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1819 Nautica Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622
Dear Aunt Kath,
We adore the handsome blue bunting! Absolutely perfect! It's exactly what we needed for Benjamin, and when this awful heat spell passes we hope to pop him into it. I hope you get to meet him in the not-so-distant future. Also Cal.
I want you to know the blue-and-yellow teapot you sent when we got married followed us here to our new house in Chicago and looks as great in our breakfront, as it did in Madison. We use it on state occasions, and I always think of you whenever I pour Earl Grey, Abner's old favorite.
* * *
Even though I've been home such a short time, I am writing now because I don't know where to turn.
My condition has been called the baby blues, but all I know is that I'm mad at the world. No matter who walks through the door, I want them to go away and leave me alone.
The well-wishers who try to cheer me up are the worst. I feel disconnected and can barely be civil. When they leave all I do is cry. I think having a Caesarian hasn't helped.
This was not what I expected—sitting in a room and wondering what I'm doing here. The baby is okay, but I'm not.
I feel like I'm in a hole I don't know how to get out of. I even feel alienated from Cal. I'm nursing Benjy, but all I feel is that I'm not ready to be a mother. The feeling is awful. Instead of feeling like a mother, I feel like a child who needs amother!
Cal has talked to the pediatrician taking care of Benjy, and he wonders if I should be taking medication for this. He wants me to be put on Zoloft, whatever that is.
I don't want Zoloft.
I want to be in touch with you. I need to connect with someone who knew me when and who can help me find my bearings.
Your letters when I was at camp saved my life. Please write back soon.
* * *
Dear Auntie K,
Your visit, your visit.
That loving face popping out of the gloom was like a ray of sunshine.
When I opened the door I couldn't believe it. There you were, matter-of-fact, warm. Smiling!
Sorry for bursting into tears. It was a tremendous relief to feel something finally. I think the baby felt something too. Did you see how he nestled right in when you picked him up?
Cal was so delighted with your visit that he could barely contain himself. I loved seeing the two of you getting along like gangbusters, even if I still felt out of it, a little.
It is this veil between me and the world that adds to my guilt. Considering how much you have always meant to my family and me in particular, why this feeling of apartness? I asked for your help, and in typical Kathe style you were here pronto, unconditionally. A rock.
I think I needed time to absorb your presence. You didn't take over, as did the nurse I had for two days. (She was too sympathetic and too bossy about Benjy—showing me how to change him, burp him, give him a bath.) I resented her helpfulness. Her competence with the baby set my teeth on edge. I let her go. He's my baby after all.
It tells you something about my inability to accept help, even kindness. I was too mad at her for reasons I don't understand, and yet I felt like an ingrate when she left.
I know my feelings are too big to hold, so maybe I told you all of this. But one thing I'm sure of: I don't want my turmoil to spill over onto Benjy. That's why I insist that I be the one to do everything for him—pick him up when he cries, feed, water, and change diapers as I kind of guess what is needed. I'm managing the breast feeding despite sore nipples, but I worry about his getting enough to eat. Cal got me a scale to weigh the baby in an effort to reassure me that he's really doing alright.
All I know is that when Cal's mother came to help out after the nurse left, I was courteous (I hope), but not happy. She was not the grandmother I wanted to be there. So when she was called home early, all I felt was relief.
You did a bunch of things that helped me by your visit, but encouraging me to keep writing was special. Writing what I thought has always been a way I work things out. You started it all when you gave me a diary for my birthday when I was ten. (I remember the pleasure of finding out I could be spiteful in private! Wonderful!)
And then—bless you—you treated me to home-made macaroni and cheese—the family recipe. Comfort food. The best!
A fabulous finish to a fabulous visit!
Nin and Cal
* * *
Thank you for your thank-you. I learned to make macaroni and cheese from your mom, who tossed ingredients without measure or thought. The Velveeta, milk, and elbow macaroni swimming in a lovely melt always made us feel better!
As I was on the plane on the way to see you, I couldn't imagine how you'd look all these years later, grown-up, with a family of your own. But there you were in a fluffy pink robe with lanky Cal and adorable Benjy. Picture perfect.
That's how it looked, but I know it isn't. You must miss your mom so much right now. And it was doubly hard for you to lose her as you were starting off on your own life. I think that's what is making this mothering job feel so hard.
I want you to know I'm here for you now and always. The quiet time it takes to write a letter can let feelings breathe a little—for me too.
Your pen pal,
* * *
I love getting mail from you. And of course you hit the heart of the matter when you wrote about Mom. That's opened up a lot of stuff I thought I'd long laid to rest.
I haven't written to you for years and years, and now I'm at the mailbox constantly.
What possessed me then?
I think when I left for college early I felt the need to just split, get away from all the worry. Drop out.
Mom seemed so much better when I left that I had the illusion she was going to beat the odds, and the reports from Cleveland sounded so promising at first. I remember thinking that with Ab's help nothing bad could happen.
But we've both learned differently, haven't we, Kath?
I think it's taken me years to absorb the shock that followed her death. It's been harder even than when Dad died, and I was so much younger then. When that happened I felt protected by Mom in spite of all the grief. It was as if she muffled the fallout by her very being there. Our daily lives, Tim's and mine, didn't change all that much despite missing him.
When I looked back I can't believe how gallant she was. My assuming she was on the mend was probably part of some kind of not wanting to believe. I remember feeling—when I finally caught on—this cannot be happening! I guess I latched onto the hopeful tone of your letters, refusing to admit to all the doubts you expressed.
I need your help to process all of this, which I haven't begun to understand myself until recently. I feel badly that I was so absorbed in my own grief that I wasn't able to respond to anyone else's. I particularly regret not coming to see you when Ab died. It just about broke my heart when I heard the news. You two were such a pair!
So apologies, apologies.
On the home front, however, I think something may be changing. Benjy seems less irritable when I nurse him. Yesterday he grabbed hold of my finger. The way that little hand circled my pinky was like touching hands across a void.
Will keep you posted,
* * *
Your letter was wonderful. I hear your mother's lilt in every word you write.
So please don't regret not being in touch sooner. Try not to be so hard on yourself. I never felt neglected; your flowers spoke volumes, and holiday cards do count!
I think I always understood that you needed to find your way through your own hard times, and I never took your silence amiss.
As for me, you can understand it's been a dislocating time these last few years, but I've been able to keep the house (my practice is down but still holding its own), and that's been a great help.
I like hearing that things are going better with Benjy. Nature will take care of a lot of this.
* * *
Dear Aunt K,
Help! After the peacefulness of the last few days, things have gone downhill, and me with them.
I need to explain that Benjy had seemed to settle down to having a fussy time from 6 to 10 P.M. or so, but this was different. He cried all night long! And with Cal out of town there was no one to hand him off to.
I tried everything. Picked him up, tried to feed him, changed his diapers, gave him water, and sang every lullaby I knew. Nothing doing.
What is this?
That cry. I can't stand it when he screams like this, his little face all scrunched up, looking miserable. Finally I went into the den and started to cry myself. Then I kicked a footstool and stubbed my toe. (Someday this will be funny, but not right now.) Then back to trying again. I put him in a sling close to my heart. Walking him worked for about thirty seconds. Then back to hearing him howl.
Finally it was 5 A.M., and he subsided. We both slept until nine. When I went in to nurse him, his little face was smoothed out, even as he was moving around looking for me. Can I count on this? Needless to say, I was wrecked all day.
This is some kind of roller-coaster, let me tell you. But it is a relief to just tell you—you who were always there in the old days in Cleveland.
Remember the visits you, Mom, and I used to have when we talked late into the night?
Now as I look back I think these were wonderfully helpful to her after Dad died. We seemed free to discuss anything and everything in a kind of female togetherness. I remember how privileged I felt when I was allowed to join in. I thought this was one of the great benefits of getting older—better even than driving. I felt I was finally becoming part of the inner circle.
Tim was the one who first called you our honorary aunt while we were in elementary school, although I wish I'd thought of it. It was our affection for you, plus we wanted relatives. And you were so pleased to be called "aunt," it stuck. Now that I'm grown up, I realize you were younger than Mom at the time, only to me you seemed older. (She was so respectful of your training.) Hindsight, hindsight.
Given that you were my special confidante in high school, the question remains. Why couldn't I be in touch with you after I left for school? I mean really be in touch. I can recall times when I could talk to you more freely than I could talk to Mom!
And yet I never called you. Or wrote as I am writing now.
So why not?
In retrospect I think turning to you then, which would make good sense to me now, didn't seem grown-up to me during those years. For a while I felt cut off from everyone and anyone. An adolescent reaction in the middle of everything else, maybe? A counselor at college intimated as much.
But whatever the reason, I feel better for writing now.
It's what you said: a space to let feelings breathe.
* * *
I'm writing this on a plane bound for Beaumont, Texas.
"We're experiencing a litte turbulence," the pilot said calmly, "so please buckle up." The darkening sky is accompanied now by some pretty turbulent handwriting, which I hope you'll be able to read. But I don't want you to wait for a response, so I'll keep writing as long as I can.
Your comment about my being the designated Schofield aunt reminds me that Tim has also been in touch, and there, too, I have trouble reconciling my remembrance of him as a school boy with the business executive he's become.
But what overshadows all these memories is the kindness of your parents when I came to the U.S. from England in 1970. In all of the dislocations of millions of people that followed the Second World War, I was among the lucky ones who found a family, first with the Haspels in Holland, and then with my surrogate American family, the Schofields. This one on a very special wavelength that defies the limitations of DNA.
I'm on my way to Beaumont because I'm serving as a consultant to a daycare center down there. Oh! Oh!
Here we go again. "Please stay seated," says the same reassuring voice.
Okay, I will.
But I'll sign off for now. Will pick up later.
* * *
Dear Auntie Kay,
Here's my latest weather report on me and Benjy. He's asleep at the moment, so I have some respite from his crying.
I can see I'm affected by his moods, but I thought bonding was the other way around—me affecting his moods.
That idea made me feel even more guilty. What was happening to bonding when I was so blue? Cal asked my OB about that, and she told him baby blues are physiological too. "After birth there's hormonal chaos," she said. That cheered me up, because that didn't sound like it was my fault. Just life.
Now I'm looking down at him and I feel flooded with love for this little bundle, searching for clues about him, noticing every detail. Can the long fingers mean he will be artistic? Do the big feet indicate he'll be an athlete like his dad? Surely a creature of great potential is lying in the bassinet.
Then there are the other times when I feel absolutely inconsolable. All I can think of is that my folks will never get to know him. That's when the wanting kicks in.
But it's now tomorrow, and I'm glad I didn't mail this yesterday because the sun is shining, my son is nestling, and suddenly all is right with the world. I know I could crash again, but this feels more real, more solid.
So now I want to concentrate on you.
First, how are you? Really, I mean. Why Beaumont?
* * *
How thoughtful of you to ask about me in the midst of your life with that newcomer who's invaded your space. Please keep the updates coming. I'm tracking them and expecting the wide swings to lessen as Benjy grows into himself.
As for "Why Beaumont?": A national company has committed itself to the idea of fostering daycare centers onsite. This is an idea that cuts down on the long commutes of parents and therefore reduces the number of hours young children must be away from their families. All to the good.
I agreed to be available to Beaumont because I felt a better understanding of child development could help the staff provide a sounder program in terms of children's needs. Meanwhile, I'm learning a lot about the working mom and her trials of doing double-duty at job and family. The Beaumont staff is just being assembled—hence odd schedules and bumpy rides.
As for how I am, let's see. I find I am wandering around the living room, trying to answer you and observing everything with a jaundiced eye. I haven't thought about myself for a long time, but writing my thoughts out may be an answer of sorts, even if a circuitous one.
At the moment I see curtains that have been up for far too long. New slipcovers (rose-and-gray floral) haven't done much for the Brewster & Stroud couch I got when Ab was named chairman. (You may remember it. You and your friends used to make a fort out of it when you were little.) He bet me then that he wouldn't be chosen. I bet he would be. I was given the winner's choice---an outboard motor for the Sunfish or a new couch.
The couch won.
All this is to say that the slipcovers haven't done the job—they look as woebegone as a wallflower at a dance—all dressed up but nowhere to go.
I'm sure there is hope for this room but am not sure what will do it. Maybe a decorator.
I'm getting closer to your question now.
How am I?
Pretty good in general. Work keeps me busy and the practice is still holding despite managed care and other business-type intrusions. Also a new book, if I ever get it finished.
So I would say I'm hanging in there. It's a quiet life but fulfilling in ways I never thought possible.
* * *
Dear Auntie K,
Thank you, thank you, thank you for keeping the letters coming. They help me feel grounded somehow, even when they arrive in the middle of a crash.
And while memories are still sometimes as painful as ever, I seem able to bear them better. I remember how you stood by in those days. Quiet, letting me cry. Unlike Uncle Roger, who ducked in and out and said, "Don't wallow," depositing Aunt Martha's store-bought chocolate cookies and fleeing.
Tim certainly didn't wallow, let alone show a feeling of any kind. Of course he'd had his own life when Mom died, and I thought of him as old! (Always was old. Born that way. Came out of the womb in a Brooks Brothers' suit.)
You may gather that there's never been much love lost between us. I have always thought he resented me as the younger child, but who am I to talk psychology to my favorite guru?
Still, he did show up alone last Saturday because Lolly had the flu and couldn't come. Cal was out and Benjy was yelling his head off when Tim rang the bell, and I could see that Tim was only too happy to beat it after depositing a high chair—a high chair—in my kitchen.
I had hoped that Benjy's crying would disappear or at least lessen by now, but the doctor says it's colic, and that can linger. He says that when Benjy's three or four months old it will pass. I'm counting the days.
In the meantime it's crying and more crying and, even worse, nothing seems to comfort him, even as Cal and I hold, rock, walk and rock, walk and hold, this to a red little face, copious tears, and hiccupping sobs.
It seems to me that if a person is doing all a person can to relieve a baby, there ought to be a payoff. Why can't I help him? I worry about his not thriving with all this upset.
Benjy is napping (twenty minutes so far), and he's better looking than twenty-five minutes ago. I've noticed that my disposition improves in direct proportion to his ability to sleep.
Right now I can laugh about our having tried the weirdest things in our effort to get him to conk out. A New Age lullaby tape someone gave us as a baby gift (we'd had no success with our own lullabies) didn't work.
Then there was the Rain Stick from Brazil, which, when you turn it over, sounds like running water. It was supposed to soothe and calm. That wasn't any more successful. What is helping Cal and me survive is spelling each other. He's out of town on a case now, and I can't wait 'til he gets back so I can catch up on sleep. But I'm doing a lot better (unlike the worst of the baby blues, when I couldn't cope when he was gone).
There he goes again.
The lady across the street recommended setting him on the dryer to help him settle down. My pediatrician suggested running the vacuum cleaner near his room, and at this point I'm willing to try anything!
Now if I can just locate the Hoover,