The Portugal Years – Year Three: Smiles and Giggles

Bethy 5 mo
Five months – helping with the laundry

By the time that Elisabeth opened her eyes on her second month of living in the sun, things had settled down. A book I read said that my life would be forever changed. What had been normal up until then would cease to exist. Eventually, I would have a new “normal.” And it was so.

By the second month, we got more positive feedback from this small human who had in a cataclysmic way changed our lives. By then she smiled when she saw our faces. Of course that encouraged us to make complete fools of ourselves  to encourage this interaction. When she was five months old, she began to laugh; it was the most beautiful music we’d ever heard.

She was sleeping six hours at a stretch at  night by then, which gave me something to smile about, too. Sammy Cat took on the responsibility of watching over the small human. Our new normal was well on the way.

We started taking Bethy to church. There was no nursery, and young children generally wandered around the room at will (unless they got noisy at which time parental discipline came into play, usually by the pulling of an ear).

The first time we took Bethy, she was welcomed like daffodils on the first sunny day of spring.  Without fail, everyone commented on the full head of hair she was sporting and how fair her complexion was. Toward the end of the service, Bethy required sustenance. I had brought a shawl for such emergencies. It had been her daddy’s when he was a baby.  I found a quiet, empty corner to feed her.

After the benediction, everyone crowded around me again. My attempt to nurse discreetly was  disregarded as the ladies pulled the shawl away from Bethy’s face. No one was disrespectful. It was just a matter of fact: this is how babies obtain nourishment. That was my last bit of culture shock, and  my heart fell head-over-heels-no-reservations in love with the country and the people.

Portuguese Cuisine – “Garoupa à Portuguesa”

My mother’s idea of a fish dinner had always been either tuna sandwiches or fish sticks. I didn’t find them terribly obnoxious, but I wouldn’t, as they say, wake up in the middle of the night yellin’ for them.  There just aren’t enough sauces to make up the lack of flavor when it comes to fish sticks. The best you could say about either of them is that they were a fast meal.

Continental Portugal has 586 miles of coast, and I am here to tell you that the the Portuguese know fish. I’ll admit that the first time I ordered fish in a restaurant, the eyes looking back at me took me aback. It’s just one of those things you have to get used to. But I kept a blind eye on the side of the market where the fish was sold.

Fate caught up with me, though. Our “Tia Lília” invited us to her home for a fish dinner. She was concerned that Harry was way too thin and she wanted to give me some cooking advice. Into the kitchen I went to watch her prepare a fish the likes I had never seen before. The body of it was kind of triangular and happily, it was dead. The first thing she did was teach me how to scale the fish, then followed it up with a demonstration of how to filet the fish. But she left the eyes on it.

While the fish was cooking, Tia put the finishing touches on the sopa da galinha  including adding the egg yolks that she had taken from the hen, and the chicken’s feet.  Portuguese bread, boiled potatoes, salad and fresh fruit completed the meal. And the fish? The best I had ever eaten. It was a dish that I made quite a few times once I got over the fish looking at me at the market.

Recipe for Portuguese Grouper:

Time: prep – about 10 minutes; Cooking time 30 minutes

6 small to medium groupers scaled and filleted.

1 pound of tomatoes, one medium sized onion, 3 tablespoons of butter or olive oil, half a cup of dry white wine (or grape juice), a bunch of Italian parsley, salt and pepper to taste

Season the sliced onion, with salt and pepper and simmer over a low flame.. Add the tomatoes peeled and seeded. After ten minutes, add the white wine. Put this sauce in a pan that can be put in the oven and put the groupers on top. Cook in medium heat for about 20 minutes covering them occasionally with the sauce. When done, serve with chopped parsley to garnish.

Are you up for a fish dinner?

peixe_garoupa

The Portugal Years – Year Three: Once you have a baby, you have a baby…

Bethy
Bethy about 3 months old.

There you are one fine day when suddenly you find yourself responsible for another human person. It is a change that will shape and  mold you in ways that you  never could have imagined. This small creature that recently burst into the light of day will be part of you forever.  The most passive mother becomes a grizzly bear in a heartbeat when her child is in any kind of danger and goes to war for each of her precious offspring. Clothing, sheltering, and feeding these small creatures are the easy parts. 

As first-born, I wanted to do everything right first time every time. (Stop that snickering…I heard you.) I learned more from my children than they have from me. The biggest lesson I learned was how very self-centered I am. I thought I had buried that demon right after Harry and I got married, but it was only the tip of the proverbial iceberg . I like having some time for myself to just sit alone and daydream. Or read. The reading part was easy. Nursing babies need very little attention, and I could read to my heart’s content while I fed Elisabeth.

It was my bad, that first riptide in motherhood. I am an early to bed kinda girl, and I like my sleep to be undisturbed. Elisabeth went to sleep just fine. But. Around 11 every night she woke up and cried for an hour or more. If I fed her, she gave it back to me. I got cranky. Harry felt helpless, but he was the one who rescued me. He picked up Elisabeth, slung her over his shoulder and walked up and down the hallway all the while singing the Oscar Meier Hot Dogs theme song. When he got tired of the original lyrics, he improvised. Eventually, we figured that her wakefulness at 11 p.m. was a result of me imbibing caffeinated coffee. Ooops.

Lesson two was the shower. I fed Elisabeth when she woke up, bathed her and dressed her.  Then I put her in her basket so I could get a quick shower. I expected her to give me at least ten minutes.  As soon as I left the room, she started crying. Nothing stopped her. I learned to take record breaking short showers. She didn’t want to eat. She just wanted me.

Cooking dinner at night was another challenge. Harry would come home with the newspaper and sit down to wait for dinner. The baby was always fussy at that time of day. Finally, I’d hand Bethy over to him to entertain so I could finish preparing dinner. The crying never stopped, but I got dinner done. Harry had to do without the cheese sauce on his broccoli though. When I walked into the living room to call Harry in to eat, he had her was hanging over his arm like a sack of potatoes. Every time she smelled food cooking, she wanted in on the action; I had to feed the baby before I could eat. I resigned myself to having no hot meals for the better part of the next couple of decades.

There was some respite along the way. Bethy’s Tia Cindi offered to babysit so Harry could take me out for a break when Elisabeth was about four months old. She was, according to Tia, perfectly good. Of course. She had saved it all up until five minutes after I fell asleep.

What kinds of things stretch and grow you?

The Portugal Years – Year Three: The Baby and Her Grands

On the third day after birth, the pediatrician, Dr. Maria Helena Freitas checked Elisabeth and sent us home. I felt  apprehensive. After babysitting for many years, I faced the one child who would be living with me for years on end…sobering thought.

My parents arrived the next day and stayed for a week. Until that point, the only time they had been out of the country were on day trips  to Canada. After a five-hour time difference, and a 7 hour flight, they arrived sleepy and with their heads spinning. But Mom wasted no time honing in on Elisabeth and holding her. Until it was time for the baby to eat.

After reading every bit of information on feeding babies that I could find, I chose to feed Elisabeth the way mothers (or wet nurses) have fed  babies for centuries. The manuals described what  to expect from the baby, and Bethy fell into the category of babies who take so long  to eat that by the time she finished it was time to start over again. My mother was worried that she wasn’t getting enough to eat, and added that she thought that I would get tired of it pretty fast like she did. (I didn’t get tired of it, and Dr. Maria Helena said Bethy was thriving.) But, Mom had plenty of other opportunities to play with Beth.

The next morning my mom offered to make breakfast for Harry. He thanked her and told her what time he needed to leave to catch a bus to get to work on time. Imagine being affected by jet lag while trying to cook oatmeal in a country where you cannot read what is on the label. Furthermore, it’s a strange kitchen and you don’t know where to find the cookware and utensils. On top of all that, you had to figure out the stove. Yeah, Harry did end up having breakfast at a pastelaria in Lisbon. Mom cried.

On Saturday of the week they were there, I took Mom on an outing. After I bathed and fed Elisabeth we left her with the men and set off for the outdoor market. I gave Mom the 50 escudo tour, and we shopped for veggies and other necessities. Mom was boggled by the open market. We carried the groceries home, and two worried men met us at the door. During the 45 minutes we were shopping, they had had to change a dirty diaper, and apparently barely made it through. My dad had changed diapers, but not almost square ones. Harry had never changed one. Between the two of them, though, they got the diaper on her. Not well, but, as they say, good enough for government work.

Beth and Granddad
Bethy and my dad.

The Portugal Years – Year Three: The Lady Waits Again

Of course, in the general way of things, no one can really know when a baby will be born.  “Baby come when baby ready” they told me. Babies laugh at due dates, and this one was no exception. The due date was August 17. No one really explained that it was a guesstamate. What I really wanted was a firm promise that baby would move out on time. By the 17th, I had one dress into which I could fit – two if I didn’t breathe. And I waited.

The room and crib were ready for the baby. I made a blanket and curtains. The cat had inspected the facility and called it good. And I waited.

The days dragged by. I had my suitcase packed and repacked along with a bag for the baby. We had to tote our own baby clothes and diapers to the hospital. We bought a few dozen of soft, white terry cloth diapers which were fashioned in an almost square. Almost square is not the same as actually square, and they gave me fits trying to make them to have even sides. This was a world where Onesies had not yet invaded. And my parents were coming to visit at the end of August. Surely the baby would have exited by then? And I waited.

On the evening of August 26, the baby was creating a ruckus. Harry called the doctor in the morning and she told us to come in. The baby wasn’t quite as ready to meet us face to face as we had hoped, but given that I was already exhausted, the doctor opted to induce. It was a long, uncomfortable day. Harry was convinced that all babies were ugly, and I insisted that all babies are beautiful. It gave us a nice distraction during the ensuing hours. And I waited.

Then, things began to move. The nurse told me I was walking to the delivery room and assisted me over. At that point Harry decided that he needed a break from rubbing my back and giving me ice chips. He left to go find something to eat and almost missed the main event. He was there, though,  when, after the doctor delivered the  baby’s head, and I asked if it was a boy or a girl. When Harry finally saw her, he was smitten and said she was beautiful. Reliable witnesses stated that when they allowed him to wheel our little Elisabeth Louise to the nursery, his feet never once touched the ground. The waiting was over.

Bethy
Our Newborn Bethy – see that stubborn chin? Yeah. She takes after her mother.

Later they brought her to me and put her in my arms. I sat there fascinated by each perfect little fingernail. I was afraid to move, terrified of doing the wrong thing and thereby ruining her entire life. I loved her and was scared she would not like me. Harry said, “She’ll love you. Don’t worry.” I wasn’t convinced, but it turned out he was right. What I didn’t know was just how much my life would change.

New baby, new parents. Won't we have fun?
New baby, new parents. Won’t we have fun? Good times.

What are some of the big changes you’ve experienced in your life?