My mother birthed me in twelve minutes. Mine was the seventh body to pass through her womb in ten years. She said I was born hungry and happy - a chubby smiling baby girl.
I am surrounded by faces and touched by hands, cooed at and kissed. I am cradled in the tiny baby holder my dad built so that my mom could cook with me on the counter top. In the afternoons, when my older siblings come home from school, I am passed around; each takes their turn with me, trying to get me to giggle and smile. I oblige them. And evenings, I am taken out, a new wave of smiles and warmth peers in at me as I lie in my stroller. I am never alone.
I am in my mother?s arms in a dark room, in a rocking chair. My ear hurts and she is stroking my back. I am crying and she is singing. I fall asleep.
My mother is doing the laundry; I crawl in the huge pile of dirty ?whites? and smell my father?s Old Spice. I am shooed away. I find my own way around the big old house. I creep up the steep crooked steps to my oldest brother?s attic bedroom. Only the smell of mothballs is there and I crawl backwards down. In the morning my mom rushes around to get the others ready for school. I am in the bathroom alone, no more diapers for me. I want to be ?grown up.? I use half a roll of toilet paper. I can hear my mom calling my name impatiently ? she has to get the others to school. I emerge smelly but proud and my haggard mom just smiles and laughs to herself as she cleans me up.
When I think about my journey I think about this beginning. I think about the gifts of such a baby?s life: love, freedom and trust. These gifts sustain a life ? or I should say, my life ? and balance the darkness and fears that inevitably emerge. A woman I interviewed recently, said to me, a baby is born with perfect faith and then the world and its imperfect humans make holes in it.
St. Aloysius Catholic School. Fear of death. Fear of ?judgment,? fear of forgetting all the rules. At age seven, I wake up in the middle of the night in terror, realizing I have forgotten to pray to God to protect our house from fire. I learn at school the difference between right and wrong. Heaven and Hell. I learn about cardinal sin and lesser sins ? confession and penance. I learn the complicated code of the church, which, if I follow it, will lead me to heaven. I learn to do what I am told and to not speak out of turn. I learn how to get the nuns? praise by cleaning the convent after school. There is a simplicity in the orderliness of things ? a distant comfort in knowing that if I just try hard enough I will get it all right. I am good at trying hard.
But this play between dark and light in the early days of my life is beyond awareness. I am playing. I am fearing. I am sleeping. I am cuddling. I am fighting with my sibling. I am climbing a tree. But I am not thinking of these things. The nightmare of the burning house is my reality. The kiss and tickle from my older brother is my...