I woke up this morning thinking about my daughter. “What was I doing 37 years ago today?” It was Sunday. We had a Coleman family Christmas week-end a few days early so our mom and dad could celebrate Christmas in San Antonio with our grandmother who had broken her hip. Both my sisters were there as well as my former brother-in-law (a.k.a. Mr. Know It All). There was the excitement of Christmas combined with the excitement of a new baby, a first grandchild.
I had just started maternity leave from my receptionist job at a construction company. That was back in the day when pregnancy wasn’t quite a disease, but it was still a “condition” and it wasn’t unusual to start unpaid maternity leave 6 weeks before the baby’s birth. Thirteen years later, I worked until the day before Jack’s anticipated birth and chomped at the bit because he gave me 10 days’ grace before making his appearance.
We painted Georgie’s room a watery blue and had it ready for the crib and dresser which sat in the garage. No rush. We had a due date of February 1; the doctor said we might even have a Valentine’s baby. Not sure if we had a boy or girl coming, we were still batting around boy names. Certain that we had a girl, I named her Georgie after both my sister and our paternal grandmother and told William that he could pick the baby name if we had a boy.
Other than a room and a girl baby name, we didn’t have much else ready for a new baby. I’d nearly had a miscarriage in August and Granny, her dad’s mother, didn’t want us to host a shower until January. She was sure that a baby shower too soon would be bad luck and might bring a premature birth. She was wrong.
I went into labor on December 22. Because of the trouble in August, I didn’t say anything to William about the minor discomfort I was feeling. “Maybe it’s those fake contractions,” I thought. Getting up after he fell asleep, I wrapped presents and cleaned the kitchen. I willed away the pains which didn’t work. They got stronger and more insistent until I woke him. William and I sat on the couch, watching the Christmas tree lights blink for a few more hours until we were sure we needed to go to the hospital.
An x-ray at the hospital showed a small but developed baby and we settled into a labor room. William and my dad sat in the waiting room and Mother stayed with me, alternating between quoting the Bible (To the woman God said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.“) and saying the memorare (REMEMBER, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly to thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother; to thee do I come; before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me.)
At 4:15 p.m. on the 23rd of December, we had a 5 lbs, 3 oz baby girl. I held her briefly until an ambulance transported her to Driscoll Children’s Hospital with my dad and her dad chasing behind in our red VW bug. The nurses dubbed her “Shrimpy” because she was tiny and pink and stayed curled tight. After a few days of making sure lungs and heart were good, we came home.
I’ve always thought that incompetent parents raise competent children. What choice does the poor kid have? That would explain GE. All parents think their child is The Best and I’m no exception. Georgie is my daughter, my friend, and my hero. She was born pragmatic. The first time she got a bad enough bump on the head for us to consider the emergency room, she said to her freaking out parents, “Just give me a mirror and let me look at it.” She was 4 at the time.
She had a mind of her own from birth and a unique sense of who she is and how she wants to be perceived. When she was 11, she played a poor beggar child in the Christmas play at church. A look of dismay came over her face when she saw the costume I’d put together for her. “I may be poor, but I don’t have to have bad taste, Mother!” She put together her own costume.
Georgie is a compassionate and kind woman, a loyal daughter. My refrigerator died yesterday and as I was emptying the contents in preparation for the new fridge, I found 2 gel eye masks in the freezer. Georgie bought them the week after Jack died. She was determined that I wouldn’t sleep alone. It’s my habit to fall asleep with the light on, wake and read for a bit, and drift back to sleep. Georgie’s a sleep-in-absolute-pitch-black-darkness-not-a-crack-of-light sleeper. She bought those masks so she could stay in the room at night with me. They didn’t work. She ended up repainting my bathroom while I slept.
I learned two important lessons in parenting my daughter. Before Georgie was born, I told a friend that I didn’t see how I could raise a teenager. (“You haven’t had the baby yet. Why are you worrying about raising a teenager?” he asked. Because I’ve been such a lousy daughter, I’m scared I’ll get divine retribution and she’ll be just like me and I’ll never be able to raise her! “Trust me. Every experience that she has will be a building block to the next experience. You can’t raise a teenager now. You will have an infant. She will raise you just like you raise her. By the time you have a teenager, you’ll be ready.”)
When she was born, her Granny looked lovingly at Georgie’s tiny body and said, “This is the best time ever. You will never have a better time with your child.” That made me sad because I was so afraid as a mother, so scared that I couldn’t take care of that little one. I wasn’t having a best time ever. I wasn’t having a good time at all!
What I found is that there hasn’t been a time that wasn’t the “best time ever.” Every event, every day that I have had as Georgie’s mother has been a chance to know a miracle. That was true on December 23, 1974 and it is true on December 22, 2011, Georgie’s Birthday Eve.
Happy Birthday, Georgie Elizabeth Curnutte Arenaz!