Global Mom: Velkommen til Lofoten

Randall’s work routinely invited employees and their partners on occasional trips somewhere in Scandinavia. The most memorable of these for me was to the dramatic beauty of the Lofoten Islands north of the Arctic Circle.  It wasn’t, however, the dramatic beauty of those picturesque black blades of angry granite shooting out of the silver plate of sea that made the trip memorable. There was other drama awaiting us.

Before we board for the intended six hour hydrofoil ride from the mainland to the islands, a crew member with a cleft chin, missing teeth, and a closely cropped red beard announces casually that this will be a rough ride.  North Sea. Midwinter. Choppy waters. Brace yourselves. Grimly, mechanically, the crew is moving about, battening down hatches, slamming doors shut, unbolting and then belting life jackets and life preservers.

Norwegians, for all their virtues, will not hear that any thing is supposedly rough or hard. Because, naturally, they are what’s rough, they are the thing that’s hardy. Everyone on board is elbowing the next person as if to say, “This chap said what? Ho-ho! Bring on rough.

Oskar and Mette, our friends, are seated right behind us.  While the engines rumble and the vessel jerks and crunches into position, these two are sharing snacks from their hand luggage, giggling, chortling. There are other friends of ours everywhere we look, too, lusty, hunky-dory travelers, who ignore the engine grinding into full ear-slamming throttle and the muffled crew member’s advice over the intercom: We’re heading out. Best to be seated. Waters are especially lively with the wind coming down from the northwest.  We’ll be heading straight into it. Please sit down.  Really.

So these Norwegians, not wanting to be told this might test their Norwegianness, reluctantly find their seats.  A few guys are slapping backs and sniggering, rolling their eyes like high school seniors who’ve just been told by the squirrely substitute teacher to return to their seats and listen to the lecture like all the other nerds.  They’re just about on their cushions when, in the space of 0.3 seconds, the vessel lurches from a perfect stand-still to mach speed and I’m slammed into the headrest, cheeks fluttering, gums exposed. A collective Whuuoooh rises like a wave from the passengers and out my little porthole to the left I see we’re slicing like a power saw through a deeply grooved and teethy horizon, gun metal razors spitting silver shavings every direction into the air.

With each hump of air we sail over, we’re airborne, a good half-foot above our seats.  I’m whehing and aaahing and ooohing like everyone else, flopping wildly up and out of  and slapping back down into my seat.  At first this is so funny.  We all move like synchronized swimmers, hair flying, limbs rubbery. It’s carnival time.  But the roller coaster’s not ending like any predictable amusement park ride.  It doesn’t let up at all, in fact. It gets worse.  We’re strapped on the back of some rabid cosmic bronco, all hundred or so of us, being randomly whacked and thrashed until our jaws are unhinging, our heads on the verge of being snapped off.

The mood gets heavy.  Only a weak laugh or two – Ha. Ho. Ha-ha. – just a couple of diehard one-liners from a log-throwing type back there in the corner.  And then instantaneous and complete cricket chirp.

Chirp.

Chirp.

Chirp.

And the rhythmic slosh of ocean slapping metal.

Slosh. Whish. Whoosh. Slosh. Whish. Whoosh.

“Oh, Lord,” I hear Oskar mumble, “Make me pass out soon.”

And then the scene gets juicy.  From the silent spaces between the whish-whooshes of the steely walls of our vessels cutting the steelier wall of ocean, someone hurls.  Someone hurls in that hacking, open-throated, intensity that cracks the tomb and immediately fills the air with the raw sting of bile.  We are quiet, so quiet, so deathly quiet, and the chopping of the water keeps mocking, kershlocking our insides.

I can ride this, like labor pains I can ride this, yes, and ride it through, ride it out, I can, I know I can, yes, ride this, riiiiide.  But my whole interior feels whoosh-sloshed and my brain is whishing soupily in my skull.  Someone grunts “I need air,” and a bunch of people follow his drunk-like tread out through the ship’s back door and to a small deck. Randall, who’s to my right sitting chipper and looking in the pink, nods to me, motioning that he’ll go around to see if anyone needs help.  So like him to be impervious and pleasant, even when slamming and violently gyroscoping through the lowest bowels of Odin’s wrath.

Mette and Oskar are still behind me, groaning and grousing, and all at once Oskar, (who’s a big guy with friendly jowls and a thick neck), projectile vomits.  Something damp lands on the back of my ear.  “Oh, come on, Oskar.  Do you have to be so loud?” Mette is still friendly though she chides him. After all, they are newlyweds. I happen to have sung at their wedding just a few months earlier, and therefore feel a certain investment in their marital bliss. Do you need a piece of gum, I would say? A Tic Tac? In other circumstances, yeah, but for now, forget it, I can’t as much as move my hand to open my bag to get them anything if I had it to offer help in the first place, but I do manage to turn halfway and wink, I believe, wink spritely while I feel an ochre-toned sludgeness glurping from my lower limbs up through my torso, spreading like rancid greenish pancake batter across my whole being, up, out, upward, outward toward my esophagus and tingling toward my trachea. My jaw goes totally slack. I schlurbble something bubbly from my lips toward Mette, caught as I am in that haf-winky-turn, unable to rotate my shoulders back toward my seat, afraid to move at all, and so I watch helplessly at Mette, whose got her hands wrapped around her head and her head between her knees and her knees drawn up to her chest, and is now rocking softly. Not a sound comes from her.  And Oskar’s friendly jowls have gone Alfred Hitchcocky; they’ve melted into moroseness the shade of recycled cooking oil.  Mette’s hair, I see, has been in the line of Oskar’s fire. But she’s oblivious.  She will not yet lose patience with her puking new husband. For this moment, they’re doing splendidly.

So I turn away and pin myself to my porthole, begging inwardly for Oskar to at least keep his vomit within his own aisle.

The red-beareded crew member is striding by, casually doling out these tidy, pint-sized white bags.  He’s just riding this Perfect Storm, this fellow, riding it like you ride a parade float on freshly spread asphalt. Cruisin’.  He hands me a bag and I smile in thanks, but I sense my lips have been replaced by those from a horny toad and I’m coming undone, becoming amphibious.  Focus, focusConcentrate, concentrate. Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale. . .

Out my porthole is the horizon, so cruelly removed, so placid way out there, so unconcerned, conceited, so stuck up, that horizon.  I drill my glare right into its line and start Lamaze breathing. I am becoming one with the horizon.  It is in me.  I, in it.

Horizon.

Horizen. Zen.

Ohmmm.

Is that Oskar softly crying?

My back is turned from the grisly scene where I know everyone’s hacking, groaning, buckled over and falling sideways into seats, legs slumped in all directions or curled into the fetal position.  Someone’s spread eagle on the grimy Astroturf floor, her fur coat speckled with someone else’s (I assume Oskar’s?) fluids. More people are heading outside, trudging over the limbs of the vomit-coated victim in the middle of the floor.  Each time the vessel takes air, she’s a couple of centimeters or more off the floor, and then comes thumping back down again limply.  Barely a whimper.

I need to escape Oskar The Spewer, so I rise from my seat like an arthritic head of state, ready to address my executioners, eyes closed, shuffling blindly toward air. Along the vessel’s railing outside there’s a line up of rear ends above half-buckled knees.  A couple of bodies are even on their knees, arms strung through the railing, grips loose or clenched, heads tucked into the chest.

Per Olav, tall, barrel-chested, normally gregarious enough to do rollicking Elvis impersonations at company dinners, stands in the middle of the crouching cluster where he’s letting out a low, sonorous Gregorian chant of a growl.  His lips are chalky.  His eyes are sunken and red. His pockets are bulging with crisp white vomit bags. Then in one movement his head’s in one of those bags he holds with two lifeless fingers, he’s convulsing twice, filling the bag, and then he throws the thing into the wake like a trucker throws his twelfth cigarette. “Jeg haaaaaater Lofoten!” (I hate Lofoten) he yells, a mucusy gurgle lubricating each vowel.

The woman next to him isn’t so well prepared and, with a half cry, vomits, too, but into thin air.  Into thick air.  The chunks and juice make a swirling, fireworks kind of pattern and drop on the chest of the pasty-looking man to her right.  Neither she nor the man as much as flinches.

I return to the tangy interior and, eyes half closed, finger my way to my seat. Back in deep meditation, I’m in the most perilous mindset, feeling smug, convinced I might actually end up being one of the superior two or three übercreatures here who survives intact, without spilling or splitting my gut. I’m all calm, all peaceful now, and by sheer force of will I’m hummy-dumming something to my frontal lobe while my eyes, blinkless, channel the sea gods.  A small circle of my forehead is melding with the cool, steady glass of my porthole window, and I see nothing, know nothing but the steady, perfect serenity of the horizon.  I am that line.  I am the line. I am a line. I am in line. Line. Line.  Line.

Then the unthinkable happens.  A tap-tap-tap on my shoulder.  My teeth I grit so tightly I can’t speak, can’t respond, and though I do not want to turn – no, I can not turn, glued as my skull is to the glass – I’m chronically polite.  I turn.  The way people freshly set in neck braces turn, I turn.  I tuuuuuurn my head while peeeeeeeling my eyes off my line. And here: Randall’s blue eyes. “So. . . how you doing?” he whispers sympathetically, leaning close to me. His tenderness undoes me.

That he’s able to rip out and open one of those white bags in time to catch the perfect upward arc of my vomit, remains to this day a moment of matrimonial wonder.  And he never even winces when that eruption comes with the same sound and force you get when you rip a whole gymnasium’s carpet off of super adhesive on cement. He extends me a scented moist towelette.

Six virulently fetid hours later, the world stops beating us up, the sky settles down, the hydrofoil shudders into harbor. I smack my lips, drag my trembling fingers through my sweaty hair, and look around to see that every last one of us (but Randall) has just stepped out of the ring with The Destroyer.  Folks have bruises and abrasions, clothes are torn and soiled, hair is plastered into gummy, geometric shapes, someone actually has a gash on his face and Anita, dear Anita, Randall’s assistant, has broken her ankle.

The huddled masses yearning to breathe free stagger into the linoleum-tiled entry port at Lofoten Islands.  I am relieved to see Mette and Oskar limping together, even if the young husband is leaning heavily on the young wife, and the wife is looking with disgust in the other direction while handing husband his wadded sweatshirt, which he takes in one hand as if barely coming out of full anesthesia, and uses like a towel to wipe off the last drips of bile clinging to his chin.

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Global Mom: Vi er Norske!

Dalton Haakon Bradford. We chose the name for our baby because Dalton, as you’ve gathered, is my maiden name. And Haakon  (pronounced similarly to “hoe cone”, but that’s where similarity ends), is one of those big names of Norwegian royalty, much like Charles or George in England, Louis and Philip in France. It happens, for instance, to also be the name of the current Norwegian crown prince, Haakon Magnus.

Royal lineage, however, has nothing to do with why we wanted that name for our Viking baby.  Personal lineage has.  Haakon is an important name from Randall’s maternal line.  In the year of 1856, Haakon Aamodt, Randall’s great grandfather and the youngest branch of at least a dozen generations of farming family from the county of Østfold, Norway, joined the Mormon church.  Summarily kicked out of the King’s Royal Navy, he did what thousands of European Mormons of that time were doing.  He took himself a wife, Julia Josephine, and emigrated to Salt Lake City, Utah.

Although you might not believe this, we knew nothing of Haakon’s story until we’d lived in Norway over a year.  It’s then we got a letter from Randall’s oldest sister, who had more or less inherited the matriarchal and family history responsibility when their mother, Shirley, had passed away suddenly less than a year before we’d been offered the job in Oslo. Shirley had been a charitable, humble, self-effacing person who shared few of the details of her upbringing, and even fewer of her extended family history.  And so we all understood only that her heritage was vaguely Scandinavian, but the details ended there.

So it came as a surprise when this oldest sister put two and two together and discovered that their mother Shirley was only three generations removed from a small community right in the middle of the endless rolling farmland of the county of Østfold, less than an hour’s drive from our doorstep which was a few minutes west of Oslo.  It seemed that Shirley’s father, Albert Aamodt, was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Haakon and Julia.  Haakon’s father was Christian Torkildsen who lived on one of the many Aamodt farms in Østofld and, as was the way then, took the name of the farm, Aamodt.  Our research told us that preceding Christian, there were ten consistently linked generations from that one corner of Østfold.  In other words, the Aamodt line is Østfold.

We figured it was a good place to start looking for family.  So we packed up the kids and took off one day in search of the first church with a graveyard in that county.  Not only did we find that, but a nice older couple out for a stroll that afternoon pointed us right in the direction of the largest Aamodt farm where they promised us the owner would love to chat.  He was quite interested in genealogy himself.

An hour later I was playing with the children on ancient wooden farm equipment surrounded by goats and cows while Randall waved at me through kitchen windows. Inside, he was seated next to the family’s long pine farm table where he and other Aamodts shared glasses of cider pressed from their local apples. This American son talked family matters with these Norwegian sons.

All these generations, and there Randall stood, right on Haakon’s very patch of natal soil. Serendipity, a professional stroke of luck, and we believe Shirley’s quiet celestial lobbying had landed us, an American family of five, less than an hour from the roots of Randall’s family tree.  Using Haakon’s name for our child born in his country, a country Haakon never set eye on again after emigrating for his faith from the verdant fjords to a chalky expanse of an unknown desert, was our small way of gratefully closing the family circle.

Dalton Haakon Bradford.  The string of firm, double-syllabled titles seemed to fit his dense, big-boned build.  A strong, heavily-connected appellation for a strong, heavy boy.

But the Norwegian government would have nothing to do with it.

After submitting the name to the civil registry, we got a note back saying Haakon was great, but Dalton?

Nei, det er ikke lov.

Not allowed.  Our choice was “unacceptable.”

Unacceptable?

Unusual, maybe. I could accept that.  But unacceptable?  Pshaw.

We read on. There were several points detailed in the nice shiny brochure they’d enclosed which outlined which names one must avoid in Norway.  I recall some vague guideline about not giving a child a name that would be “disadvantageous” to him in adulthood.  Here, I suspected they were thinking of Chastity Bono, Moon Unit or Dweezle Zappa, and any number of American mashups meant to evoke father, mother, eye color and astrological sign in one fell swoop.

Marvellabluvirgo. For instance.

Furthermore, the pamphlet instructed us, the parents were not to use as a given name the mother’s maiden name (our first infraction), nor any last name for that matter, to avoid doubling up on names when one marries. Messing up the genealogy charts and stuff.  An Olson Olson. A Carlson Carlson. Marvellabluvirgo Marvellabluvirgo.

Oh, the effrontery.

But wait! You’re thinking, (as we were), that Dalton was, 1) a boy, so he would not, given the tradition, take on the married name of his Norwegian bride with the family name of Dalton and become a freakish and stuttering Dalton Dalton, and, 2) the name Dalton is not Norwegian in the first place, so the chances were less than zero that there would be someone in this vast country named –

Randall whipped up the phone and brandished his finest, most professional Norwegian which was by now and in this moment of frustration, polished and gushing at full force like a 300 meter Norwegian waterfall after thaw.

“This is the Norwegian Civil Registry. I’m Snorre at the office of Name Laws. May I help you?

“Yes. Good day, Snorre. I’d like to name my baby.  What I want.”

“Let’s see. . .are you Norwegian citizens?”

“Nope. Neither is the baby. We’re temporary residents in your lovely country. So of course we can’t be subject to your Name Laws.”

“Let’s see. . .let me transfer you to my colleague.”

“Hello, this is Odd.”

“Hello, Odd.  I am Randall.  Neither my newborn baby nor my wife nor I are Norwegian citizens and we want to name this baby what we want.  We’ve decided on Dalton Haakon. Is his going to present any problems for your office, your country, King Harald and Queen Sonja? And if it does, what if I name him anyway? You going to confiscate him?”

(Goodwill snicker.)

No snicker back.

“Actually, Randall, in order to receive a Norwegian birth certificate, you have to comply with our Name Laws. If you do not comply, no certificate.  No certificate? No passport.  And your son is then officially illegitimate.”

“Alrightee, Odd. May I speak with your supervisor?”

“Hello, this is Hrothgar, office of Name Laws.  You might want to consider putting your son’s second name, Haakon, first, and just putting Dalton second.  This is a good compromise, don’t you think? According to this footnote, you can, in fact, use a family name as a second name. But not as a first.”

“No, Hrothgar,” Randall said, “I think not. My baby.  My name. No compromise.”

“Then I’m afraid I can’t help you. We at Norway’s Name Law office want to protect your child.  If one day your son marries someone Norwegian with the last name Dalton—”

“Time out, time out, Hrothgar!  First, help me understand, would you please, how many people with the last name of Dalton are currently living in Norway?”

Pause. Computer click-click-click sounds.

“There are. . .hmmm. . . six.  I see there is. . .um.. . one Dalton on an island off the southwestern coast.  And one Dalton. . .let’s see. . .yes. . . northeast of Hammerfest near the Arctic Circle and–”

“Right.  Okay, so what’s the probability of this little baby Dalton Bradford one day marrying one of these Daltons and then crashing Norway’s entire genealogical data system by taking her name and becoming Dalton Dalton?”

Silence.

“Well. . . Randall. . . there is still the other issue.”

“The other issue?”

“We just can’t be sure that Dalton is an acceptable first name.  I’ve checked, and it’s nowhere on our Acceptable Names list.  It is normally a last name, your wife’s last name, am I not right?”

“Hrothgar, may I speak with your supervisor?”

“Hello, this is Beowulf.  You are calling about the Name Laws, aren’t you?”

“Right, yes. Okay listen. Dalton is a fully acceptable first and last name. And to make everyone happy, I’ll personally see to it that our son not marry a Someone Dalton from the Polar ice cap. In fact, I won’t even let him date anyone from there.  Can we just name our baby what we want?”

“For this exception, Randall, you will need to provide a letter of intercession from your native government. Then, you will have to be able to show proof that this name Dalton is acceptable.  Solid, tangible proof.”

So did you know that you can, if you really have to, receive via Fed Ex Express vintage bubble gum cards of the New Orleans Saints football player, Dalton Hilliard? A CD cover featuring Dalton Baldwin as accompanist? And title pages of every last one of Dalton Trumbo’s screenplays?

A fortune for all that plus a paltry bribe of one packet of El Paso Taco seasoning for an Embassy affiliate, and we got the obsequious letter begging for the right to name our baby as we, and as his great-great intervening Norwegian grandfather who must have been smiling somewhere, wished.

 

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Global Mom: Viking Mother

Although I’ve escorted my readers to a certain chronological spot in this story, the spot that welcomed Luc William to Versailles and introduced me to mothering in France, I can’t resist looping back to Norway for a post or two. That was the spot, as you remember, that welcomed Dalton Haakon to Oslo and introduced me to mothering in Norway. There, a new me was birthed. Please meet Melissa the Viking Mother:

From Global Mom: A Memoir

Nursing baby Dalton meant doing so every other hour on the hour around the clock.  This child was draining fluids from every inch of my being including my uvula, so my doctor suggested that rather than switch to formula (which was unnatural, so of course vociferously discouraged in Norway), I rent a pump.

Increase lactation, he said.

Churn some serious cream.

This pump I got must have been a design joint venture between Hummer and Hoover.  It sat like an idling dune buggy on our kitchen floor and when I strapped it on, I had to buckle myself to a piece of heavy furniture to keep from being yanked across the room.  It could have sucked the chrome off a trailer hitch, as could have Dalton.  After only a couple of months, I was almost ready to stop the nursing/vacuuming experiment because I noticed all my internal organs had been rearranged and pulled to the surface. (When I did eventually wean him, Dalton went straight to reindeer steaks, if that gives you an idea of what kind of appetite we were dealing with.)

Thankfully, I had my barselgruppe, a typically Norwegian wonder that is an essential component of being a viking mother. Barsel is a word for birth, and your barsel group is a support community for those first months of a baby’s life or forever.  When Dalton was born, the state registered me along with five other freshly delivered mothers from my immediate geographic surroundings to be part of a support group led by a nurse/social worker who specialized in postnatal adjustment, family counseling and facets of early childhood education.

Every month in the nurse’s station of Nesøya Skole down our street on the island, we mothers met with our supervising worker named Gunnil and shared snacks and stories while discussing our babies and ourselves.  Was little Morton sleeping? Was darling Kerstin on solids yet? Was Melissa’s breast pump available to take a spin around the block or to vacuum out someone’s garage? We kept this up for a year and then, as was often the case with these groups, ours took on a life of its own and we met independently at one of our homes, a corner café, or walking out along the fjord.  It wasn’t uncommon in Norwegian culture to keep these barsel friends for life. Lots of women I knew attended the marriages of the babies, now fully grown, whose births had brought their moms together.

One day at barselgruppe, we discussed milk.

One of the mothers just had too much of it, she said. Constantly leaking all over the place, very annoying and inconvenient, not to mention messy and embarrassing, she sighed. So Gunnil suggested this mother bag all the extra milk her baby didn’t consume, and take those bags to the melkebank , the local annex of the hospital created expressly (no pun intended) for this purpose.

That mother had a slight build, but was ample in maternally strategic places.  She sat right next to a lanky brunette, naturally beautiful in jeans from about 1974, with capable large-knuckled hands that had milky unpolished nails.  Her manner was cool and solid, like a big deep ceramic basin of setting mascarpone.

When I then mentioned I was becoming totally drained emotionally from being so totally drained mammarily, someone in the circle suggested I go to the melkebank.  If there were deposits, there were withdrawals.

For dried up women.  Like me.

“Maybe I’ll take my extra milk there,” another mother said. “I’m constantly soaking my shirts.”

“And I’ve got too much, too,” the mother sitting to my right added. “Mornings, my bed is drenched.”

“Me, too!” a first-time mother of twins exclaimed.

“You know, with all my three babies it’s been the same story,” the brunette basin of mascarpone interjected, curling her long legs up under her hips on the couch.  “I make more milk than my father’s cows did.  And that milk fed us five children when I was growing up.  I’ve got cow DNA.”

Laughter and sisterly eye-winking all around the room.  But for me.

Because right then is when I started feeling about as succulent as the last potato chip in the bag, no more use to my hungry baby than a couple of medium-sized, plastic-wrapped, year-old fortune cookies. Without the fortune.

“Maybe you need to eat more,” suggested Gunnil, motioning to a piece of chocolate cake.

“Some foods help stimulate production,” a woman said, taking a big bite of the gooey dark confection.

“Foods like chocolate, I hope?” I asked, and bit deep into my piece of cake brought this time, as last time and like the time before, by the deep cheese brunette. I had noticed she always brought rich things like dense brownies and carrot cake and creamy toffee bars, so not only was she apparently our barselgruppe’s crowned Dairy Queen, but she was the Treat Goddess to boot.

Maybe I had a mild case of milk envy. But you understand that I was, as I’ve told you, doing all I could but was still not quite able to keep the milk wagon stocked for Dalton. My mommy ego was growing concave.

“Funny,” Miss Treat Goddess Milky Way spoke up softly, “I’ve never donated to the melkebank.  All this extra milk, you know, I just keep it in my freezer.”

“In your freezer?” the mother of twins, also helping herself to a second piece of cake, nearly laughed. “Why in your freezer?”

“Because it has so many uses.”

Gunnil, putting aside her cake and licking her fingers, reached for her notepad and pen to take notes. “Uses? For example?”

“Well. . .” Ms. Lactose smiled as golden as a cube of chilled butter, “It’s good, for example, for treating pink eye.”

“Yes, I’ve heard this,” Gunnil jotted a note. “Full of antibacterial properties.”

“And for softening cracked skin,” Yogurt Gal told us, those lean hands looking smoother than I’d noticed before.

I downed three big mouthfuls of cake.

“Yes, it’s rich in emollients,” Gunnil was nodding around the circle, hoping we were all listening to this perfect example.

“But really,” our Lady of La Leche said, “I don’t use it so much for all that.”

“Oh?” the mother of twins said, licking her lips.

“Oh?” the mother to my right wiped crumbs from her chin.

“Oh?” I swallowed my fifth bite.

“Then how do you use all your extra milk?” Gunnil’s pen was waiting.

“I use it all in my baking,” Curdle Girl said, perky as a dollop of whipped cream. “Another piece, Melissa?”

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Global Mom: Post-natale

Only after Luc’s arrival into this world did Monsieur le Docteur make it to the château.  Early into the process of labor, while I was still on my feet and moving around to help gravity pull things along, and while Randall and I were still joking and bantering and praying, in other words before I assumed the kneeling-on-top-of-the-bed-singing-like-a-large-mermaid posture, I conspired with my midwife about the delivery itself. Christine and I plotted that, if everything proceeded as smoothly as it had to this point, we could simply skip calling my doctor.  Eyes low, voice restrained, Christine said she was legally required to call him, but wouldn’t do so any earlier than necessary, and kidded she’d summon the doctor the moment we would hear our baby squeal. And sure enough, only after Christine placed our little boy in my arms did the doctor walk in.  He made his obligatory surveillance of things, congratulated Randall and me, took a good look at our delicate baby, signed his name, smiled for our family photos, and returned to his home and to his slumber. Then ah, that familiar welling up of maternal satisfaction and breast milk.

Leaving the château with Parker, Claire, and baby Luc in the perambulator

Just in that moment when I was feeling competent – I’m now a mother of four? – the next nurse, the one responsible for our baby’s care (weighing, cleaning, swabbing yellow antibiotic ointment around his eyes) entered the room and turned to me, asking, “Do you have your baby’s layette? Diapers? Body bath? Cotton swabs? Lotion? Head cap? Mittens?”

Non. I had one long-legged newborn onesie, but none of the rest of the above. Hadn’t the hospitals I’d delivered in before provided those basics? Like party favors?

Bon, alors. . .and for yourself, Madame? Makeup? Postnatal creams? Jewelry? Fresh clothing to greet your visitors? Your peignoir, perhaps?”

Uh. Um. Non. Encore non.  I had none. I did have an overnight bag with a toothbrush and soap, though, and this fetching men’s XL checkered flannel nightshirt the nurse couldn’t have helped taking note of.  You see, well, as gruesome as it must sound, I’d sort of planned on sleeping most of the day. In those very clothes. If no one minded.

“Was I supposed to have brought a . . . a peignoir?” Did I even have a peignoir? Do women in this century for that matter, reputable women that is, honestly have peignors? What else had I forgotten to bring, I wondered, what other deficit suddenly singled me out as a hillbilly? What? No fluffy high heeled slippers? No powdered wig? No corset? I was sponging up sweat as it now pooled in every possible ravine of my physique. The yokel in me blushed, and I readjusted the greasy-sweaty whale spout up-do I suddenly remembered I was sporting.

“Well, most women do bring lovely postnatal lingerie and clothing, Madame.  You know, of course, to celebrate the return of their prenatal body.  It’s customary. You might want to note that the photographer makes his rounds in the early hours,” she tapped at her wristwatch, “which is when the natural light is best. Maybe you will want to be presentable, Madame. You will, as you know, receive today.” She smiled.  The yokel smiled back but also gaped inside at the word: recevoir.

Recevoir?! Présentable? Photographe? In the flurry and quiet thrill of giving new life to this world, somehow I’d totally misunderstood: in Versailles I couldn’t just deliver and then hunker down as I had in Norway in an amoeba-like shapeless spread for three formless and blissful days. And without a trace of lace.

No. I had delivered.  So here I would recevoir, or receive my public.

The pattern had been set at least as early as Marie Antoinette, I reasoned, who had given birth in her château with the entire royal family and the whole court as audience.  The birth as well as the product of the birth, of course, had to be demonstrated, authenticated, and celebrated by a stadium full of witnesses and well-wishers, kind of a one-stop package deal.

Photographer is Jean-François, and might still be in business in Versailles. Small catch: you can only book him if you’ve given birth within the last three hours.

And because in Versailles what was still is, I, the delivered mother needed to present myself and my baby to the visiting entourage and the planned paparazzi.

I had Randall run home to grab lipstick, pearls and something in silk.

Jean-François wanted an action shot, so I sang and Luc conducted.

Walking home to Rue René Aubert with 3 day-old Luc

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

La Tempête de 1999

I have just propped my feet up on my desk and am leaning back in my comfy leather chair before I begin tick-tick-ticking away at my laptop. The moon is still high at 5:30 a.m., the boys are still safe and soundly asleep, the house stone silent, and I know I can get in a good 45 minutes’ uninterrupted work  before they stir and the morning routine begins.  It’s a pregnant moon, I watch for her hidden pulse beneath the mottled ivory skin so ripe, taut, engorged with fecundity, and through my open window I hear the peep-peep from the garden of the first morning birds.  A copper-colored squirrel flits up a tree past leaves that hang gracefully, their changing colors a muted swath of fabric that barely flutters as the night stirs into morning with one stroke of a breeze. No, hardly a breeze, really, more like a breath. I like the window open at this hour just for a brisk shot of chill, and I like that I can close it off, too, and that it’s not yet legitimately cold, and with those dozy thoughts I burrow into old photos to add to the post I am composing about a blissful birth in a cozy château setting almost as silent as the one I am sitting in as I write.  Yes, I recall, circling my neck once to loosen shoulders, that birth was also under a full moon.  Magical.  I take a sip of warm peppermint tea, watch the steam rise from cup, let it soak my face a bit like a momentary sauna.  Dry air today, I think to myself, might need to set up the humidifier and, uh-oh, apply extra hand cream.

On the paired side of the earth:

“Fast, faster, c’mon, faster! Get them up here, faster!!”

The nurse wearing green scrubs and an orange headlamp is yelling, motioning down the lightless corridor on the eighth floor of New York City’s Langone Medical Center, waving frantically to get the team of EMT personnel and a trailing firefighter into the delivery room where Julia Alemany is in the pitch of labor. “Right here, guys!” the nurse yanks them through the door, “Hurry, faster. Who’s got lights?”

Doron, Julia’s husband, is crouching next to his wife, who has had her hands curled over her eyes and against her forehead for two hours now, while Hurricane Sandy pounds demonically on the walls of this building, shaking it, slashing at it with wild whipping vacuum-like winds, hurling branches and metal scraps against the windows, yowling like nature herself is giving birth to the devil. Julia writhes on her side, panting, crying out, “I can’t do his anymore, someone help me, heeelp me. Where’s my doctor? Dor, what’s gonna – ?” and she lets out a low, guttural moan, clenching her belly with both bare arms.

The nurse jumps as something crashes into the closest window, rattling it in its frame, cracking the glass in a splintering thunderbolt pattern she can see when the real lightning outside explodes in one brief smack.  The rain and wind flog and lash, and Doron, normally a calm guy, is thinking how this feels like being trapped in the bottom of a huge electric mixer, nightmarish, impossible. He tells himself he will not lose his cool, he will not lose his cool. “’Kay, babe, we’re going to make it, Jules, we’ll make it hon, just stay with me, we’ll be alright, they say the pain guy’s on his way.”

Doron looks at the nurse, who shakes her head once. No sign of an anesthesiologist anywhere, although she’d called for him on the P.A. system when the power was still up almost an hour ago. “You’re doing great, Julia,” the nurse says, stepping closer, putting her hand on the nape of Julia’s neck and stroking the woman’s sweaty dark hair from where it’s gluey in her collar, “We’re here with you. We’ll figure this one out. Hey, what happened to the firefighter who was supposed to get me some li – “

The firefighter runs in, his red and silver industrial-sized flashlight now cuts a white tunnel through the shadows, and just behind him comes another man wheeling a portable I.V. He’s carrying a small suitcase of equipment, too, and Doron leans closer to Julia, his voice suddenly a register higher, “Okay, Jules, we’re cookin’, doll, he’s here. Pain guy’s in the house, folks, pain guy’s in the house.”

Six glowing cell phones, a red and silver flashlight and four minutes later, the needle is in Julia’s lower back. Doron puts his hand on her forehead. “Epidural will kick in, they say, in about five, six more contractions. They want to know if you can handle being moved? Can you move?”

On a medical sled, the EMT and medical teams carry Julia down eight flights of unlit stairs with Doron, now in his own headlamp and holding three phones aloft, leading the way, looking back up the stairwell with every step, barking at the men to “be careful with my baby men, just be careful.” The firefighter’s shining his flashlight right on the exit where an ambulance is waiting to take them to Mount Sinai. The moment they open the door, sheer force of wind suction yanks at everyone’s shoulders like a riptide yanks at your legs, and the team has to steady itself ­– “Hold on, guys, hold it, slowly,” – as they inch against the gale while someone swings wide the two back doors of the idling vehicle. “Watch the curb!” someone yells, “Keep her flat!” another snaps,  “Jules, are you with me? Can you feel it working now?” Doron’s face is wet with hot perspiration and rain that is not falling, but slicing sideways.

Julia nods, but says nothing.  Her eyes are firmly closed to the pandemonium and the icy gales that rage all around her. She’s saving energy by concentrating on nothing but the thudding of her heart as it ricochets all over inside her ribcage. Doron tucks a blanket up to her chin just as she is hoisted into the ambulance, and climbs in right after her, reaching for her hand as the sirens start whirring.

In spite of the half tree that falls across the hood as the ambulance approaches Mount Sinai, in spite of Hurricane Sandy, in spite of the devil of nature being born in New York City and up and down the eastern seaboard that night, at 12:48 a.m., Micha Alemany-Markus is born to grateful though exhausted parents, Julia and Doron.

And about that same hour, in a distant time zone, I sip on my third cup of peppermint tea while listening to birdsong and stretching my arms to the ceiling before pasting in my last sunny photo of the painless April birth of a little prince in a castle in Versailles, France.

**

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”—Albert Einstein

**

Only once in my life have I experienced anything that could be put in the same genus as Hurricane Sandy.  That storm was called Lothar or La Tempête de 1999, and was equivalent to a category one hurricane, mowing with 80 kilometer winds a path of devastation across northern Europe, plowing right through Versailles, right down our street.   A dramatic event, an historic event, a sorrowful event as fifty-three lives were lost, homes were demolished, historic treasures were ripped out by the root (10,000 rare trees in the Gardens of Versailles) or ripped to shreds (wings of the castle, windows, artifacts), and the equivalent of six billion dollars’ damage.

Still, its effects were miniscule compared with Sandy’s awesome ruin. In fact, I hesitate even printing “Lothar” and “Sandy” on the same screen, they are so far from each other in terms of magnitude of human and economic loss.

Lothar sent us flying from our beds that Christmas Day night, running frantically through our house, gathering our young children into a central and protected place, racing to the windows and battening down shutters to be sure that the old thin glass was not going to rattle itself into shards. There was debris and there were whole chunks of things – trash cans, shingles off roofs, shutters, a child’s bicycle – sailing through the air. I remember an image: the enormous tree in our neighbor’s yard was wrenching and jerking so violently, that its branches, normally a dozen meters from our home, scratched within centimeters of where I stood on the other side of glass.  Death’s claws, I thought. How close they came.

But Lothar lasted a mere two hours.  We actually returned to our beds and fell back asleep.  The next morning, Randall and I kept the shutters locked and let the children, who’d been up those two hours, sleep longer in the still and the darkness, then we awoke them and went about getting ready to go to church.  When we opened our front door, this is what we saw.

That day, we walked to church, as did most of our congregation. If their cars had not been damaged in the maelstrom, they couldn’t drive them for all the downed power lines and tree graveyards that just the evening before had been lovely manicured roads.

But here’s my point. Because I lost nothing in that storm – no loved ones, no property, no livelihood, not even more than two hours of sleep – to me Lothar was a single event, a story to tell one day in the future with a couple of impressive pictures, almost a titillating narrative, but not a life-changing landmark by any means. I have few vivid memories of that spot in time, in fact, beyond what I have shared here.

Others, though, people very much like me, people I have thought of since, will always consider December 25th 1999 the day their life split, the moment everything stopped. They lost the most precious things – a husband, wife, father, mother, sibling, child – to two unpredicted hours of a freak climate tantrum, and then, in the ruin, had to dig themselves out.

To take that reality one step further, as I sit and type this, not only are people climbing out of Sandy’s wreckage, but others are bracing themselves for it.

And to take that reality one step further, as I finish this paragraph, this one you are reading, someone else, and it could be anyone, and it could be myself, is going to be visited not by a category one hurricane, but by a metaphorical Sandy.  Or a Lothar.  They will get the test results back from their doctor. They’ll answer a phone call at an odd hour. They’ll see a strange, unapproachable look in their spouse’s eyes.  They might be driving or sitting or running or singing in the shower and with no warning, a storm will descend that will rip out all the precious plantings they have cared for so tenderly, counted on so faithfully. That is the forever moment, the instant that divides their life into Before and After.

What does one do with all this? What do we do with one another’s losses? How does another’s desolation impact my life? Who owns a tragedy? Whose loss is it anyway? What will assuming some small part in another’s tragedy bring to me, anyway? Will it weigh me down, drive me to unfiltered paranoia, eat up my private pile of joy?  How do I reconcile the fact that I walked that Aftermath Sunday morning in December 1999 to church in heels – right past, by the way, the neighborhood château where our Luc would be born five months later – that I minced in a skirt around toppled trunks, that I climbed side saddle over enormous root balls, that I escaped the scathe and the scythe while someone else, a victim because of a few chance centimeters, did not? And how does my living evidence this knowledge, that it is often scant centimeters – not worthiness nor predestination nor entitlement nor good fortune nor anyone’s inalienable right – that separates those flattened by tragedy from those who walk over or around or beside it?

**

“Compassion hurts. When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything. And you cannot turn away. Your destiny is bound with the destinies of others. You must either learn to carry the Universe or be crushed by it. You must grow strong enough to love the world, yet empty enough to sit down at the same table with its worst horrors.” –Andrew Boyd

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.