We moved to 10605 East Burnside in Portland with the help of a couple of friends who drove from the city. Thankfully, we didn’t have a lot to move. The house we moved into was perfect. It had two bedrooms, a kitchen large enough for a table and chairs and a good-sized living room. It also had a front porch and a huge fenced in back yard. There were two other houses on the little dirt road that went down into a gully off the main drag. It was on a major bus route and was within walking distance of a small neighborhood grocery store. However, the previous tenants had left the house a mess, and that is an understatement. We were appalled at the condition of the house, especially the bedroom that their young child had been in. We set to work cleaning immediately.
One thing they forgot to tell us was that the house came with a resident tomcat. His name was Leon. He was a large slate gray feisty, scarred tom who thought it was his house. I love cats, but this cat was unruly and rude. When he insisted on using our daughter’s bedroom as a litter box, we threw him out. He kept meowing at the door to be let in, to no avail. I was relieved when it seemed as though he’d given up and moved on. However, that night we heard the sound of glass breaking in the bathroom and ran in just in time to see him jumping through that broken window. Paul scooped him up and threw him back out as I taped up the broken window and cleaned up the glass. As soon as he was outside, he went to another window and started banging his head against the glass, and we realized that’s how he had broken the first window. We drenched him with water. Eventually, I was able to train him to stop using her bedroom and just use the great outdoors, but it was a struggle.
Leon ended up being a great cat once he learned the rules. He was sweet with Jessie and, when the new baby came, he tolerated just about anything from him. It wasn’t long before we realized that we were not his only home. One day, as Jessie and I were taking our daily walk, we saw Leon coming out of a neighbor’s house. Jessie ran up calling his name. The woman who lived there told her that she must be mistaken because her cat’s name was Felix. Meanwhile, Leon was rubbing up against us and purring. We knew it was him. We saw him at other houses during our time living there and no longer wondered why he disappeared frequently for days at a time. Although we tried to take him with us when we moved again, he insisted on staying behind. I guess he didn’t want to leave his other families. We thought it was awfully nice of him to have let us live in his house for a while.
Once we cleaned and unpacked, I went looking for a midwife. After my horrible experience birthing Jessie at the hospital with the doctor yelling at me and smoking his stinky cigar in the room, I wanted a home birth this time. There was a school for midwives in Portland, and I soon found a group of three women to attend my birth. I was now 7 months pregnant and anxious to start preparing. We often frequented the library getting books for Jessie to prepare her for a sibling and got all of our supplies together sterilizing them in the oven and packing them away for the big day, or days as it turned out to be. Paul arranged for some time off from his job to help out afterwards. I also contacted our friend Debbie who agreed to come as a support person for Jessie during the birth. She also arranged for a couple of days off from her job to help us out.
Finally, the big day came. I went into labor and contacted the midwives to let them know. We all know that old saying about the best laid plans, right? Well, one of the midwives was sick and wouldn’t be able to attend. Oh well, at least I still had the other two. Nope the second one couldn’t make it either. That was okay, we were still prepared with all of our supplies and support set up, or so we thought. Debbie’s boss decided that she couldn’t actually take the time off after all. She did come after work, though. Paul and I sang throughout my labor as I rested my large belly against our standing space heater for warmth in our drafty home. It was now winter in the Pacific Northwest which meant lots of cold rain and not much sun at all.
After too many hours of labor, it was past time for Jessie to go to bed. She had asked to be present for the birth which we had agreed to, but it was getting late and she was starting to crash. I promised that we would wake her when it was time. Debbie took her off to her room where I could hear the crying and screaming. My labor was going full force at this point, but I was distracted by my needy child. Against the advice of my midwife, who wanted me to focus on the birth, I decided to go to her. As soon as I walked into her room, my labor stopped completely as I sang her to sleep. Once she was sound asleep, the contractions came right back, stronger than ever. After 45 hours of labor with 10 of them being transitional, Justin was born. He had been facing the wrong direction, making it difficult for him to come out. At some point, I heard the midwife talking to Paul about needing to take me to the hospital. She was getting worried. I screamed out, “No! I am not going anywhere. I’m having this baby right here.” They gave me an ultimatum. I had an hour, and then they were taking me to the hospital. Within that hour, he finally turned and came out with his sister standing by, glowing. This three and a half-year-old child actually held my hand and said, “I know it’s hard work, Mommy. You can do it.”
Remember those best laid plans? Well, it all went out the window. Paul’s boss needed him at work that morning because the other cook had suddenly walked out. Debbie had to go back to work, and the midwife got called to another birth. Now here I was with a newborn baby only a few hours old and an energetic, excited three and a half-year old after a grueling labor that had left me totally exhausted. Before he left, Paul fed Jessie and set our lunch in the refrigerator while I tried to sleep. Justin was in a small cradle on the other side of the bed. When he woke up, fussing to be fed, Jessie hopped out of my bed and raced for the cradle. “Don’t touch the baby,” I called out. Too late! She scooped him up and started running back to me, dropping him on the floor. It was all I could do not to scream at her, but I didn’t, and he was fine. It’s a lucky thing she was low to the ground and equally lucky that babies bounce with their soft bones. After that, the cradle stayed next to me at all times. I’d had two children now and both arrived without a community around to support me. I’d had no baby showers or meals delivered. I had a few visitors, mostly people Paul had met at work, but I was in a hostess role for them, so I finally asked Paul to stop bringing them by. Debbie did help as much as she could, and I think that’s what got me by. Luckily, my depression did not come back.
I slowly recovered but soon noticed that my chronic back issue was much worse than it had been before the birth. I have a severe case of scoliosis and earlier in my life had worn a steel and leather back brace that stretched from just below my hips to my chin, causing me to look up slightly. Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine, in my case, a double curve that, among other things, pinched off part of one of my lungs. I wore that brace from the summer leading up to high school until graduation. It was a nightmare, but I endured it knowing that it was saving my life. The brace was not a corrective measure but was meant to stop the progression of the curve. Now suddenly, it was flaring up again. There were days that the pain was so bad, I could not get out of bed. On the days that I could walk, we still went for our daily walks. On other days, I spent a lot of time lying in bed reading and playing games with Jessie. Paul got in the routine of leaving a cup of milk in the refrigerator and a covered bowl of cereal on the table so that Jessie could fix her own breakfast just in case it would turn out to be a bad day. He also made our lunches every morning for weeks. I finally started being able to tolerate even the worst days and started going back to my usual routine when Paul got word that his dad had cancer and was dying. He didn’t have much time left, so Paul arranged to go to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for a while.
When Justin was only a few weeks old, I was on my own in a new city with very few friends and no car. I was washing laundry by hand and hanging everything all over the house since it was still the rainy season, including diapers because I couldn’t haul the red wagon that we usually used with a child in a front pack. Luckily, the grocery store was so close, I could go every couple of days and not have to carry a lot. However, one day I left with Justin on a front pack, and a backpack on my back for the groceries. Jessie was an amazing walker, often walking miles with me. This one day, I had gotten a little too much, and the backpack was heavier than I realized. But it was only a short walk home along a dead-end road that led up to the main street right across from our house. As we walked along, Jessie saw a flower and insisted that I lean down to smell it, which I did. As I leaned down, she leaned against me and I toppled over onto my back. I tried to roll over, but the backpack was so heavy, I couldn’t budge. I felt like a turtle on my back. I wanted to cry. Jessie tried to help to no avail. I couldn’t reach the straps that secured the front pack and couldn’t take my arms out of the backpack, so I just laid there hoping someone would walk by. There was no traffic on this road during the workday, and it was before the dawn of cell phones. After about an hour, a stranger did come by and helped me up. He did laugh, which I understood. It was a pretty ridiculous sight. That was one of my most embarrassing moments, and I’ve had more than a few.
At least spring comes early out there, so now I was getting outdoors enjoying the flowers and greenery. Paul was gone for a month and a half. When he returned, Justin didn’t know who he was and was very clingy. Justin wouldn’t go to his dad, and I know that Paul was very hurt by that. Unfortunately, I think that had a huge effect on their relationship going forward, and it always saddened me. Eventually, things went back to some semblance of normal. I had met our immediate neighbors, all of whom had children for my kids to play with, and finally had a sense of community. Now that the weather had broken, we looked forward to resuming our busking career at Saturday Market in downtown Portland.
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