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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Babies and Children: Spare the Rod, Part One

My father never, so far as I know, spanked any of his six children. He left discipline to our mother, Eileen. But discipline is an awfully heavy word for her slapdash, informal attempts to corral us.


Once when I was five we had all gone across the street to the Whitemans' back yard. Eileen called us and we either failed to hear her or we heard and ignored her. The next thing we knew she burst into the Whitemans' yard, screaming, "I TOLD you to come home!" She had taken the time to strip a switch from one of the straggly spirea (bridal wreath) bushes in front of our house, and she proceeded to switch our little bare legs as we scampered home in front of her, darting and dodging to try to avoid the sting of the switch. You could call this picture "Mother at the end of her tether" or "Exasperation and exhaustion" or "Too many children under the age of seven."


Other than that, I remember only one other time when Eileen was well and truly possessed by the demon of fury. We were 11, 9, 7, 5, and 4, with baby Mary still three years away from joining us. Mike, at 7, was our middle child. He was funny and, in order to differentiate himself from his two older, perfect siblings (one of whom was me), he had devoted his short life to finding ever more interesting ways to make us laugh and/or to get into trouble. I don't know what he had done on this particular day, but that's the only detail I've forgotten.


Eileen, upon finding evidence of whatever this last straw was, grabbed him by his arm and yanked him to the little sewing area that she had created in the narrow upstairs hallway. It was a little space that ran parallel to the staircase, a cul de sac with her sewing machine at the end of it. She dragged Mike to that spot, I think, because there was a chair there, and because her yardstick was handy.


She spanked (beat?) Mike's bare bottom with the yardstick. 

The rest of us were clustered around the scene—far enough away that the yardstick couldn't reach us, but otherwise as close as we could get.


I was crying. Mike was two years younger than I, my own "baby." I felt every stroke of the yardstick landing on his bottom, as painful as if it were happening to me.

Mike, rigidly determined not to cry, uttered no sound.


The more he refused to yield to Eileen's anger, and to her high moral ground of motherhood, control, and ownership, the more angry Eileen became. Mike's refusal to cry denied her the release she needed. And so she kept spanking him with the yardstick.


The yardstick broke in half.


Eileen continued to thrash him with the remaining eighteen inches of stick, until the enormity (I think now) of what she was doing registered in her brain. The broken yardstick was a clue. She stopped.


That day remained in the family memory as "the day Eileen broke a yardstick spanking Mike." Each of us who were there has a private memory of the scene. I remember exactly where I stood in relation to this bizarre pieta; I could lead you to the very spot in that house.


There may have been other occasions when one or another of us was spanked, but I don't believe a yardstick was ever again used.

Did I learn from this experience? Did it give me greater wisdom and compassion when I was raising my own three? I think I swatted a few toddler bottoms out of fear-induced anger (attempts by a Terrible Two to run out into the street just because he had been told not to; that sort of thing).


But what I remember with shame is the time I slapped my only son. He was a lippy kid (and I wonder where he got THAT) and he smart-mouthed me one time too many, on a day when my indentured servitude with the certifiably insane bosses at my workplace had set me more than usually on edge. So I slapped him across the face. Hard. We were both shocked, and neither of us has ever forgotten it.


I can only hope that the memory of that will keep him from some day doing the same thing to his own son, just as Eileen's yardstick event warned me off canings for life.



Copyright 2008 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Rattle Rattle Rattle

Dr. Tomatis experimented with sound. He implanted microphones in wombs, while the resident was still there. (Did he really do this or am I mis-remembering?) He wanted to hear and to record the sound of the mother's voice as it was felt/heard by the unborn infant.


And guess what? It sounded (and I've heard a recording, though I have to take his word for it that it was indeed what he said it was)—it sounded just like a little rattle. The mother's voice, filtered through her skin, her muscles, the wall of the uterus, and the amniotic fluid, sounded like chik-a-chik-a-chik. Pause. Pause. Chik-a-chik. Pause. Chik-a-chik-a-chik.


And this explains why rattles are important. People still sometimes give rattles to newborns, though the little pink or blue shakers are being crowded out by battery-powered music toys, wind-up noisemakers, and the ever-present tinkling of cheap but cheerful "music" designed to please the parents of babies. No one ever asks what pleases the baby. Maybe she wants to hear chik-a-chik-a-chik and that's all.

On the other hand, maybe she's already lived through nine months of chik-a-chik-a-chik and she's ready for something different. Maybe the chik-a-chik-a is to soothe the still-unfulfilled child within the adults. Maybe each of us should carry around a little rattle. When we feel overwhelmed by the noise of the world (the air conditioner in the neighbors' back yard, the renovations two doors down, the music from someone's leaking iPod), then we could unobtrusively retrieve the rattle from our pocket and give it a couple of quick shakes. Instant mother-memory.


This chik-a-chik-a phenomenon might explain why, years ago, I burst into tears when a gifted healer shook a turtle rattle over me as I lay on the table. Turtle: symbol of the mother. Rattle: sound of the mother.

Copyright 2008 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Babies and Children: Baby Belly Laughs (by Sam)


I haven't been around long—only six months, to be exact—and I know I still have a lot to learn. But I wanted to set down a few of my thoughts in order to help those of you who are looking after me and others like me.


Okay. I'm a baby. A generic male baby. Like most middle-class North American babies, I'm the apple of my parents' respective eyes. They're pretty sure that they're the only people ever to become parents and that I'm the most amazing baby in the world. Gratifying stuff, even though I know it isn't completely true.


My main purpose here is to fill you in on what makes me laugh. Don't take this as gospel, because it does vary from day to day. But maybe it'll help you come up with a few comic routines that work more often than not.


For example, here's what my nana does. If I'm lying on the floor she brings her hand from far away to near, opening and closing her fingers. First she says, "Are you ready? Are you ready, Sam?" And then I see her hand and I see it coming, coming, slowly wiggling, and I know that it'll soon be at my tummy, tickling me all over. Just thinking about it as I watch the hand move makes me smile, and then I smile more and more and when the fingers start tickling me I laugh out loud.


So that's a trick that works. Except when it doesn't, of course. At those times all I can do is give one of those "I know you want me to smile so here's a tiny upturning of the lips to let you know I know you're trying" kind of smiles. Face it, sometimes I'm just not in the mood.


But here's something I really like. New songs. No one had ever sung this song to me until my nana unearthed it from her memories of the 40s and 50s. SO long ago! It's a song about going to Mexico. I don't know why it struck me as so funny, but there you are. Humor is a mystery, isn't it? I was hanging in my Snugli, facing outward, fully attached to my mom. My nana was going to say goodbye to us, but first she crouched down in front of me and sang, "Cuanta la gusta, la gusta, la gusta, la gusta…"


Now, I don't speak Spanish yet, but those were the funniest words I'd ever heard. I couldn't help myself! I burst out into a belly laugh that surprised us all.


So my nana did what people always do when they get me to laugh: she did the same thing again. And again I couldn't help myself; another unrestrained belly laugh. And by now we were all laughing—me, my mom, my nana.


Nana stopped singing. I stopped laughing. She looked at me silently and I watched her face. And then she started singing very slowly: "Cu-u-u-u-anta la gusta…." Gales of laughter.


She came up with other words to the song and the entrainment of laughing kept me guffawing during her whole performance. But oh, that chorus!! It was a killer!


Someone said recently that there are lots and lots of nonsense songs awaiting me. I'm really looking forward to hearing the one called "Mairsie doats." I'm sure my nana knows it.


Copyright 2008 Ann Tudor

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Thoughts on Things: Opera in Action

Our house was on a corner lot, and the front yard was unfenced. One summer the house across the street was rented out to a group of five or six male university students. I didn't know them and didn't see them often because of my work schedule.


But one Sunday afternoon they had a party, a beer blast that involved a lot of oversized young men drinking beer and playing touch football in their yard.


And then touch football in the street.


And then touch football in MY yard.


Now, I've never known how to confront anyone. We were raised to avoid confrontations. If it can't be swept under the rug, then suck it up yourself (although I don't think my mother phrased it quite that way).


So there I was, alone in the house, watching these big, noisy, boozing, young men encroach on my territory. They were completely harmless, I'm sure. But I was angry that they were in my yard.


I was sitting on the living room sofa listening to the Leontyne Price recording of Cosi Fan Tutti. As the players drifted across the street to my yard, the noisy touch football game began to interfere with the opera.


What were my options? I could ask the boys to leave. Or I could keep quiet and hope that they'd eventually go away. Given my timid nature, there was no way I could confront them, so my only choice was to wait and hope that they would drift back into their own space.


I decided to speed up the process. I cranked up the volume on the record player and opened all the windows on the first floor. The noise of the opera was deafening inside the house. And "Come scoglio" thundered out into the yard. Thundered! Leontyne Price louder than life-size.


I showed no mercy. More bass. More treble. More volume. Mozart filled the neighborhood.


After a short time, the game withdrew from my yard to the middle of the street, and from there back into the boys' own yard. By then I was too out of sorts to listen to the rest of the opera.


Would an actual face-to-face request have been as emotionally draining for me as cowering on my sofa waiting for Mozart to do the job? I can't answer that.  We do what we can with what we have at any given moment.

Copyright 2008 Ann Tudor