I came out of my mother’s womb kicking and screaming, and I didn’t stop carrying on until after I was weaned from my mother’s breast. The opinion of our country doctor, and of my grandmother, was that I had colic, which is defined as “a severe, often fluctuating pain in the abdomen caused by intestinal gas or obstruction in the intestines and suffered especially by babies.” I think I was merely hungry. I think my mother’s milk was insufficient to nourish me, because as soon as I was weaned from her milk and put on solid food, I settled down. Another possibility is that my mother’s diet tainted her breast milk. A modern-day treatment of colic includes eliminating caffeine, cow’s milk, and gas-producing vegetables from a breastfeeding mother’s diet. From the time of her teen years, my mother was a caffeine-fiend, and a main staple of her diet was vegetables grown in my grandmother’s enormous farm-garden. One of my indelible memories of my mother is watching her at mealtimes, her fork in her right hand and a freshly-pulled, cleaned, and trimmed scallion in her left hand, a bite from the fork followed by a bite of a scallion. I wasn’t yet a year old when my mother weaned me, and I was by then a precocious, curious, fidgety child, talking like a magpie, and wound up like the Eveready Bunny.
Another widely-held belief is that a colicky baby’s nervous system is immature at the time of birth, a phenomenon that renders the infant unable to handle stimuli outside the womb: sights and sounds, for instance. At the time of my birth, my Dad was away at Navy Boot Camp. Mom had moved back to her parent’s farm for the duration, and it was there, in a bedroom of the farmhouse, that I was born. The household was a raucous one, as six of the eight young offspring of Mom’s birth family was still under roof, plus my grandmother and grandfather, and then me. Mom’s youngest sibling Dean was only eight days shy of seven when I was born. Other than during my young girlhood when I was still a chatterbox and a jumping bean, throughout the rest of my history, I have tended toward widely-spaced bursts of energetic chatter and activity, for during my adolescence, I discovered quiet, my quiet bedroom, and quiet people to whom I was drawn. I fell in love with quiet. And I just wonder if at the moment I first emerged into the world, if my soul was jarred by all the activity, as it still is. I can handle noise only for short spans of time. Recently my son Frank drove me from my home in Columbus, Ohio to Palm Harbor, Florida, and back, for a short visit with my sister Susan. Throughout the entire 36 or more hours of the roundtrip, my son entertained himself with blasting music on the car’s radio. This is his habit. It energizes him. It depletes me. And by the time the trip was done, the inside of my head was ringing, painfully, and my soul just wanted to hunker down in the luxurious, the deliberate serenity, the utter freedom of my home.
While I was my mother’s first child, she was not a novice in the care of infants, for she was the eldest female among her parent’s eight children. As such, Mom acted as backup mother to her younger siblings for most of her girlhood. In the attached photograph of Mom and her seven siblings, she is the teenager in the back row, the one holding her youngest sibling, the infant Dean.
As you might have guessed by now, the title of this chapter “MY MOTHER’S MILK,” is a metaphor for my relationship with my mother. That I am introspective is a given, as most highly creative types are. My reflections often center on my bond with my mother. Mom and I were devoted to each other, without question, and while outwardly it was unhampered by dysfunction and inadequacy, a Sherlock Holmes-type of investigation of it unearths a mother/daughter connection not quite so blemish-free. Strangely, the glitch in our relationship can be boiled down to one factor, one giveaway clue: my colicky infancy. The unfortunate truth is that like my mother’s milk that left me under- and ill-nourished, she was not enough for me in other ways, as well. This was the case during my formative years, at least.
I suspect that by the time I came into being, my mother was burned out on babies, on the work tied to babies and young children. She’d had years of it by then with her younger brothers and sisters. Then I came along, and rather than being the designer baby she had dreamed of, I bawled night and day, I bit her nipples with my sharp baby teeth in utter frustration toward those only instruments available to feed me, and getting little of what I needed from them. I’ve concluded that the breastfeeding interaction between us set up a psychological pattern that dogged us forevermore, one in which my natural need to be nourished by my mother was thwarted at so many turns, the consequences of which played havoc with her confidence that she was equipped to respond to my needs, sufficiently. I think she gave away her power to me out of guilt. Throughout the years Mom and I had together, her reliable response to me when I solicited her guidance on almost any situation was, “Why are you asking me? You’re smarter than I am.”
An adjunct to this whole thing is that I think the basic need of my mother’s soul was quiet. I think she craved serenity and freedom, and other than for a little while in the last years of her life, she was allowed very little of it. I inherited my need of those things from her. She has been gone now for 25 years, and still my need to feed off her is as strong as the day I was born. My only comfort is my belief that our story isn’t finished—and someday, somewhere we will be together again, and then we will get it right in every possible way.
“Guardians and Other Angels,” (http://goo.gl/imUwKO) is my novel of historical fiction blended with the true story of my maternal ancestors, including my mother’s girlhood, a story that takes place during the early to middle Twentieth Century. It has been compared to Pulitzer Prize winners, “The Grapes of Wrath,” and “Angela’s Ashes,” as well as to Jeannette Walls’ “Half Broke Horses.”