Sixty-four: Babies Everywhere
Jonah and Rebekah were only nine days old when Mother's doctor ordered her to check in to the hospital for a caesarian section. She had lost some weight and her blood pressure was up (which Uncle Bodie said was because she was jealous that Aunt Andersol was done being pregnant, and because the weather had turned hot there and her appetite was just gone); we thought to be on tenterhooks (what are tenterhooks, anyway?) for hours, worrying about a major operation and its outcome.
Instead, Grandmother Claire phoned us and told us that Uncle Bodie had taken Mother to the hospital; then Oesha got on the line and informed each of us in turn that she never wanted to come back to California, but if she did, she'd go back to Italy the minute she could possibly do so ... and then Grandmother took the phone back and announced that the caesarian had been routine and successful, and that we had two very healthy new brothers.
Just like that.
"I thought about naming them 'Raphael' and 'Gabriel,' " my mother told us once she was home from the hospital a couple days later. "But I didn't want to have to explain to Gabriel that he wasn't named after my sister's dog. We've talked about this since Thanksgiving, and finally decided on Lawley and Carter. No one in either of our families had those names -- we're starting a new legacy."
Lawley? What kind of a name is 'Lawley'? I asked myself even as I typed, "Cool names, Mom! What do the babies look like?" I guess 'Lawley' isn't any weirder than 'Oesha'...
"Both of them have thick dark hair," Uncle Bodie messaged. "Can't tell about the eyes yet, but I'm hoping for your mother's green."
Aunt Andersol's babies had a few wisps of hair and obviously blue eyes; Mom's have dark hair. We won't get them mixed up, that's for sure.
Mom and Uncle Bodie have already started adoption proceedings for Jonah and Rebekah. I'm not sure of my feelings about this, or how I should be feeling, or what the adults are actually feeling.
In the first place, I'm glad that all four will be my brothers and sister; but they'll be Ambrises, not Reich-Ambrises. How are they going to feel, growing up, when the Man of the House has a slightly different name? Indeed, when the Five all have a slightly different name, and we're all bossy grown-ups to them, fully fledged and with lives of our own, and a sense of place -- we'll have the suites on the third floor, while the Ambrises will be in kiddie rooms and forbidden the third floor, except with supervision? (Are we going to have to lock the stairwell? When they get to be my age, am I going to have to install surveillance cameras?)
In the second place, how does Aunt Andersol feel about Mom adopting her babies? Does she feel like something is being taken away from her? I'm years away from having kids of my own (though I do hope I can, some day) but even now, I can't imagine giving my kids up for someone else to raise. What will she say to them -- No, darlings, that's your mommy, I'm just Aunt Andersol -- or -- Yes, dears, that's your mommy, but so am I? Or -- my children, we did this so that you could have money when you're grown!
How I would have hated that if I were them, and yet that was the plan, so that they could be in the position to inherit something when they were grown. So that they could never be cut out of their right to share in the estate.
Would I change that much as I got older, that I might begrudge my aunt's children some part of the millions that the estate generated?
Marca cared far less about the issue than I did. Her soccer season was ending, and her team was in the playoffs. Babies and inheritances were things for other people to worry about. Michel and Kelsa would have engaged in rambling conjectures about hypothetical futures, but Marca was a very concrete person. She dealt with what was at hand, and since nothing much beyond school and soccer were at hand, she had no patience in listening to my worries.
Somehow I felt that if I engaged John and Aunt Sully on this topic, both of them would look at me blankly and ask me why in the world I was fretting about such questions when the new siblings were less than a month old, when questions about who really constituted "Mother" were years in the future. Rachel was out of the question for that kind of discussion, too -- it wasn't exactly a topic to bring up to a semi-girlfriend.
There was no choice but to drop it for the time being. It wasn't polite dinner conversation ... but on a ride around the property with my lovely Aunt ... perhaps.
We rode out as soon as the sun rose on a Saturday, intending to be in the saddle most of the morning if not longer. The fog had receded back towards town, and everything was richly green. Most of the wildflowers were over, except for some occasional yellow daisy-like flowers and some tough lupine bushes, but the worst heat of summer was still a few weeks away.
Riding to the top of the ridge, we were able easily to ride side by side, as the fire road had been cleared back a good ten feet on either side, firewood stacked neatly in rounds to be hauled back to the house and split for a winter several years hence. (The dried stuff on the big stack in the field north of the house was largely still from the stockpiling done for January 2000, when civilization failed to meet its projected breakdown expectations.) We took the long loop that led off the fire road and followed the property line across the mountain. This road, too, had been widened, with occasional metal markers to show where the estate woods boundary was. A herd of deer with spotted fawns crossed the trail ahead of us, reminding me of babies.
"Aunt, my mother is adopting Andersol's twins. Who will they call 'Mama'?"
Aunt Sully looked pained. "I don't actually know. I wasn't part of the planning process for this, and I don't know what they've been discussing over there. Your mother has told me to start looking for a nanny; but that's not a surprise considering four babies being added to a household. I'm wondering why she's not also looking for a nurse."
"A nurse? Like Rachel's mom?"
"No, doofus, a 'nurse' whose job it is to change diapers and bathe infants and see that they are fed. The nurse takes care of the bodily needs, then hands the kids over to a nanny for teaching them how to behave."
"I remember our nanny, but I don't remember a nurse-person."
"She went to find another household with infants when you were about three. Marca and Oesha might remember her. Nanny wasn't sorry to see her go' (though I never did find out what that was all about) and didn't want to see her replaced. So she was both nanny and nurse to Kelsa and Michel."
"Our nameless Nanny. She did have a name, didn't she?" My aunt would know that bit of trivia; Aunt Sully had never not been there for us.
"Yes. Dorothy Smith. Your father called her 'Dottie' when you kids weren't around."
"Dottie. I'll remember that, and see if Dad said anything about her in his journals. I always wondered why she and Mom didn't get along." Aunt Sully snorted in sudden laughter, but then gave her horse a bit of a nudge and we moved into an easy trot. That means something was going on that she's not going to discuss with a 'kid.'
The woodland borders seemed clean and clear of tire tracks all the way back to the main fire road. Out of the forest, the fence was new and painted white around the cattle pastures. Here there were plenty of tire tracks, as was proper, as the farmer or his hands were to be checking on the cattle often. In one pasture, calves hopped and galloped in the sun, running over to the fence to stare at the horses, following us along like a herd of midget musk oxen.
Our horses walked slowly down the lane to the main farmhouse. Ahead of us, chickens calmly moved out of our way, making noises that sounded like they were talking to each other. A woman in jeans and heavy work boots came out of the big barn to greet us. Aunt Sully dismounted and extended her hand. "Sheila. How goes it?"
"It's going good," she said to my aunt. "And hello, Mister Owen, it's good to see you."
"Pleased to meet you, uhh ... " was I supposed to use a familiar name? And I was sure I had never met her.
"Sheila Hunter, just please call me Sheila. Won't you two come in for a cup of tea and something?"
"I'd like that," Aunt accepted. "Are you sure we're not interrupting your schedule?"
"Not at all. We were supposed to slaughter one of the hogs this afternoon, but the butcher had some family emergency and re-scheduled for Monday. I've just been puttering around checking the gardens."
We slipped the bridles off the horses' heads, and put their halters on them, tying them to a hitching rail in the shade. Zigzag let his head nod, and was apparently asleep before we took ten steps away.
Inside the farmhouse was a large room with a kitchen at the far end, and wing chairs placed about the fireplace. Sheila took mugs from a cabinet, poured hot water from a teapot, and put the mugs on a large tray that held tea bags of various sorts, some packets of raw sugar, and spoons. She carried the tray to a low table near the chairs. "Here, now sit. Christine made a big batch of cookies this morning, and there's some cheddar cheese to go with it."
My aunt sat in a chair and sighed. "This is my chair, and that one is Sheila's. Any other chair you can sit in."
"We've been riding long enough that I think I'd rather stand," I told her, dipping a tea bag in a mug, and adding a full packet of sugar. "If that's all right."
"That's fine," she told me. "Have a look around -- Sheila's made this place into a virtual art museum."
Obviously well acquainted with each other, Aunt Sully and Sheila talked about the pig that was to be butchered, about chickens, sheep and cattle. Aunt Sully complimented Sheila on the state of the fences. Sheila was the farmer? I tried to keep an ear out for any interesting tidbits of conversation, but I was distracted by a five-panel series of mosaic art under glass that hung on the side of one of the kitchen cabinets. Each of them was about six inches by six inches, tiny landscapes done with what looked like creek gravel. As I moved closer to see how the work was done, a bow-legged baby ran shrieking into the kitchen waving a toy monkey and stopped short, staring up at me.
"Elise, you maniac, come back here," called a voice, which belonged to a young woman -- she didn't look much older than me -- with pale blue eyes and light-colored hair pulled back simply from her face. "I'm sorry," she said. "Elise went straight from crawling to running, and she's hard to keep up with." She turned red. "If you hadn't been here, she'd have been plastered against the screen door." Her gaze darted to Sheila and Aunt Sully. "Oh! Are you with Sully?"
I nodded, feeling like Frankenstein being discovered poking around someone's garden.
"Are you ... Owen, or Michel?" Her gaze was very direct, even though she had horse-collared Elise, who screeched in protest.
"I -- I'm Owen," I stammered, like an uneducated lout. My face was burning, too.
She swung Elise to one hip, and put out a hand. "I'm Christine, Sheila's daughter. Glad to meet you."
"Likewise, and Elise, too." There was nothing more to say, but rather than back away from her as though she were a poisonous snake, I pointed at the mosaics. "I was just admiring these. They're lovely."
Her face split with a surprised, wide grin. "Thanks! I spent hours messing around down in the creek picking out the pebbles. Actually, some of the best hours of my life," she finished with a rueful turn to her smile.
"You did these?" I gaped. "That is so -- "
"Ready, Owen?" called my aunt. "We still have the other side of the road to check."
Christine of the delicious cookies and charming art backed up a few steps, waved at me, and left the kitchen, returning to the other rooms of the house.
I think it was the first time in my life that I wished Aunt Sully would have found something else to do besides ride with me.