Accepting What Comes Your Way
Whatever life presents is normal to a child.
Children are pliable creatures. Yes, I know they can also be very demanding, self-centered, and they cry a lot. But, no matter the situation you place them in, they adapt.
Some children have learned that being in a war is the usual way of the world, that being hungry is uncomfortable but survivable, that having no creature comfort like their own bed, or that having siblings and parents killed is common. It’s more than a sad existence from my viewpoint. But to those children, it is their life, so they accept it.
The plight of children in many of the world’s countries led me to compare my childhood as a privileged, over-indulged, slightly chubby little girl to how different my life could have been if I hadn’t been lucky enough to be born in my circumstances.
At an early age, my family, consisting of my parents and me, moved into an apartment building in the Bronx owned by my maternal grandfather, in which my grandparents, my aunt, uncles, and one cousin, lived. My three uncles were either getting their first jobs or still in school. They were all younger than my mother. Her sister was the oldest of the five siblings.
Uncle Ralph, the middle uncle, who was becoming a doctor, was always in school, it seemed to me, but found moments to teach my cousin and me how to tell time. There were no digital clocks in those days, and we could count and conceptualize time passing. For five-year-olds, we were pretty advanced.
My cousin and I are the same age, except for eight weeks difference. She’s older. When we were growing up, she consistently lauded over me that she was older; therefore, she had to stay up later than me and found other ways to force age discrimination in my direction. She took over my life. Of course, when we got to a “certain age, ” I had the advantage of being younger. Hah!
My cousin and I went to Kindergarten together, except that she became ill and had to stay home for about a month.
If she wasn’t going, I wasn’t going either.
Kindergarten was disgusting. A little boy defecated in the coat closet on one of the first few days of her absence. I watched the event and upchucked. After that, each morning, I told my mother I felt sick to my stomach, so she would let me stay home. It worked for a while. Finally, she came up with two plans, one to frighten me into complying with her and go to school (a manipulation), the other more straightforward. Here’s method #1:
After I finished breakfast, she said we would go to the doctor’s office, where the doctor would put a tube down my throat, into my stomach, and pump all the food out. That way, I would have no food to throw up and could go to school. Or, plan #2 — we would walk around the school building until I felt well enough to stay until lunchtime when I could go home without becoming sick. Since I believed everything mom said, I chose plan #2. Walking around was safer. All of this happened because I was without my cousin.
Uncle Julius, the youngest of the three uncles, raised pigeons on the roof. I guess he was still in high school. I spent hours with him up there, on the top of the building, watching him take care of them and listening to his explanation of their habits and needs.
My mother and her sister went to the movies together regularly twice a week when the show changed. Our father's babysat us while the moms were at the pictures. We lived in apartments that were next to each other, connected by sharing a dumbwaiter.
What’s a dumbwaiter, you may be thinking. Well, it’s a platform with sides, and a top, summoned up and down by an electric call switch (installed by my uncles), calling the dumbwaiter to any floor in a building shaft. A rope was attached to its top for support. Its purpose was to collect garbage in that line from the top floor (the fifth) down to the bottom(the basement), where it was collected and put out to be picked up by the garbage truck. There was a shaft opening in each kitchen wall, with a door on either side so two apartments could use the same dumbwaiter shaft at the same or different times.
There was no schedule; you could press the button to get the platform to your level whenever you needed it to get rid of garbage.
One night, when my mom and aunt came home from the movie, my mother realized she had forgotten her key to our apartment. She tried calling my father from my aunt’s phone, but he was such a sound sleeper, he didn’t hear the call.
So, if you had known my mother, you would have guessed by now what she did.
Desperate for a way to get home, mom decided to use the dumbwaiter for a passageway. She opened my aunt’s side, then opened our side with a broom handle. Both doors were then open simultaneously; our kitchen was visible from where she was standing in my aunt’s apartment. Mom then scampered across the platform to land in her kitchen, with her sister as the watcher.
This maneuver, climbing across the dumbwaiter five stories above ground, with only a single rope for support, took courage. After all, Mom’s weight far exceeded the heaviness of a bag of garbage. But she was very gutsy. Of course, I was a baby at the time, but the story was told time and again by our family, so I feel like I was there to witness it happening.
There are many stories about those years in the Bronx. We moved away when I was in first grade. By that time, the competition between my cousin and me was frightful. Nevertheless, in retrospect, I missed the family for a long time after we left.
At our new apartment, I became friends with a little boy who lived across the hall. We played “doctor” together along with other games.
So, I was a lucky girl. I can’t imagine living in the dire circumstances many little girls and boys today have to endure without knowing anything else is available. I’m very grateful for my young life experiences.