Rachel Heather, so named for the star of the daytime TV show, Rachel the vamp on All My Children, and Heather, the chosen name given by her father, was born at twenty to seven on the morning of the twenty seventh of November in the same hospital where her father was born, Henderson General, Hamilton, Ontario. She and I both cried when she was born and her crying continued loudly and painfully until she was four months old.
I was remarkably unprepared to be her mother, even though I longed to be a good mother. I did not know how to care for her, and her endless crying made me crazy. The day we brought her home from the hospital we stopped on the way to buy a Christmas tree from the tree lot. She was peaceful through the whole Christmas tree purchase, but it was the last time she was peaceful for four months. In the middle of that very night I made Steve take me back to the hospital ... we walked in with our screaming baby and I said, "I don't know what to do!" The nurses grimaced. A woman should need to get a license before she is allowed to be a mother.
She cried all the next day and all the next night and so on - sleeping for twenty minute stretches. Steve would walk her for hours ... day or night, whenever he was home. In my weariness I began to despair. I got so I couldn't handle her crying - during the afternoons I would sit on the toilet in the bathroom with the radio plugged in beside me, drinking vodka, crying myself, and running water in the tub and sink to block out the screaming. Now I've learned that this amount of pain in a baby is not normal - at that time the doctor pooh poohed me saying, "It is just cholic." Yah right.
She was beautiful though. The biggest eyes in the world. Skin of alabaster. I loved her more than life itself. And she continued to cry. I breast fed her for six weeks. It was the worst six weeks of my life.
One night I went to bed and Steve stayed up, as usual, walking her, watching Saturday Night Live back when it was genius and fresh. Rachel fell asleep on his sholder and just before he left to play his midnight game of hockey he gently laid her in her quilt filled crib. When he came back at four a.m. he shook me - "Didn't Rachel wake up?" Both of us were terrified! She was certainly dead, we thought. I raced over and grabbed her up ... but she was all warm and soft and soggy, curled up like a kitten, and sound asleep. That was the day the universe shifted. She was four months old. I don't think she cried again for weeks.
That was when we started to have fun. We were shameless in showing her off ... teaching her tricks like a little puppy and making strangers stop to admire her with us. Steve would buy her expensive clothes - I remember a little green coat he bought that cost more than our week's grocery allowance - I argued that it was excessive but he didn't care! She made us laugh and she made us cry.
I remember once when she was quite sick we did everything we could for her ... and she still coughed and choked and felt miserable. I found Steve sitting on the top step of our stairway in the middle of the night, quietly sobbing. He was so tender when the kids were feeling sick - he sat up with her all that night. He would sing the Beatles' song, "Now's the time to say goodnight - good-night, sleep tight." I didn't actually know it was a Beatles' song until I heard it played at Mark's - it is from the White Album which I had owned, but it passed my memory by.
Rachel was a fearless kid. She was always climbing and running and making adventures. If you couldn't find her you simply had to look up a tree, or on the roof of the garage, or on her bicycle. She wore a wonder woman bathing suit all summer, every summer for about five years - along with blue knee high rubber boots - until long (and I do mean long - it is a wonder she can have children) after it ceased to fit her. She was a natural leader, and talked the neighborhood kids into all kinds of schinanigans. "Trust me. It will be fun." And they did. She came home with treasures every day - a butterfly, a worm cut into pieces, a beautiful rock.
Rachel came home from school every day desperate for the bathroom. I would hear her yelling about a block away, "Off the can! Off the can!" (A one bathroom house has certain limitations.) She would streak in the house one hand in the front and one in the back, past the living room, the kitchen and into the bathroom and just make it, every time. More than once she had her pants to her knees as she hit the front door - oblivious to various gatherings of adults on the couches. She didn't care. I asked her why she didn't go at school and she told me she didn't like to go to the bathroom in case something fun or interesting happened while she was in the bathroom. That sums up her attitude toward life, I think.
One day I got a letter from a neighborhood mother telling me that Rachel had thrown a rock at her son and needed to be disciplined. Because the mother didn't sign the note, I threw it out and didn't even tell Rachel. Only recently, in recalling that story, did she fill me in, immediately remembering the circumstances. Apparently the boy had decided to show Rachel his penis, big mistake. He picked the wrong girl and she did what she thought best, and beaned him with a rock. What a girl. Wonder woman indeed.
She built walkways from the garage roof to the play house roof - and fell through them. She built forts in the family room with every pillow and blanket in the house and had a whole world to herself. She slept every night with her beloved cat. She talked her little brother Ben into peeing on the newspaper downstairs to convince us that the new puppy was actually learning to pee on the paper ... which he wasn't. She learned to read by the time she was about four and from that time to this one of our favorite sounds is Rachel, laying on the couch, lost in a book and laughing uproariously.
Rachel swore she would never wear a dress. She used to say she was going to wear running shoes to be married in. Maybe she did - I have the worst memory. She had a boyfriend named Nittan whose dad was an acrobat in the Russian circus. Nittan had a motorcycle and he would kiss her on the porch ...while I peaked out through the living room blinds and flash the lights on and off. (I can't believe I actually did this ... but I was so mad at them.) She liked him - even though he was a good eight inches shorter than her. Did I mention he had a motorcycle? - maybe that was the attraction, or maybe it was his bizarely interesting family circle.
She had other suitors - I remember a couple boys we had to send away - they were like dump dogs who found a meat shop and wouldn't leave. Rachel looked fabulous on her high school grad night. It was fun to see her revel in making certain boys gawk at her twice ... she just sauntered past them, like a good vintage movie star. All she needed was a cigarette.
I used to tell her not to pick a guy who drove a car that was too fabulous. I told her that he would love himself more than he would love her.
One day she met Curtis, who drove an old rusty white K car, and she morphed into a woman. I remember the day they went on a date and she told us this story when she got home. She said that over dinner she told Curtis that she knew her dad loved her because when they ate out together and she drank all her drink or water he would pour his water into her glass. She told me that later in the meal Curtis poured his water into her empty glass. He won her heart. And Curtis has become to Rachel what Steve is to me - an umbrella that has no sides to hem us in, but keeps off the rain when the weather is inclement and lets in all the sun possible when the clouds are gone.
I think Rachel is one of the best people inhabiting this earth. She cares and loves and sees and is not afraid to be needy. My best days start and end with her. My best conversations happen beside her. My dreams seem more noble when I tell them to her. My sorrows are softened.
Happy Birthday kid. You are worth more than many sparrows. Mum