Thursday, July 7, 2011

Here Be Dragons

I had a discussion recently with my granddaughter. She was talking about the issues of babysitting her younger sister. I pointed out that girls and boys who babysat younger siblings regularly weren't as likely to have babies themselves at a young age. The glamour of a baby is worn off for them.

When I was a young woman, career choices were limited. Without college, you could be an office clerk, a warehouse worker, or a fast food worker. With college, you could be an office clerk, a warehouse worker, or a waitress. If you were really pushy, you could be a nurse or a teacher.

Or you could get married. And have babies.

For every year past twenty-one that you weren't married, you lost status. Seriously, by the time you reached twenty-five you were considered a lost cause who would probably end up an old maid.

I had no money for college and most of the programs they have now were not available. So I opted to marry and work as an office clerk. There was an unspoken understanding that I wouldn't be around a real long time because I would no doubt get pregnant.

There was one other quirk back then. Immediately after you informed any employer you were pregnant, you were asked to give your two week notice. Bamm! You were out of there. It didn't matter how attractive your maternity clothes were, you absolutely couldn't work. No, no, no.

Pregnancy wasn't just a possibility. It was an expectation. You were expected to be fruitful and multiply. Quickly.

It was the height of the Vietnam War. The United States was suffering daily losses. As in the way of most wars, there was a baby boom going on to replace those losses.

No one talked about things like parent fatigue back then. You had babies. You stayed at home and kept house. And you were damn glad for the privilege. Period.

By 1973 I had three kids under four. The hunk was transferred to Houston so in twenty eight days we packed up and moved there from Chicago. We didn't know a soul there. No family safety net. No friends. Nothing.

Immediately, we dealt with several emergencies. The hunk worked two full-time jobs while I tried to keep things rolling at home. And life steadily grew more complicated. In the winter of 1974 I broke.

Quite frankly, I don't remember much of 1975. Valium was my best friend, my lover, my confidant. And then my doctor very firmly cut off my supply. He offered me a choice. Get clean and have a family. Or retreat to an institution.

Rehab wasn't an option back then. They didn't have meetings and counseling and all that other stuff unless you had money. And that definitely wasn't one of the things we had. But the idea of being institutionalized was pretty damn scary so I opted to get clean. It was hard.

Years later I found one of my notebooks from that period. It was filled with pages of one phrase. I am a real person. I am a real person. I am a real person...

Amazingly enough, we all made it. The kids grew up without too much trauma. The hunk hung in there through thick and thin. I survived and found out I was a real person. I suppose you're wondering what my point is.

Just this. When you see a young mother with a bunch of kids and no emotional support, maybe offer a bit of friendship. Rearing kids is a tough job. Sometimes as a parent, you think you'll go crazy and lose your mind. Sometimes you do.

Sometimes the dragons win.



  1. Too true! I do my best to be available to my friends with kids, especially the ones with multiple kids, for adult conversation, free snippets of babysitting, etc, just so they don't go stir crazy.

    Funny how you mention "in those days"... my family thinks that's STILL the way things are. The hubby and I are now "bad" people because we haven't managed to reproduce. Ach, well, fewer people to talk to at the family reunions. ;)

    Thanks for sharing your story!

  2. I remember mum saying when she hit 24 and wasn't married in the late 1950's everyone was asking why. The thing is that hasnt changed. Women are still viewed as odd if not married or without kids yet they're married. Narrow mindedness is a sickness that continues each generation. We have to stop placing our ideals on others

  3. I love little kids! Someday I'd love to have my own. (That is if babysitting doesn't wear me down first.) I give a lot of props to parents, it must be harder than I can imagine.

  4. Great post. I see the difference between myself and my younger sisters. I was the built in babysitter starting at age 8. I was the last of the whole large crew to get married and my son is younger than my nephew's daughter. I can't imagine having the stress of raising a child at a young age. I was too busy raising myself.