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Saturday, December 5, 2015
How the Holidays limited my chance of getting more presents than my brothers and sisters
At certain times of the year women are more fertile, more likely to get pregnant than at other times of the year. I don’t have scientific evidence, but if you take a little toll of women you know who’ve had several children – the more the better – you’ll likely come up with a cluster of kids who showed up during the same season of the year. I know. I know. But check it out. You might be surprised.
Take my mother, for instance. She had twelve pregnancies. Six of them miscarried. But of the six of us who made it three are in December and one was late October. That’s four out of six. That meant that December, with its major holiday, was a difficult month especially during our birth years, because our mom was too busy lactating or laboring to pay us much mind. You know how those last weeks are with contractions in the middle of the night as you lie staring at the ceiling, wasting precious hours of sleep as you watch the clock and wonder if you can make it until morning. If Mom wasn’t pregnant, then she was busy scratching at the budget and wondering how badly we December babies would feel if our birthday presents were rolled into Christmas. Sure, we were poor, but as the oldest I considered myself more entitled than two of my younger brothers, who shared my month, and Randy who was a little more distant coming at the end of October. Dallas was on the 3rd of December so he had the best chance of getting a gift. Mine was smack in the middle, so it could easily go either way depending on the price of the pulp Dad hauled out of the woods and loaded onto a flat car in town. But poor Rex was born on December 26th in the middle of the night, missing Christmas Day by only a couple hours. Poor baby. He wouldn’t have a rat’s chance in hell of getting a party. Ever. He was never convinced that it was an honor to almost share his birthday with the baby Jesus. And let’s be honest, we all, especially me, wanted the presents as much, maybe more than I wanted to be Mary the Mother of Jesus in the Christmas Pageant.
The year he was born I was seven years old and it felt as good as if I’d won a trip to Disneyland because on Christmas night I got to stay with my mom who was waiting for a baby, we were told, at my Grandpa and Grandma Frolander’s in town. We lived thirty-six miles from the hospital and it was too far and too risky to remain on the farm when you didn’t know how fast a baby could come or if a blizzard might put you in the ditch when it was 30 below. Helping a mare drop a foal or pulling a calf out of a cow with ropes was one thing, but getting that intimate with the birth of your child was bloody alarming. Dad could not imagine being that present at the birth of his children. Plus, on a cold night with the wind howling up your backside, how were you supposed to bend to your wife’s need along a country road only to have the baby die of exposure? Some things only required half a brain to figure out.
On Christmas morning Dad, Randy, Jan and I arrived in Warroad excited to see Mom who’d been away for years. We opened presents and then we feasted on Grandma’s Christmas trimmings. We scraped our desert plates clean and ate one chocolate-covered cherry each. Not long after, Dad had to leave as the cold afternoon turned fast toward night. Cows had to be milked twice a day. Jan was crying and Randy’s big eyes spilled tears as Mom helped Dad wrap them for the drive home. Someone had decided I could stay and I didn’t know what to make of such good luck.
That night Mom and I snuggled down into the same bed with quilts piled high. She had been gone for two weeks and every day my stomach had filled with dread that she might never come back, but here she was all warm and sleepy. My mother.
I was wakened by a lamp shining in my eyes. Urgent whispers caused me sit up. Towels were lying on the on the floor soaking up something that had been spilled. There was a stack of clean sheets on the chair. My grandmother was wrapping Mom in her bathrobe and coat. Grandpa appeared, put his arm around her and led her down the stairs. Where are they going, I asked. It was alarming, her leaving in the middle of the night. My grandmother shushed me and moved me aside where I shivered as she pulled sheets from the bed. What happened I asked? How did the bed get wet? “We’ll be done in a minute,” she said, “then you can hop back in bed.” But where is mom going? My voice was swelling and my stomach lurched. “She went to the hospital to get a new baby,” Grandma told me brightly. In the middle of the night? “Don’t worry. She’ll be back soon.” She kissed me, switched out the light and I heard her footsteps fade down the stairs.
Poor Rex. He still doesn’t get much out of his birthday. Maybe this year I will remember to send a card.