Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Two July 14ths

There are at least two family stories about the fourteenth of July. Let's have the funny one first, shall we? Well, anyway, I think it's funny.

I learned the Marseillaise in French class. Eighth grade, I think it was. It is such a stirring song that I still enjoy singing it, probably because I've never been forced to do so. Here's my favorite rendition. It doesn't start out as the Marseillaise, so wait for it.

I learned the first two verses. Well, sort of. I don't remember all the words right, and sometimes I loop between verses. Eh.

It really sticks in my head, so much that when I tell my kids that we're going, I say, "Allons, enfants." Even Timmy knows what I mean, and he doesn't speak French. It faintly amuses me every time I say it, because I know I'm not calling them to battle; I'm probably just telling them we're going to the checkout counter.

So that's the first. The second is about July 14, 1986; I remember because it was Bastille Day. I'll probably never forget that awful day.

Rosie was 2 1/2 months old, and I'd been back at work for a few weeks. It was always hard for me to go back to work; I never got to stay with my babies as long as I wanted. I nursed them as long as I could, which wasn't very long for any of them—maybe seven months at the most. There weren't any nursing lounges or effective breast pumps back then. In fact, my company (which had awfully good benefits in most areas) didn't even provide maternity leave; that came after I'd finished having babies. I had to use my accrued sick leave and then accrued vacation, and then the company would allow new mothers to go in the hole for some length of time I've forgotten. What with kids getting sick, my sick days, and doctors' visits, it took me so long to get out of that hole that I didn't have an actual vacation until 1990, when Timmy was two. That one was a staycation. We painted the outside of the house.

Anyway. On July 14, 1986, I had forgotten to bring my cooler with empty baby bottles and ice packs. That was how I pumped milk—by hand into baby bottles, which I kept cool until I got to my home fridge. Without it . . .

Oh, wait. This is a family blog, right? So if you're embarrassed by breastfeeding, stop reading.

You aren't embarrassed? Okay, let's go on.

Without that cooler and pumping my milk, my breasts got really engorged. Painfully engorged. And I couldn't bear to pump milk into the toilet or something. I never had more milk than I needed, and I desperately wanted to give my babies my milk and feel that even though I wasn't home with them, I was at least doing what I could to help them be healthy. Remember, I was postpartum, and my hormones were still going crazy.

So I called my husband. (Probably only my family is reading this. Let's call him Daddy.) He was staying home with our children as usual. This was when he was at nursing school at Georgetown, but maybe he had no classes that day? I don't remember. Anyway, at lunch Daddy packed our three kids up and brought them to BNA with my precious cooler, bottles, and ice pack.

July in DC can be hideously hot, and July 14, 1986, was just about the hottest day of the year. Rosie couldn't stay in the heat for long; she was just a newborn, and she wasn't used to the horrible heat. Daddy brought the kids inside and told the security guard at the front desk that he was there to see me. Rosie's skin was still kind of mottled from the heat, and I think she'd been crying.

Of course as soon as she saw or smelled me, she wanted to nurse. Daddy had probably given her some formula, but she wanted her mama. I couldn't refuse her that. Anyway, it was my lunchtime, so I had time.

But it was noonish, so it was the hottest part of the day. I think the AC didn't work in the car; anyway, for some reason, that wasn't a good spot to nurse Rosie. I didn't have an office, and the older kids would have been disruptive at work anyway. I was not going to nurse her outside; she would have thrown up. I considered the bathroom, away from people, but, well, would you eat in a bathroom?

So I nursed her in the lobby, with everybody passing and complimenting me on the lovely baby. I positioned my clothing so that many people didn't even know I was nursing. But I still felt the need to tell my boss so that if anybody got mad, she would have heard it from me first.

She exploded. She said my children were never allowed on BNA property again. I worried that she might find a way to fire me from this job that I didn't much like but that fed my family. Within a year (I don't remember when) I found another job within the company, to my great relief.

Poor thing, I feel sorry for her now. She was painfully thin, her face was always squinched up in some kind of displeasure, and I don't remember that she ever laughed. From what I could tell, her marriage was not happy. She volunteered at St. Ann's, a home for orphan babies, and I suspected that she was having trouble having her own baby. Later I found out that was true. So it must have hurt her to imagine me with three young children, one of them still nursing.

Anyway, that's my Bastille Day. What's yours?

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