Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Mom seriously loses face when someone points out her child-rearing lapses -- especially, perhaps, when that third party is her own mother.


Justin and I were in Otter River after a rousing nor'easter. Remembering the five- or six-foot mountain of snow that collects in the angle between the barn and the back porch, I asked him if he would like to jump off the roof. Justin, then two and a few months, was fine with jumping off the roof, as with most things. In August of the same year, the guy running the octopus at Whalom Park observed, "That little kid ain't afraid of nothin'." That wasn't quite the case; but he wasn't much into fear.

We climbed out a window and onto the roof of the side porch. My mother, at my request, closed the window behind us, with that my-daughter-has- lost-her-mind look that I know so well. Justin and I waded through a two-foot snowdrift overlooked by the windows of a couple of bedrooms, and turned the corner onto the roof of the back porch. I proposed to jump with him in my arms so as to land together.

There behind the back porch was the target snowdrift, all right, but a few feet farther away than I remembered. Also, the underpinnings of the roof had come to protrude by most of a foot, a row of metal things a foot or two apart on which, it seemed to me, I would certainly catch my clothing on the way past and thus fall short of the depths of the snowdrift.

Losing my courage, I voted for coming down some other way -- but how? Mother had shut the window behind us, and all the bedroom windows giving onto the roofs were locked in winter (they tended to drop open if not fastened). Near the side porch was Aunt Elizabeth's car, not close enough to climb down onto or padded with enough snow for jumping. We made our way back to the rear porch; nothing had changed. We may have wandered back and forth a couple more times, hoping something would occur to us. It was windy, and Justin declared that he was cold.

At that point -- I don't know why I didn't think of this sooner -- I tossed Justin off the roof into the highest point of the snowdrift, where he lay on his back in his snowsuit, tranquilly contemplating the sky. Then I gathered my coat tightly and jumped myself, taking care not to land on him, and together we made our way through voluminous snow around the barn and into the house. It was all rather anticlimactic.


That may have been the storm of April 6, 1982, the last volley of a particularly snowy winter. A few days after that storm dropped a foot or so of snow on us, the temperature had risen to about 70o; the snow was melting apace; and the asphalt in the driveway was warm to the touch. Walking around barefoot, Justin asked if he could slide down the bank beside the driveway, as he had been doing all winter.

Why not? Warm as it was, there was still plenty of snow. I produced the sled and plunked him into the box my father had attached to it. Instructing him to stay in the box, I pushed him down the hill. We did this a few times. Then my mother came to the door to talk to me about something, and my attention to Justin flagged. The next thing I knew she was expressing horror at something behind me. Sure enough, there was Justin nonchalantly walking around in the snow with his little bare feet. I put a stop to that, wondering, as I have since, if he had any nerve endings.


Impetigo is hard to miss, especially on a six-year-old's face -- but I was getting married at the end of the week, and my attention was fragmented. I did, on somebody's advice, buy a tube of some kind of goo and apply it to his lesions per the instructions. It didn't do much. On my last day of work before the wedding, I took Justin and his impetigo and tube of goo to day care, without much hope that they would buy into this program. I was right.

"Unclean!" said the day care center, refusing to accept him, tube of goo notwithstanding. So I took him to work, settling him as best I could while I tried to finish what I had to do. As seen above, Justin was never big on quietly staying in one place. I think one or more of my co-workers amused him from time to time. I did get the work done, and took Justin and his impetigo home.

After the wedding, my sister took charge of Justin for a week, as planned. She surveyed the impetigo with horror and at her earliest convenience took him to her doctor, commanding him to "Fix this!" The doctor prescribed an antibiotic, and by the next time I saw Justin his face was back to normal.


A few years after that, he developed poison ivy on the top of his foot. There was nothing much in that; Justin was always developing poison ivy. He said this one hurt and itched severely. I could believe it did. It looked awful; but Justin's poison ivys always looked like that and most were a lot larger than this one. I offered sympathy and calamine lotion.

The difference between this poison ivy and its predecessors was that, subject to friction with his chronically wet shoe and sock -- I never understood how he managed to be wearing wet footgear so much of the time -- it had become infected. When Mother pointed out the angry red streaks up his leg from the poison ivy site, I bundled him into the car and off to the doctor.

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In spite of the instances of neglect confessed to above, Justin came to think of me as prone to unnecessary hovering and worriting, and in late childhood and early adolescence stopped mentioning his poison ivys and sprained ankles (a specialty he developed after taking up basketball; maybe white men really can't jump). He doesn't believe in dressing for winter, but wears T-shirts and shorts year-round. Any horror-stricken comments now are directed to him. If anyone says anything to me, I shrug my shoulders and point out that he's an adult and I can't help what he does.