Aren't Your Children a Problem?

On raising children in the Maine woods

UNLESS my memory plays me false, parenthood anywhere from the heart of Texas to the middle of Manhattan is one long coping with maladjusted personalities, crooked teeth, allergies to goose feathers, and lamentable traits inherited from the other side of the family. In short, children certainly are a problem—only in the woods the details of the problem aren't quite the same as they are on the Outside.

The problem starts with getting them born. Of course, with Sally, I skipped this. She's my stepchild, and sprang into my life full-panoplied, as it were, at the age of twelve. I skipped not only the actual giving birth, but also the housebreaking and habitforming. This advantage is offset to an extent by the fact that I'm responsible for her not only to her father and my own conscience, as I am with Rufus, but also to her mother as well—no mean responsibility. It would be had enough to have something happen to your own child. It would be almost impossible to have to go to another woman and say, "So sorry, but. I let your daughter get drowned." That's the chief reason that the first thing I did about Sally, when I took her over, was to insist that she learn to swim. All in all, though, I would say that I came by Sally in the easy way.

Rufus I got the hard way, on the 18th of December at 2.55 A.M., with the thermometer down to 10° above zero. That's a night I won't forget in a hurry. Neither will Ralph, I imagine. Ralph has always been the type that, if he heard it rumored that the wife of one of his friends was going to have a baby eight months from date, took to crossing the street and raising his hat politely from the opposite sidewalk when lie met her. He was taking no chances of having to ride in a taxi with her to the hospital. The mere thought caused him to break out in a cold sweat. Well, the night Rufus was born he didn't have any time to worry about what might happen in a taxi. He was much too busy coping, singlehanded, with what was happening right then and there. In spite of the temperature, he was doing his quota of sweating. I can see him now, with a wool cap pulled down over his ears, his mackinaw collar turned up to meet it, and his mittens on, reading by lantern light a little book called If Baby Comes Ahead of the Doctor. Perspiration was running down his face. You see, he knew the doctor couldn't possibly get there for ten hours or more.

Nothing is more tiresome than the details of some other woman's pregnancy, but just bear with me for a minute. I've been wanting to say this for a long time. I don't believe most women need be miserable at all. There are two simple preventive measures to take. First, they can stop regarding themselves as being, for the period, interesting and unique and fragile, and treating themselves like rare porcelain. It's very bad for them. No wonder they feel rotten. A coal heaver would feel rotten too, if he kept telling himself that he ought to—on general principles. And second, they can just not listen to their married friends' and maiden aunts' tales of the terrible things that may happen to them. Some of the things that otherwise sensible women tell prospective mothers are enough to frighten the wits out of anyone. They won't let you remember that these ghoulish tales are the exceptions and that most babies are born with some discomfort, it's true, but not much else. Personally, I'd almost rather have a baby any day than go to the dentist. My friends tell me that this is just because I was lucky. I think I made my own luck. I felt swell, so why should I alter my normal behavior and curtail my normal activities? And—this I will admit was just plain luck—I was so situated that there were no married friends and maiden aunts to scare the pants off me. Result: I had a very pleasant pregnancy, thank you.

I was supposed to go out to Rumford to have Rufus; but then he wasn't supposed to be born until the first of the year. The idea was that I would stay in over Christmas and then, in a leisurely way, betake myself to the hospital to wait the necessary week or ten days. Consequently we hadn't moved out of the summer house, which is without heat upstairs. Ralph was going to move the things in my absence. In the meantime I pursued my program of "Business as Usual," and the usual business of a lovely day such as the 17th of December turned out to be was sliding on the Pond.

I never saw such a beautiful winter day. It was warm and sunny, and the ground was covered with a light fluff of snow, which was blue in the shadows, and gold in the sun, and faint rose and purple on the distant hills. On the Pond it had blown into tightly packed patches which were white, as snow is supposed to be, against the sky-reflecting deep blue of the glare ice. We'd started to go to Middle Dam, but when we saw the Pond we went there instead. The sliding was perfect. We could run on the snow islands and slide across the intervening spaces of ice to more snow. Cookie went with us and she had a lovely time, too, racing and barking and falling down and scrambling to her feet. We all fell down dozens of times bcfore we completed the mile circuit of the Lamonts' island, which may have had something to do with Rufus's premature arrival. I don't know. I felt quite all right.

All I know is that I woke up in the middle of the night, out of a sound sleep, with a stomach-ache. Only it wasn't a stomachache. It was an emergency, and there were no lights on the Ford, and I didn't have a bag packed. I woke Ralph up, and he went down to telephone the Millers and, of course, woke them up, while I wandered around with an old pair of slippers in one hand and a cake of soap in the other. I couldn't seem to think where I had put my suitcase or what I should put into it. Pretty soon it became obvious that it didn't matter. I got back into bed just as Ralph came up with the information that the Millers' Ford had no lights either, and since it was pitch black outdoors we wouldn't be going anywhere. This didn't upset me as much as it would have fifteen minutes before. I'd already come to the same conclusion, but for an entirely different reason.

I don't want to give the impression that I was calm and unruffled through this whole proceeding. I wasn't. But I took one look at Ralph's face, and saw that he was ten times as alarmed as I was. I'd never seen him really alarmed before, and it was the best thing in the world to have happen to me. I suddenly felt very brave and confident. I remembered that lots of babies are born without benefit of the medical profession, and that the best thing in a crisis is to keep busy. I was busy enough myself. All I had to do was to give Ralph something to occupy his mind.

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