As you grow older, hopefully getting perspective, the process of elimination is set in motion. It may begin with food, people, pleasure(s) or in my case harrowing life occurrences.
I keep trying to erase my sixteenth year from memory- but it remains a stain on my psyche.
So I’ve decided to search for happy moments of that year. Treasures — baby.
Many of the older women in the neighborhood suffered through miscarriages — they shared a bonding experience we kids did not understand. Most remained childless but one of my mother’s friends decided to foster children, which she later adopted. The older church women whispered of her “barren state” and being forsaken by God. Her contemporaries lifted her up in prayer, surrounding the family with love.
By my 16th birthday “M” had moved her family to the suburbs, but continued to foster children thru Spence-Chapin in Manhattan. After a long day at school/work, I came home to at least a dozen women and a crying infant in the living room. My mother told me to wash my hands, put on an apron and take a seat.
Strange. I come from a “children should be seen and not heard” family and was only called into the living room to perform errands for guests.
I entered and took a seat on the floor. Earlier that morning the agency had given “M” a baby born into addiction; with the expectation the baby would expire within the week. The women explained that it was imperative we heal this baby and keep him alive — that he belonged in the family. Part of that work was to hold and comfort him 24 hours/7 days a week.
My mother stood up with the baby, demonstrating how to hold and soothe him. And then she put him in my arms. The room went dark. I had not been allowed to babysit or hold children. The old-school thought that holding infants would somehow lead to monstrous fornication and teenage pregnancy. Why now?
I grasped the screaming baby, he grabbed my ear and calmed down. So did the mom circle in which I had been drafted. A schedule was drawn up and each mom committed to a number of hours to hold young B. Would I be willing to give up a few hours a week to hold him?
We held the screaming baby weeks on end. Swaying, rocking, twirling, singing. Somewhere along the way young B stopped crying. He thrived, appetite ravenous — growing tall and strong. It became apparent he was here to stay. The circle of moms, plus one, loved this baby back to life.
I’ll never know if my mother included me due to peer pressure, a need for extra hands or a desire to expose me to another side of being. Whatever the reason, I held on to young B as if my life depended on it.
He now has a family of his own in sunny California, the circle of women gone, only the plus one remaining. Young B may never know the hearts he touched or the lives he saved. But I do. Thanks Billy.