Growing Into Our Hands and Feet

Here is another Uncle John story about waiting until Susan got her teeth & mobility. Contrary to what my mother thought – I wasn’t trying to kill my sister. This story is mostly based on real life with a smiggin’ of Yankee “seasoning” added to leaven the dough.

Old Uncle John told me, when I was around four and a half years old, that kids have to grow into their hands and feet like animals do – I had to think about this; I had to actually turn it around in my head before I could understand what he was telling me. How was this possible? Were babies born with really large hands and feet? I could barely remember my sister as a tiny baby and the only thing huge on her seemed to be her big squally mouth.

Susan was always crying about her colicky insides, at least that’s what I remember my parents whispering about to each other at the supper table in scary worried tones. My mother informed me that I hadn’t been fussy when I was a baby; that I had been wonderful and took long naps. I guess that long naps makes a baby a keeper. To me my sister was starving, she was crying for her breakfast, lunch and supper all at once and my mother couldn’t figure this out. Just like she couldn’t understand why I hated anything with a knot tied at its end like hot dogs or sausages. I just couldn’t eat something tied together in a long ropy tail, it didn’t sit right in my child’s brain.

I reasoned that it was the same way with my sister, that she spoke my language but not my parents and it would take some adjusting to have everyone understand what she wanted. Lucky for Susan I could translate for her and my parents would be able to settle down and get some rest. First thing I had to do was tell my mother when it was time for Susan’s bottle and while everyone was busy feeding my sister I’d make peanut-butter and graham crackers for later. I thought that if I had snacks on hand then Susan wouldn’t cry all night. My mother thought that I wanted to kill my baby sister which was way off – Susan was hungry and she wanted me to feed her.

One afternoon, after our long naps, Mom found my sister covered in sloppy graham cracker mush from ear to ear. Both of Susan’s little hands had smeared graham cracker crumbs into her hair and chins, and into just about every part of her chubby little body. After the hollering stopped and my mother’s nerves settled down, I was ordered to the corner for what felt like hours until my father knelt down to explain that Susan couldn’t chew crackers without teeth. He couldn’t fool me, I had witnessed my sister demolish 5 graham crackers in seconds. Susan was an eating dynamo.

Uncle John had forgotten to tell me about defective toothless babies, instead he focused on their hands and feet that didn’t look so overgrown to me. So because of his mistake I wasn’t allowed to hold my baby sister without adult supervision, or do much of anything with my sister without an adult in the room. Nana watched me like a hawk except when she would nod off while watching Queen for the Day on TV. Babysitters were warned to not even let me in Susan’s bedroom while my mother ran errands – which wasn’t fair because Susan and I shared our bedroom. And Uncle John didn’t count because my mother thought that he was part of the plot to take my sister out, crazy as that sounds!

I couldn’t wait for Susan’s teeth to come in and for her to get mobile. It took me about 9 months to train my sister and then a couple of months longer to housebreak her. It took my Dad less time to train Lady and she was a dumb dog*. My mother told me that I was talking at 6 months and that I walked way before my first birthday but my sister wasn’t interested in much more than pointing at things and saying “La” and grunting. Lady could sit and shake paws before my sister even crawled. My mother had told me that my sister would be my playmate but I had no idea how long I would have to wait for her promise to come true.

Uncle John said that Susan would catch up then grow real fast and be able to play with me in no time. I never believed how much work it took to bring up my sister, I didn’t have much time to do my usual things with Susan cruising around and knocking things off my drawing table. I had to watch her all the time with my dolls and stuffed animals because she smashed cookie crumbs in their fur and clothes and drooled all over them. Apparently teething took a lot of lubricant. Susan’s drooling was truly disgusting – she slimed everything she touched with a thick viscous film of nasty drool. Everything disappeared into her mouth – she was determined to gum and taste all of my blocks, crayons and even my precious rock collection from Booth Bay (this was before the small parts warning label was pasted on toys and stuff).

Susan’s balance wasn’t much better though her diaper and rubber pants provided excellent padding for tumbles and falls. Again, I honestly maintain that I never intended to harm my sister in any way – I was only assisting her quest for adventure. According to my mother Susan’s bruises told another story. The fact that Susan was clumsy never entered into my mother’s mind, which was totally unfair. My sister crawled at a breakneck speed and to my thinking didn’t see to good either. Walls did not appear to be an obstacle for Susan, and neither were doors or chairs, I believe that she thought she could go right through them. Of course I was blamed whenever Susan cried and for every bloody nose and bandage but, as the news announcer said on TV, my sister’s boo-boos were “collateral damage.”

Since I was over two years older than my sister, and from all adult pronouncements “quite a girl,” I knew a thing or two about adventure and being sneaky. I excelled at sneakiness. My middle name Stealth! My plan was to get my sister mobile before her 1-year-old birthday, I’d work on talking later. I figured that since she did everything I told her to do I didn’t need her talking back to me. I put hours into walking exercises. First I taught her to cruise around the living room by holding on to the furniture, then we moved on to taking her first solo steps. She was shaky at first and I blamed her stiff leather shoes – I felt sneakers, with their soft rubber soles, would have been a better choice to keep her steady. Susan would hold on to me for dear life as I propelled her around our playroom, her wide grin lit up her face as she concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. Viola! Susan’s first steps were recorded on 8mm by my Dad and my mother claimed all credit.

As I said before, bring up my sister took hard work and diligence on my part. I loved Susan so much (and still do) and was so happy to be able to play with her as she grew into a toddler. They say that whoever baby ducks and geese see first becomes their mother – well, I was in my sister’s sight first, I was her guard dog and protective guardian angel all wrapped into one. I think that she was very lucky to have me for an older sister and, more importantly, as a ground-breaker, for I went first to make sure that everything would be safe for my sister.

I still want to make it perfectly clear that all my sisterly intentions were noble and good concerning all aspects of our childhood together and at no time was my sister’s life ever in danger**, no matter what any adults claim to this day! I also want to point out that I followed all big-sister rules according to the Siblings handbook, especially those noted in the appendix and small print. And I hereby swear that I bore no fault in any occurrences that may have befallen my sister, and later brother, that my mother had any knowledge of – wink, wink, nod, nod.

* I am a cat person, always have been. Lady was a Springer spanie, the family petl and a cat/bird killer. I intensely disliked her but my sister adored her. My sister has two labs, one yellow and other black (I have never learned their names). Plus, Susan’s husband has a boxer (major drool). I have 4 happy and wise cats.

** I know, I know. “The lady doth protest too much.”  [Shakespeare]

KBP July 9, 2010

One response to “Growing Into Our Hands and Feet

  1. Well as far as little mothers go (big sisters) I’d say you did one heck of a job raising Susan. Dogs may learn faster, and cats may not drool less, but the time you invested in Susan paid off later. Most noble intentions by children go unnoticed by adults. I think the idea of feeding her graham crackers in the night to keep her quiet was stellar. She didn’t choke after all, and if she had I’m sure you would have remedied the situation quickly. You are just like that.
    As far as waiting for babies to get their teeth, the wait is from my experience worth it.
    * * *
    From birth to 4 my mother had a best friend named Betty whose baby Candy was close to my age. Betty became my mother’s friend because her husband and my father were both draftsmen at GE. In later years they even started their own commercial art business together which made it. Betty however sadly did not make it. She died of cancer by the time I was four.
    When Betty came over to visit our mothers placed us in a playpen together because we were still too young to be trusted. I’m honestly surprised they don’t make taller larger sturdier playpens for older children because it seems this not trusting kids goes on for a very long time. In the playpen we got along quite well. Being an only child I was up for a visitor. Before our teeth we gummed everything and passed our germs back and forth. When we had one or two teeth we were allowed these little teething items. Throw in a few pots and pans to play with when we were fully able to cling to the sides, and for the most part we were satisfied. But like any animal that is fenced off in one spot the grass does look greener on the other side, and that eventually became a problem. No amount of fussing convinced our mothers to let us out, so we learned to stay quiet. Candy and I were quite different and it was clear she was not a schemer and I was. Although she wanted to get out too, she resigned herself to believing it wasn’t possible. I on the other hand when told something is not possible want to prove it is. So I mulled. Climbing over the sides was useless because my father being engineer minded extended the sides up another 3 feet. Now our mothers both sun lovers would go sit out on the porch to bask and chat while we were left in this playpen back in the living room. Another thing that was different about Candy and I that ultimately was useful was her love of meat on bones. Before heading out on the porch Candy’s mom often would give her a meat end bone to teeth on, while my mother gave me a teething ring or hard biscuits. Seeing Candy absorbed in a bone was disgusting and scary all at once. I was a vegetarian from the get go, and am sure there are some statistic in the world to prove that fewer vegetarian children become ax murders than those who relish the flesh and bones of others.
    I was impressed however that Candy could suck that bone clean of meat and even leave teeth marks on the edges. Obviously her teeth were sharp. So sharp I thought that they might be useful in breaking us out of our confinement. I convinced her somehow to start chewing on some looser netting down near the plastic covered floor pad in one corner. Maybe some of the marrow or bone juices had oozed out there and made contact with the netting previously. One will never know. But whatever got Candy’s full attention worked and she went at the netting like a beaver chewing it’s way through spring birch tree whips. Before you know it we had a hole big enough to stick one foot through, then try an arm and finally manage to tear a slit big enough to crawl out of. Once out we commenced exploring for a good amount of time and ended up in the kitchen. My little carnivore friend needed refueling. All I could think of that we had was German sausages that my dad liked with his sunday breakfast. Yes I know Kat wouldn’t be caught dead eating these slimy packed skins tied in a knot at each end, but Candy would. Fridge now open and Candy pacified with her treat it was my turn. I’m not sure what I wanted so I just took everything out and spread it on the floor. Sometimes it’s best to lay out you options before making a decision. Don’t wait too long though as I did. Our mothers came in to find the mess before I had a chance to select. Over the following weekend my father enclosed back porch in 2 in. x 2 in. wire. Soon after that he fenced in a small play yard and added a home made sandbox which served as my cats litter box which spoiled it.
    By the way I love cats too. We have one. We also have a dog named Nikki. I believe this is the only dog Kat has ever honestly liked. She even knows his name and asks about him when she calls.

Thanks for reading my blog!

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