When things don’t go as planned

I’m sorry I’ve missed posting on this blog, but I was overtaken by events.
Baby Joshua and his Nuk, by Carol L. Douglas.
Last Saturday was to be my daughter’s baby shower. I had an orderly exit planned. I’d write my Friday blog, pack my car, stop in Rockport, Massachusetts to drop off work at Folly Cove Fine Art, and head to Buffalo. All that ended with a phone call. Laura was preeclamptic and they were taking the baby at 31 weeks. He had passed the threshold of viability so it was safe for him to be born.
I’ve faced my own health trials with equanimity. It’s different when it’s your kid. Then, the need to do something is almost overwhelming. My husband and I dropped everything and headed out. It took us two days to get to Buffalo, since our trip collided with back-to-back winter storms, but we were here in time for baby Joshua’s entry into the world.
The smallest preemie diaper, left, and the one Joshua is in, right. It’s miraculous that such tiny babies are born with everything they need to not just survive, but thrive.
Laura’s blood pressure refuses to drop, so she’s parked in a hospital bed. She is anxious to be sprung. But she’s really better off than when she goes home and has to drive every day to see her son. Her careful plan did not allow for weeks in the NICU and the added cost on a high- deductible insurance plan, so she’s trying to strategize to minimize the damage.
I spent five weeks in hospital when she was born and was equally anxious about similar things. But from this vantage point, I know that the problems fade and the turning point is what matters. We’re designed to be ambitious at thirty and wise at sixty. That’s one reason we live in intergenerational family relationships.
My son-in-law drawing his son in the NICU.
Baby Joshua is perfectly miniaturized and wonderfully robust for a 31-week preemie. He rapidly learned to grasp with his tiny fingers and pulled out his vent. Now he’s on oxygen and he’s yanked the cannula out, too. He’s tolerating tiny amounts of formula and I’m almost certain he’s got eyeballs under those resolutely-closed lids.
A nurse showed us the smallest preemie diaper, which I could use to bandage a finger. “Even the smallest twenty-something-weeks ones are born with all the parts they need to survive,” she said. “I don’t see how anyone could look at that and not believe,” she added.
I asked staff members why they thought this small Catholic hospital has become the go-to place to have babies. Certainly, the care is top-notch. “It’s a good place to work and that means the staff are happy,” said a nurse manager. I know my anesthesiologist friend came here thirty years ago because he did not want to do abortions. I have to believe that the Catholic culture of life has an impact. There’s certainly no fatalism in this NICU.
St. Francis covered in snow outside Labor and Delivery. We’re expecting another winter storm today. 
Joshua’s parents have very little contact with him. He’s in a temperature-controlled isolette, and all work done on him is through portholes. Aaron and Laura can gently stroke his arm, diaper him and take his temperature. Once every twelve hours they are allowed to hold him. It’s hard on the parents, but little Joshua doesn’t seem to care. He’s busy with his own things.
Because it was too late to cancel the baby shower, the hosts turned it into a 0th birthday party. Most out-of-town guests drove downtown to see the parents, threatening to swamp the new parents. Some resisted. “I’m on a ‘need-to-know’ basis, not a ‘need-to-see’ basis,” a wise guest said. I appreciated that attitude.

We Help Grandma

A children’s book I used to love now just ticks me off.

The Country Bunny’s children were remarkably adept at household chores.

Long before I had a family of my own, I loved The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes. This 1939 children’s classic, written by DuBose Heyward and illustrated by Marjorie Flack, is now regarded as a feminist and anti-racist statement. I was a child before either of these were a concept, however. I’m sure I just liked the pictures.

The book tells the story of Cottontail, who is a small, fast brown rabbit who aspires to be an Easter Bunny. She applies, only to be scorned by the elite big white Easter bunnies, who tell her to “go back to the country and eat a carrot.”
One of my helpers, vacuuming.
She goes home and, “by and by she had a husband and then one day, much to her surprise there were twenty-one Cottontail babies to take care of.” (Her husband is noticeably absent in the baby bunnies’ lives.)
She teaches them to do all the gardening and housework, thereby freeing herself to pursue the brass ring of Easter Bunny-dom once more. Then, she goes back to the big city where she surprises Grandfather with her speed, gained by mothering. She aces the test and becomes one of the greatest Easter Bunnies of all time.
We Help Mommy featured kids working with their mother. It was much more realistic.
It wasn’t until I had kids of my own that I realized how dismissive this book is of the work of mothering. It perpetuates the lie of my youth, that women can have it all. We can choose anything, but—like all mortals—are limited by time and energy.
Any mother can tell you that it’s more difficult to teach a kid to do chores than to do them yourself. Still, kids can do tasks and they can be managed. What they can’t do is run their lives unsupervised. Raising good children requires a high level of skill and talent, but also a lot of hard work.
More realistic were We Help Mommy and We Help Daddy, illustrated by Rochester, NY’s own Eloise Wilkin. First published in 1959 and 1962 respectively, they feature little Bobby and Martha helping their parents with various household chores. Kids love to help, but as Wilkin’s books make clear, they’re not able to do jobs without help.
Little Bobby and Martha also had a daddy, and he too was engaged in his kids’ life.
This was the Golden Age of Little Golden Books, and Wilkin was their queen. Born in Rochester, she moved to New York City as a child, returning to attend the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute (now Rochester Institute of Technology). In 1944, she signed a contract to produce three Golden Books per year. She illustrated 47 of these books over her long career.
I have two little helpers here this week. They’re my grandchildren. They’re reducing my productivity to zero, but I don’t mind. I’ve had a busy summer and this is my reward.
Parents (and grandparents) know that we give chores to babies not to clear our schedules, but to keep the kids busy while we do the dishes ourselves. Chores never hurt anyone, but it’s ridiculous to think that kids could manage a household themselves. Feminist and anti-racist the Country Bunny might be, but I’m never buying a copy for any grandchild of mine.