Every since I accomplished the considerable task of putting my children’s birth stories to paper (okay, so there was no paper involved; bytes doesn’t sound as nice), my mother has been telling me that she should write mine up so I could post it here for your perusal. I think she was both impressed and astounded that tales of birth could garner so much attention; the wonder of the internet has never been more palpable than when the collective empathy of mothers all over the globe oozes from comments over length of transition, hapless husbands, or bumbling doctors.
Or, to put it plainly, the allure of entering into the conversation was far too great for her to resist.
It brought both a smile to my face and a tear to my eye when I read it; it was my favorite birthday present, not so much for the story itself, but because my mom’s voice is so precious to me, and I hear her loud and clear throughout the whole of it. I told her I might just have to make her a regular feature here at One Thing. I hope you enjoy it too.
“Fair Lady’s” Entry – and Random Relevant Musings From Forty years ago.
Yikes! Like my mother-in-law said in practically every letter she wrote us, “Where does the time go?” Unfortunately, I never have figured that one out. It just “goes”, never to return. At first, it’s at a snail’s pace, and then, like Jenni recently penned, you’re in your little red wagon, helmet secure, and you’re coming up on the downside of the hill! May as well “yeehaw” all the way down!
But I digress… Jennifer Rose Koenig…are you ready?…was not a “planned” child. She was a “surprise”, coming along a mere 13 months after her brother, Matthew – the third child in our family of five siblings – two girls, three boys and, for those who are of a statistical proclivity: girl, boy, girl, boy, and (nine years later) boy. For a heretofore self-absorbed, totally-uninterested-in-children-and-certainly-not- infants, young woman, I basically was getting a crash course in mothering! Nothing in my young life had prepared me for this immersion process, not even occasional babysitting.
However, there must have been some nascent predilection for spooning wet cereal into slobbery mouths, wiping up green peas from under the chair cushions (a 3yr.old’s clever substitute for her mouth), and sand blasting dried poop out of my husband’s fancy belt buckle, to somehow turn my sentiments toward nurturing someone besides myself! I found, to my surprise, that I rather enjoyed the company of these uninhibited little beings; they were, after all, a captive audience for my unbridled tendency to throw dramatics into everyday life. And Jenni….well, once over the shock of being pregnant yet again, was welcomed as the latest in what we assumed would be the best and the brightest.
In 1968, we lived in Anchorage, Alaska where Jenni’s dad was working in oil exploration with Conoco. Mind you, this was the Frontier. My auntie kept addressing her letters to “my Eskimo pioneers” and just assumed her stamp was doing its job by getting them to our igloo okay. It is my theory that, in those years anyway, the doctors (esp. of the ob/gyn variety) who practiced in our 49th state had graduated at the bottom of their class and only came to Alaska because the citizens were desperate for doctors.
That, and/or they wanted to fish for gigantic salmon and fly their own float plane.
This is probably ridiculously false, BUT…my experiences with some of them made it seem reasonable. On the other hand, the nurses were excellent and as far as I’m concerned, could have birthed all those new citizens very handily all by themselves. And so it transpired that I was looking for a new ob/gyn when Jenni was in utero. I must have been rather clueless (must have?) because this time around, “my” doctor proved to be not only irritating and inept, but absent. I don’t know…maybe he was floating on his float plane. Whatever…his beeper was not on, and Jenni was delivered by a very cool Elmendorf Air Force Base doctor who was on call. I begged him to stick around, but alas, he apparently had a plane that needed flying too (but he deserved it!).
When the folks back home in “the lower 48” found out there was another little Koenig on the way (when they hadn’t even met the recent boy child yet), my mother, bless her heart, started making arrangements to fly into the wild blue yonder by herself to help her baby girl (since I had had the temerity to birth the other two without her). You have to understand that this was a big deal back then. Mom never went traveling without my Dad begging her to tag along with him on his many excursions…and certainly the whole idea of getting on a plane alone was positively heroic for her! I appreciate her even more in retrospect.
We “planned” (hahahahaha) for her to arrive …oh, two days before my due date (what optimism). A week later, and then two weeks later, Mom and I were staring at each other and wondering: “maybe this lump is a tumor”. Hubby and I went out for regular, bouncy trips up and down Alaskan back roads in our old VW van, but nothing could rattle Miss Jennifer’s poise. She would simply make her grand entrance when the time was most auspicious. Back home in Texas, my father, bless him, assured Mom she should stay “as long as you’re needed”.
One evening, Mom was creating something delectable from leftover pot roast and I went to take a shower. Something about warm water coursing down over tortured flesh (a primeval urge to “go with the flow”?) reminded my child within that maybe it was time she investigated the outside world. Whatever the impetus, I was overjoyed (well, almost) to finally be timing contractions. So content was I that I insisted we serve dinner before even divulging the earthshaking news to Mr.Koenig!
My mother almost tied herself into knots, staring at me like I might deliver right there at the dinner table, while nodding absently when my husband kept complimenting her on the stew. But finally, the “secret” was divulged, there were shouts of “Eureka” all about, and we were on our way to the hospital.
I mentioned the nurses earlier. They were all there at Anchorage Community Hospital to greet me, and exclaimed “Weren’t you just here?”. Well, yes, thirteen months ago, but how time flies! (to where we don’t know, as already expounded upon). It was nice to be remembered, but rather embarrassing. I have no gory labor and delivery stories. After an unfortunate experience with my first baby, involving some monstrous, hallucinogenic drug which caused me to lose all sense of appropriateness and ladylike composure, I was introduced to the concept of “natural childbirth” in Alaska. I did mention this was the Frontier, didn’t I? Yes. I do remember being handed a gas mask and being told if I needed it, to take a whiff. Who can concentrate on the dexterity needed for that maneuver when you’re in the middle of intense labor? Forget that. So, without even a thought as to how revolutionary I was being (at that time), I became one with the pioneer women of yore, and simply – gave birth.
Jennifer – sans the afore mentioned irritating and inept obstetrician – came into this world in the early evening hours (after a fine dinner – for her Daddy anyway) of August 27, 1968. She was just dandy – sweet and rosebud like, slowly unfolding like the veritable flower that she was (*sniff*). She fulfilled beautifully the great need I have for smelling the top of a newborn’s head and snuffling about in her neck, kissing little feet, etc. etc. and…etc. (you know what I mean). Meanwhile, I enjoyed my time in the hospital, being catered to and chit-chatting with the other moms in the “ward” (six beds, usually full – a prolific bunch, those Alaskans) – a well-earned vacation, even though there was no sandy beach or rhythmic waves. One takes what one has at hand.
“My” doctor never acknowledged that I was even in the hospital (which was, for crying out loud, on the second floor above his offices!). This marked The End of my forays into medical specialization; I henceforth got myself to an old country GP who efficiently delivered our fourth little Alaskan two years later.
Once home with darlin’ Jenni, I found myself in a maelstrom of activity that made it clear that we needed a real house, not a mobile home! I just now realized that I can’t remember where my mother slept all this time. Reactions from the kids to this even smaller-than-they new member ranged from Pam’s effusive “little mother” hormones kicking in (which have never abated), to Matthew’s 13-mo.old disbelief. Well do I remember my mom carrying our little bundle of joy over to him while he was sitting in his highchair enjoying his afternoon repast of milk. “Look Matthew, how do you like your new little sister?” she beamed. Master Matthew took one look, did his superb imitation of a vibrating concrete buster (teeth and fists clenched, eyes squenched shut) and threw his cup against the wall. Whether he howled in indignation, I don’t remember, but the point was well taken.
Her father and I always suspected something about our third child: she’s been here before. Not in the reincarnation-sense, but that she was just born with some innate handle on the foibles and general incongruity of life. She frequently had this particular look and all-knowing half smile that let you know that indeed, she had your number. She was always quietly weaving her way through the crowd, smiling and doing her private little dance of life.
One might have worried that she would be lost in that crowd – like for instance, her first grade teacher. But that all changed one day when Jenni won the bingo game and came to the front of the class to proudly call out the numbers. As her teacher told me later “I was so concerned. Jenni hardly spoke a word usually and she was so quiet when she did that I worried that no one would be able to hear her.” Not to worry! Jenni withdrew a number, studied it for a minute, looked out at the class, and literally bellowed: “B – 1”!!!!! Whereupon every child’s head went back, their hands gripped their desk tops, and their hair waved in the wind just like in the old hi-fi commercials. And Jenni just smiled and looked knowingly at her bemused teacher.
But that was first grade. In second grade, Mrs. Robinson was more attuned. On one of Jenni’s report cards, she had written “You’re a nut, Miss Koenig!” Besides being a nut, she was deemed “very interested” in the spiritual, so said her religion teacher. That fits. A nutty spiritual person. What’s not to love? Let me just wrap this up by quoting from a long-ago (1975) Christmas poem I sent to innocent, unsuspecting relatives and friends (I did that a lot). It actually is quite prophetic if I do say so myself:
(beside a cartoon of a girl arising from a pile of flowers, gripping a bloom in her teeth):
And then there’s Jenni, she seems so sweet and shy
So peaceful amid the chaos, you’d almost pass her by.
But we will not be fooled, for behind her Cheshire grin
An undiscovered Carol Burnett is lurking within.
She’s a loving individual…and full of fantasy
Perhaps in time, she’ll make her world
More peaceful in reality.
And we all said “Amen”.