I met my husband over a piano. I was practicing – remember those lessons I took my freshman year just because I felt like it? Alan was walking down the hallway and heard me. He was taking voice lessons, because he felt like it. Neither of us was a music major, although I minored in music for a while. He needed an accompanist and asked if I would be willing.
Isn’t that sweet? We also happened to be working on the school play at the time. I was Viola in Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”, while Alan worked on the stage crew. And we had a mutual friend. His cousin Cathy Tomczak helped to push us together. We were polar opposites in many respects. He grew up on a dairy farm. I grew up in the city. I was the high school dropout. He’d loved school. He hadn’t missed a single day until his senior year when he got chicken pox. He was the all-star athlete in football, baseball, basketball and golf, (remember how I did in phy ed?) and he was Prom King. I didn’t even go to my prom.
But in other ways, we were meant for each other. We both wanted to be married, to have children, to have a solid home life. We were more interested in finding job satisfaction than financial freedom. We were both raised in church-going families, although he was Catholic and I was Methodist. We both loved to read, and often would read the same book. And we were both feeling a little too old for college.
I was only twenty-one then, but I had taken almost two years off from college. I had worked at dozens of part time jobs, and traveled some. I’d been to Arizona and Maine (by car) and even dipped into Canada for a day. He had been in the Air Force for four years. He’d lived in Greece and flown in airplanes. We were both treated like “old folks” by our college peers.
So, the upshot is that by the fall of his sophomore year (my first senior year) we were married and expecting our firstborn.
Now, one of the questions his Catholic relatives kept asking me at our wedding was, “how many children do you want to have?” It seemed tasteless to me, as they must have suspected baby #1 was on the way. And as good Catholics, was that even a choice available to us? Didn’t we have to take however many children God saw fit to send our way? So I did a typical “me” thing, and gave a flippant answer. “Twelve.”
We were married in 1980. Tammy was born in 1981, and Daniel in 1982, and then his relatives started to believe me! His aunts patted me on the shoulder and told me what a good Catholic I was. (I had converted the year before). My protestant relatives scolded me, and tried to tell me about birth control. But I loved being pregnant. I loved having kids, even though we weren’t financially ready for them. We had planned to wait until Alan graduated before starting a family. So much for plans. I think I would have welcomed those twelve kids, if God had given them to me.
I had a difficult time carrying my babies. With Tammy I had toxemia. With Daniel, I was under a lot of stress – my second senior year, I did my student teaching at four different schools, I worked part time, I still carried eighteen credits per semester, and I also had cooking, cleaning, dishes, and diapers to deal with. On May 4th, 1982, Daniel was born. On May 15th I graduated from college. On May 20th we packed up and moved to upper Michigan where Alan would finish his degree. And by May 30th Alan had returned to Wisconsin to work on his dad’s farm for the summer, as he needed the income and his dad needed the help. I stayed behind, because I wasn’t sure how it would work to have me living in his parents’ house for three months with two small children, and I was trying to get my first licensed Day Care Home up and running, which was how I planned to support us while Alan went to school.
So there I was, in a new home in a new state, I didn’t know anybody, and my body started to fall apart. I had been under too much stress for too long. My mom came up to visit me (I think she was worrying again) and in the end, I went back home with her for an extended visit, or more aptly, a recuperation. I don’t remember much of that visit, only that I passed the baby to her and I went to sleep. About two weeks later, I came back to life.
I returned to Dodgeville, Michigan and did manage to get my day care home licensed and all the openings filled before the school year began. There was a popular preschool in town, but no one would take children under three. At the time I was licensed for six children, regardless of age. So, you guessed it. I had six babies! Tammy was the oldest at eighteen months. I had a little girl about her age named Kristina, and a part-time girl named LeeAnn, and a boy named Jonathan, and a fulltime infant just two weeks old named Leeanne, and my son Daniel was two months old. I eventually had two more part time children as well.
Life became organized chaos. I took great pride in my work. I found a small table for the children at a yard sale. I found six little chairs for the table at a school auction. I gathered supplies – tempra paint, crayons, paper, glue, paste, safety scissors, toys, balls, even a little slide. I had a stroller, a baby backpack, a “Johnny Jump-up” (I hate those things now!) several baby swings, a changing table stocked with six different piles of diapers (I used cloth, some of the day care kids used paper), one high chair, and so much more that there was barely room in our two-bedroom, two-story home for Alan and me.
I used to take all six of them for walks every day. There wasn’t much to walk to in Dodgeville back then. (I haven’t been back, has it changed?) I could put the tiny infant in the baby carrier, Danny in a stroller, and the other four in a big red wagon, and we’d walk up to the post office and back. Sometimes I would cart half the toys out onto the yard so they could play outside. I prepared well-balanced menus, and careful lesson plans. I began teaching Tammy to read, and she would try to teach it little Jonathan. It was so cute- I took pictures.
The first day care child came at six o’clock in the morning. The last one left at six p.m. Some nights I began to wish that they would take my two children with them when they left. I loved my work, but I never got a day off. And we weren’t making enough money to support us, so Alan took on an afterschool job. He went to classes from 8 to 5, then went to the meat market until midnight. If I wanted to see him at all, I had to wait up for him. And at midnight, he had to do his homework before class the next day.
Things were tough. Sometimes I don’t know how we survived! Except that I knew I loved Alan, and that all my problems would leave as soon as he graduated. And Alan has that special tunnel vision that most guys are born with. All he could see was the goal at the end of the tunnel. I don’t think he even knew there was a tunnel there.
I learned how to scrimp. I got food stamps, and government commodities. This was before internet, but I scrounged libraries, cookbooks and old people with knowledge for ways to save money. I sewed for the children; I bought stuff at yard sales. We never went out to eat, out to the movies, or out anywhere. And I continued to learn about young children, so I would be the best possible day care provider I could be.
At the time, I remember thinking I was nuts. But I also remember thinking, “These are precious moments. I don’t want to miss them.” Children grow up so fast! That is such an over-used phrase that it boarders on triteness, and yet, it’s still true. If you blink, you might miss something that will never be repeated. Like the first time your daughter learns to tie her shoe, after struggling with it for weeks. Or the day your son stands up and walks clear across the floor for the first time. Or the day they flush a box of Mr. Bubble down the toilet and break the toilet, and the plumber comes back for the umpteenth time, laughing as he says he doesn’t know how a box of Mr. Bubble could break the toilet, only to find a pair of Sunday shoes stuck in the pipes as well.
Or the day you sleepily roll over in bed to snuggle with your spouse you seldom see, and hear your two year old tell your one year old, “Danny, I need more paint.” And you spring out of bed, to see they had gotten out paint, brushes, water, but no paper. In a semi-conscious state of shock you yell at them, “Go wash up in the bathroom!” as you stare at the blue paint on the dining table, chairs, and floor. Blue paint on their pajamas, hands, and faces. Blue paint on the counters, walls, and windows. And as their footy sleeper pajamas are leaving blue foot prints down the hallway, and blue handprints appear on the door knob, the sink, the faucet and towels, your fuzzy mind allows you to scold, “And go back to bed!” Now blue paint also adorns their bedroom door, their quilts, sheets, and favorite blankies.
Yes, these are indeed precious moments.