“A person's a person, no matter how small.”

-Dr. Seuss, Horton Hears a Who

Our Second Year Together Isn't Quite as Idyllic as the First

As I documented in earlier posts on here (three to seven), for the first year after Bob and Margaret took me home with them, everything went quite well. 

They were thrilled to have their very own baby, and once my digestion problems had been more or less resolved and it was clear that Bozo was going to protect me, not hurt me, life was good.

But as we entered the spring of my second year, even while my adoption was being finalized, the happy excitement that had enveloped the euphoric first year began to dissipate, and a few scattered clouds appeared on the horizon.

Don't get me wrong. They were thrilled to have a healthy, happy daughter who was walking and talking earlier than most children. But that brought with it some uncomfortable moments.   

Early spring, 1949. One of many pictures of me with a doll. Unfortunately, all my dolls seem to have had very limited wardrobes. 

As was the norm in those days, the bulk of responsibility for looking after me fell on my mother’s shoulders.

Stores were only open until six at night, and closed on Wednesday afternoons. (By the way, they also often closed from noon until one for lunch.) But they might be open late Saturday because that was the day farmers tended to come to town. So Bob/Dad was at his butcher shop from early morning until evening on most days of the week. 

Plus, because of the nature of his job, Dad had to work extra hours in the morning or evening cutting up the sides of beef or pork for selling. As a result, except for Sunday, when the stores were closed, Dad saw me during lunch, and occasionally at breakfast and supper.

Margaret/Mom made sure I was in bed by seven p.m. because someone (possibly Dr. Spock) had told her that babies need a lot of sleep and should be in bed by seven. Consequently, my waking moments were mostly spent with Mom, and she was the one who had to look after all of my needs.

As I grew older, three issues in particular became more and more frustrating for my mother.

1. Beginning at eight months, I began to transform from a happy, compliant baby into a toddler with a mind of her own.

  • First, I started crawling and getting into things.
  • Before long, I began to shake my head with determination when I didn’t want to do something.
  • I then began to talk, starting with “Dada” and “eggie” but not “Mama.”
  • By ten months of age, I was walking.
  • By my first birthday, I was shouting “No” and running away.
  • By the time I was fourteen months old, I was climbing all over, and constantly getting into trouble.

Do you see the mischief in those eyes? I'm planning something. And my mother isn't going to be happy about it. 

  • By eighteen months, I no longer needed a nap, so Mom didn't get that reprieve after lunch.

2. The second troublesome issue was my propensity to get my clothes dirty.

If I think about it really hard, my mind can still call up echoes of her voice, edged with annoyance, saying, “Nancy, don’t get dirty!” Unfortunately, I wasn’t particularly successful at obeying this edict.

Mom told me later that I only ever had one pair of overalls. I don’t know if she wasn’t able to find a suitable pair in the handful of dry goods stores in the small towns we lived in, or if there wasn’t enough money to buy a second pair. She didn’t sew, so making my clothes wasn’t an option.

The picture here shows me at sixteen months in my overalls, and with my dolls, which comprised most of my toys.

Even in her eighties, Mom still occasionally complained about having to wash my overalls out by hand every night so that I could wear them again the next day.

Summer, 1949. Me, my overalls, and my dolls, who are wearing a few clothes. 

In addition to my one pair of overalls, I had a few dresses, most in pale colours: white, light pink, light blue. Many had been gifts from friends and family when I arrived. A few were gifts for my first Christmas. With the dresses, I wore white socks and shoes, as you can see from this picture.

After a while, I think Mom became resigned to the fact that the overalls would get dirty, but she really got upset when I got my dresses dirty, because they were much harder to get stains out of, and ironing them was much more work.

Back then, Mom would rinse out a few small items in the plastic basin she used to bathe me, scrub larger, dirtier items with a washboard in a larger square galvanized steel wash tub, or do the weekly washing in a wringer washing machine they kept in the basement, where you used the same water for several loads. Getting out the tub or loading the washer was a pain, so she usually washed small items in the basin in the kitchen sink.

There were no dryers in those days, so everything—sheets, underwear, and all—had to be hung on a clothesline outside. After that, you ironed pretty well everything, because most clothes were made of cotton or other fabrics that wrinkled. Mom even ironed the dishtowels and sheets.

And, yes, the diapers she'd used were cloth, and also had to be washed and hung to dry, although I’m not sure if she ironed them. Come to think of it, she probably did.

It’s also possible—no, probable—that the source of a good deal of Mom’s frustration about my getting dirty was that she had to scrape and save to manage her household on what Dad made in the butcher shop.

According to the Application for Adoption, Dad had been earning around $3,000 a year. In 1948, from what I’ve found on the Internet, that was slightly below average. (http://1940s.org/history/)

Out of that $3,000, he had to pay rent for their house, gas and upkeep of his car (and likely payments), food, clothes, any furnishings they needed, and so forth.

Married women didn’t usually get jobs outside the home in those days. They tended to look after the house and the children and the laundry and the meals and other household duties while the men worked. It’s just the way things were. (More about that later.)

By the way, in case, this amount of income sounds strange. I found this on the Internet.

The cost of living in 1949
Car: $1,650
Gasoline: 26 cents/gallon
House: $14,500
Bread: 14 cents/loaf
Milk: 84 cents/gallon
Postage Stamp: 3 cents
Average Annual Salary: $3,600
Minimum Wage: 40 cents per hour

According to Dave's Inflation Calculator, $3,000 in 1948 would be equivalent to $31,250.00 in 2019.

Of course, when I was young, I had no idea about any of this. All I knew was that Mom seemed to be overly-concerned about my getting dirty when I was playing, and that sometimes I had to choose between satisfying my curiosity at the risk of getting dirty and being a bad girl, or playing quietly with my dolls and being a good girl.

Summer, 1949. Dressed up and ready to go visiting with my doll. I was hoping there would be cookies.

After lunch, Mom and I usually went visiting or shopping, or had one of her friends over. Before that happened, Mom dressed up herself, and changed me out of my overalls and into a dress. Naturally, I hated nothing more than having to wear a dress and white socks and shoes.

And that part of the problem wasn’t going to go away. It was, in fact, going to become a major tug-of-war as I became older and more able to articulate my preferences.

Which leaves me wondering if my dislike for dresses come from the fact that I associated them with the whole “don’t get dirty/behave/be a good girl” meme, or if I had an inborn style that affected how I viewed the whole dressing-up thing.

In other words, is my dislike of wearing dresses, even today, a “nature” thing or a “nurture” thing?

However, all of Mom’s admonitions about not getting dirty actually paled in comparison to a related issue.

3. The third thing that drove a huge spike into any chance Mom and I had for a symbiotic relationship was my curiosity.

My toys during the first two years consisted of a few dolls that had one outfit each, a drum which I wasn’t allowed to play with very much, several cooking pots and a large spoon so I could pretend to cook while Mom was working in the kitchen (and also made a good drum), a couple of pull toys, a few stuffed animals, and a handful of picture books. Not quite enough stimulation for a child with endless curiosity.

The one thing that kept me entertained and even quiet was having someone read to me from one of my books. My favourite was a book of nursery rhymes, and before the age of two, I was not only talking in complete sentences, but also reciting nursery rhymes I’d memorized. (“Little Bo-Peep,” “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary,” and “Old Mother Hubbard” are a few I remember well.)

Mom had a lot of friends, most of whom had children who were older than me, and she was in the habit of visiting one or another of her friends most afternoons for tea. If not, Mom might have a friend in for tea or we’d go “downtown” (a walk of only a few blocks) to buy bread or some other necessity. 

Most mornings, I’d play in my overalls while Mom did her housework. After lunch, she’d change me into one of my dresses and comb my hair. As my hair grew longer, she tried using small barrettes to hold it in place; but she had nothing other than her voice and her hands to hold me in place.

You'll notice that in many of the pictures of me between the ages of ten months to three years, my mother is firmly holding my hand to keep me beside her, and I’m not looking very happy.

When we visited one of Mom’s friend’s houses, I tended to wander off, poking my head around corners, going into other rooms, opening doors and drawers, and, all-too-often, taking things apart. Most of her friends laughed and said not to worry, but Mom was mortified. Her embarrassment grew as I learned more words and continued to say whatever I was thinking with innocent accuracy.

And no matter that they said, I expect she was concerned that her friends secretly thought she was inadequate as a mother.

The look on my face says it all.

Mom had felt incomplete without a child, but the reality of having a living, breathing daughter wasn’t quite what she’d expected.

I truly believe that, in her mind, she’d envisioned her daughter as a delightful child who sat quietly, did as she was told, spoke only when addressed, and generally behaved like a genteel, miniature adult. Maybe that was what she herself had been like.

She seemed to have no framework for dealing with a rambunctious little girl who could barely sit still for two minutes, had no filter for the thoughts she spoke out loud, ignored reprimands, screamed when frustrated, tried to escape when cornered, and found endless new ways to get into trouble.

As I think about it now, it was sad for both of us. Expectations can be useful in helping us create goals and plans; unrealistic expectations, however, can set us up for depression and a feeling of failure.

Were our differences trivial? Or were they in fact an essential part of our personalities?

Which, of course, leads to the whole nature vs nurture debate.

How much of who we are is determined by our genes, and how much by our parents and the world we've lived in?

Would I have become the person I am today if I’d been raised by my birth family? If I’d been adopted by different people?

Would my mother have been a different person if she'd been the youngest of seven instead of hte oldest? if she'd stayed home and finished school instead of leaving to get a job?

Having given birth to four sons, each of whom had his own unique personality from the day he was born, I can attest to the fact that we are born as fully formed individuals with unique personalities. As we interact with the world we live in, there is a constant tension as we strive to do our best to become who our genes have determined we ought to be, but also to adapt to or work around the world we live in and the people in our lives.

So, I believe that certain things about me wouldn’t have changed. But how those things worked in a different setting might have changed. For example, if I’d been adopted by a family with four other children, instead of being an only child, there would have been obvious relational things I’d have had to adapt to.

Side Note:
Mom told me at least three times—once when I was in my teens, after my second son was born, and when she was older—that they’d originally wanted to adopt a second child—a boy—so I’d have a sibling. But before I’d turned two, they made the difficult decision that they just couldn’t afford a second child. I now wonder if Mom felt she couldn't handle having two children if the second one was anything like me.

.         .         .

Can You Relate?

Have you ever thought about how your personality impacted your parents and vice versa?

Or how you and your children/grandchildren impact each other? 

.          .          .

LoveChild: Life Lessons from an Ugly Duckling is the story of my struggle to adjust to the life I was given, and my eventual discovery that, not only had I become a swan but, contrary to my perceptions, I had always been one. Though I didn't realize it until many years later, my life was part of a much bigger plan that all made perfect sense.

I'll be blogging my story once a week.

Find links to all these blogs at:


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