As a baby, I never crawled. I was held in someone\’s arms–my mother\’s, my grandmother\’s, my various aunts\’–from birth until the day when I struggled out of that constant embrace and tottered across the room.
Our apartment in Barcelona was large, which meant that I could gallop top-speed down the hallway that ran from one end to the other. That was the only place where I could run. Outdoors, on the street, I was always holding somebody\’s hand. It was a big city, after all. I could have run out into traffic, or gotten lost in the crowds. I can still feel my mother\’s convulsive grip whenever we stepped off the curb.
While my five-year-old future husband was in the kitchen making pancakes for his lunch (see http://mygreenvermont.blogspot.com/2013/05/good-enough-parenting-his-story.html ), I hardly ever entered our kitchen. There was always water boiling, or hot oil spattering, not to mention the bottle of lye lurking under the sink. And I don\’t think I ever helped myself to a piece of food until I was a teenager and living in the U.S. Food was handed to me at regular intervals by a responsible adult, like Communion, and I ate it obediently, whether or not I was hungry.
I was never out of sight of an adult. Although I had my own bedroom in the apartment, I did not sleep there until I was in second grade. Before that, I slept next to my parents\’ bed. (This may be why it took them sixteen years to have another child.)
I spent my early years going places with my mother. On Sundays I would walk with her to Mass, where I entertained myself by looking at the statues of the Virgin Mary and, as a last resort, at the Stations of the Cross. Then we would take the metro to hear my father\’s orchestra play their weekly concert. I sat as quietly as I could through endless Brahms, Beethoven, Mahler. I stared at the extravagant Art Nouveau decorations of the hall, and tried to catch a glimpse of the only woman in the orchestra, the harpist, who was always stuck way in the back.
On weekdays I went to the fish market with my mother, or out on the wide avenues to look at the windows of fancy shops that sold exquisite leather purses and silk scarves, or to dusty fabric stores that I hated almost as much as the Mahler symphonies. All too often we would go to visit people, usually frail elderly ones who had to be kissed and who expected me to sit quietly for the whole endless afternoon.
My bodily safety was of great concern to the adults around me. I was told when to put on a sweater, button my coat, take off my gloves. I was advised to breathe through my nose and not run too fast lest I should fall. When we moved to Ecuador our house was on a two-way street, and my mother would send the maid to take me across to meet the school bus, much to my embarrassment. I was twelve years old.
The only physically adventurous thing that happened to me as a child took place one summer on my grandparents\’ farm. My uncle, who was barely out of his teens, was leading the cart horse back to the barn and he let me ride, warning me to hold on to the collar. He was walking alongside, singing Oh, Susanna! (Con mi banjo y mi caballo, a Alabama me marche!), forgot himself and slapped the horse on the rump. The horse broke into a trot and I let go of the collar and for a delicious moment flew through the air until my uncle caught me. He made me swear not to tell anybody, and in September I returned to my life of buttoned sweaters, symphony concerts, and apartment life.
Thanks to an accident of fate–I was the only child of an intense mother in a close-knit family–I didn\’t just have a pair of helicopter parents but two full sets of grandparents, a great-aunt and -uncle, four single aunts and a young uncle rotating above my head at all times, offering cautions and advice.
And yet, I made it. I did not grow into a recluse or an idiot or a particularly fragile flower. My pancake-making husband and I could hardly been brought up more differently from each other. But we were both, in our parents\’ respectively quirky ways, truly loved. And it appears that, with that as a given, kids will prosper no matter what.