exist?
She wasn’t perfect. She had angst and times she just needed to pull away. But she had friendships and laughter. She had a life she lived. She was not so alone and had the bravery to walk into places where it took so much time to find her way. She believed. She believed. The changes in that then-me didn’t happen in a day. It took seven years of the relationship with its distance from anyone but my family, his family and his best friend and family (the extra 2 hours to get to my friends was too much driving except for one dash visit of a couple hours at each stop.) Snail mail was so slow that if I wrote a problem the rollercoaster would hopefully be at the top when they received it and if I wrote a joy, the swing downward would be even faster.
I loved my nieces and nephew during the time we lived in the British Columbia town with his family. I got along with my sister-in-law. I picked wild blueberries with my mother-in-law and was helped to have patience with my husband’s ways by the stories she told me about his dad. I even lead a games night for the young singles in the community for a time with as many as 20 coming for a Friday evening of entertainment and food.
When my son was born, it felt like heaven had come down. Parenting was like a second skin to me. He had been born with his cord around his neck and a knot in the chord. He had been n the hospital for 13 days before I could bring him home but even in his isolated incubator, I knew when he cried.
When he finally came home, joy was complete. This was something I knew how to do and my son had a contentedness that filled my home with peace. I made new friendships as I pushed my son’s stroller down the street. Life began to feel like home.
Only, I didn’t keep the house clean enough and sometimes sat and did “frivilous” things like crocheting when my son slept. And I didn’t have him stared potty training like my husband’s mom did when they were one. The only’s began to add up and it was alone with my son that safety was a part of life. Only, he began crawling with a vengence at a young age up and into everything. I baby proofed but could not keep him from the little hurts of childhood. The world began spiralling into a place where I held on to the islands of peace and cherished the relationships down the blocks and with my neices and son where, despite my imperfections, I was allowed to feel whole.
When my second was due, trucking dried up and my husband became unhappy wanting to look for pastoring work.
The first place we went to rejected me. Pregnant with my second child, the journey was not easy getting there. By the time we arrived, my son had a 104 temperature and I was frantic at leaving him when I was expected to go with my husband to the youth meeting he would be teaching at. Afterwards, I would have the daring to ask the pastor’s wife where we were staying if I would be expected to leave my children when they were sick to go to the meetings. She said she didn’t know and I should ask her husband. His answers was circular so I asked outright, “Doesn’t the Bible give me the responsibility to care for my children?” My husband was rejected because I had talked to one of the men in the church about the Bible instead of going through my husband.
The family had decided a lady was to stay at our home since it belonged to the family so feeding her became a part of my mandate in the last half of my second pregnancy. We had $125 dollars that I knew of in the bank. I had to just say the thank you when my husband tried to reject any charity giving from those who knowing him were bringing things with the excuses of too full freezers. I claimed lack of hunger and ate small amounts knowing I needed to eat for my baby but knowing that I needed to stretch the food to feed an extra mouth.
The doctor began sending me to Prince George for extra blood work because my weight was going down instead of up in the last months of my pregnancy. Looking back, I recognize the depression that at that time I just thought of as self-loathing and trying to help my kids survive. As I had learned to do, I hid as much of it behind masks as I could I had learned that tears were “just trying to get attention.” My husband was not one to let others help him so if he needed something held up under the gravel truck he drove, he would ask me to help him, pregnancy notwithstanding. To mention to man in the yard across the street who could help would be to just get more of the put downs that I just did not have a tough enough skin to handle more of so I would try to find a way to help without straining where the baby was.
My water broke in the grocery store 5 weeks before my second child’s due date. I didn’t go into labour. For eight days I was held in the hospital until they believed she would have the best chance for delivery. The night before I couldn’t even lay down because of the jerking in my legs so sat in a chair by the tiny peach sweater in the sales case – the one I hoped to get her if she was a girl. As I lay stretched back snoozing, the nurse came up and lectured me because I should be in bed. After all, I was going to be induced in the morning. I asked her if she had ever had a baby. When she said no, the snarkier part of me replied that I had and it would be tiring work. I told her what happened when I lay down then said, “Now please let me sleep, I have induction in the morning.” Then I closed my eyes and ignored her.
Budget cuts placed me in a shared room with a young 15 year old mother. She was a sweet young girl full of hopes for her baby. Unfortunately, her mother was a gruff demanding woman who would reprimand the girl when she would be in labour pains for making faces at her. I was so tense with the drama going on across the curtain that my labour progressed slowly. When the mom would be gone we would open the curtain and talk. She had lived a confusing life but she wanted to give her child a better life than she had had, she just needed to move far away. Then her mother would return and the ranting would continue. When the nurses would ask this tall broad woman to leave she would advance on them letting them know she was her daughter’s coach so had the right to be there. When the girl finally dilated enough to go to the labour room, my contractions started. After a full day of induction, my daughter was born two minutes after her son. I still remember the joy of touching her head even before she was out and I could hold her in my arms.
The girl and I were put in a room together for the 48 hours that we were allowed to be in the hospital. The nurses would come and give the girl lessons on how to care for her baby and I would see the loving carefulness in all she did. Then her mom would come and the reprimands would begin. Everything the girl did was wrong. One time, the girl said she needed some sleep and the mom told her to sing a paper and she would leave. The girl signed it and the mom left. That visit had been so hard that we both agreed we would only see our babies in the nursery where the nurses could keep her out. That we were in there more than necessary only brought smiles from the nurses. They understood the need to lock her away from us since her present partner knew me since they lived right next to the church my husband’s family seemed to control.
It was only on her departure that her mother let her know the paper she had signed gave custody of her son to the mother. The girl had talked of moving to the grandmother’s and the mother let her know that if she did so she would do it without her son. Hearing this my stomach was sick remembering the story the grandmother had told me once while the girl was in the nursery with her son.
When the girl was only about 2 her mother knocked a boiling kettle off the stove. The girl’s brother knew to run for the grandmother. When the grandmother got there, the girl was lying on the ground screaming from a scald burn across the side of her face and across her chest. I had seen the scar that covered half her face and chest and wondered. The mother was holding a tiny kitten that had been slightly burned and was crying because the kitten was hurt. This was the woman who had custody of the girl’s son.
I tried to visit the girl and her son when I could. Each time I would watch her go from competent mother when alone with me to everything wrong – even what I could see was right – the moment her mom walked in the room. In the end, the girl was kicked out of the house. Court records would give her the right to gain custody of her son when she turned 21. In the meantime, no visiting rights were granted accept as the mother allowed. I never found out what happened since we moved away. I only remember how helpless I felt to help her and how hard it was to get her into any kind of social services.
My nieces came over to play many days. The laughter of children has always bee a balm for my spirit so for a time I was happy. I could chase away the things that were hurting. I had two beautiful children. That I would reach places where my child’s crying would be too much for me and I would set her safely in her crib and curl up in the hall shaking until I could handle it again was what I had to do. I couldn’t ask for help. That wasn’t allowed.
But it would get better. My husband was negotiating with a church in a town in Alberta. My failure to measure up in Saskatchewan hadn’t destroyed his dream to pastor. Once he was doing what he felt he should be doing out lives would be better. Everything would be all right then. Right?