The Portugal Years: Year Five, Waiting

Portugal is the university for learning how to wait. Maybe not waiting patiently, but waiting. For instance, if you want a marriage license, first you must stand in the queue with all the other happy couples who are about to embark into wedded bliss.  No one really hurries the process through. An important part of any transactions with the government includes a variety of stamps to affix to the legal document in question. After the government official carefully stamps the paper he hands the certificate over to the owner. Had a baby? Be ready to stand in line. Need a passport? Start really early to apply.

Yep, you need to obtain the correct paperwork and stamps or nothing happens.  That was, however, seldom the end of the story. After the person, relieved  to be done with it, often discovers that it was not the end. Upon arriving at his destination with the correct documentation, he has to give the paperwork to a supervisor to verify it. Whereupon the second official discovers that some stamps are missing and the man has to return to the end of the first queue. The only way to hurry the process is to cross someone’s palms with silver. It’s officially illegal, but if you want to move forward, you need to grease the hand of the one who can hurry things along.

There are ways to help move babies forward, too, but  they reserve those methods for emergencies. Our new baby girl was dilly-dallying in making her début. Her original due date was near the beginning of the new year. Harry was rooting for January seventh – his birthday. She scorned both dates and chose January tenth, which proved from the beginning that she was a girl with a strong mind of her own.  She was Sarah Susanna (Susie), and though she made us wait for her to arrive, she could not want to wait for the delivery room crew to hand her over to her mommy. She protested with great lung opening testifying to her wrath, which stopped as soon as they laid her on me. Harry is wont to say that she had screamed loud enough to peel the paint off of the wall.

Unfortunately, the nursery nurses did not understand Susie’s language. After her birth, they made her wait an hour before they figured out that they needed to bring her to her mother. Then they went all official when they came back later and discovered us doing what mothers and newborns have done since the beginning. They did bend the rules and left her in my room; Susie made sure that she didn’t have to wait anymore.

The next day I waited for Harry to bring Bethy to meet her new sister. Bethy sat on a bench and held Susie on her lap and waited to see what would happen. She wasn’t quite certain what to do with this small person. We waited for three weeks to hear Bethy’s thoughts. Then she looked at me and said, “When are you taking her back?”

Saturday morning and daddy doesn't have to go to work!
Saturday morning and Daddy doesn’t have to go to work!
Sunday morning and time to dedicate the baby.
Sunday morning and time to dedicate the baby.



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.

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

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 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.

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?