Visiting with Jenn
yesterday [see the My
Three Sons entry],
I streamed my thoughts about my family constellation of three
daughters and a son, resulting in this entry:
How we dwelt in two worlds
the daughters and the mothers
in the kingdom of the sons.
~ Adrienne Rich
My older sister, Sandra,
arrived nine months after my parents' honeymoon, on December 27,
1947, two days after
Christmas. Of the "boys are more valuable"
mindset back then, my parents were disappointed that their
first-born was not a boy. She was Disappointment
#1, albeit a mild one. San was after all, our
parents' first child and down the ways, there would likely be another,
very hopefully, a boy. And besides, San was the first
grandchild for Mom's parents, the first niece for her young
maternal aunt and uncles, and the first baby born in her circle of
San's birth was a
joyful occasion for all, and my parent's tempered disappointment
dissipated with the excitement and novelty of first-time
As first-time parents
often do, they documented San's first years with pages and pages of photographs.
In the family photo album, there are Brownie camera snapshots of San in the
buff, with her sparse hair tied up in a ribbon; in frilly, girly
outfits; in every
conceivable pose and with every emotion on her cute little face; in
front of piles of gifts; blowing out candles on birthday cakes;
dressed up like a little Japanese doll on Girl's
Day; and being proudly held by a smiling Mom and a happy Dad, grandparents,
aunts and uncles,
there were matted 8X10 studio
photographs, one framed and hanging proudly above their bed, and
many more in the family photo album. Up to her third year, a
40-mile round trip was made to the photographer's studio to get
her young life formally documented.
When San was three, I
was conceived during the holiday season and arrived on September 29, 1951.
Uh-oh, another girl. I came into the world as Disappointment #2.
Not only born a girl,
I was a pale and listless girl baby, according to Mom. Thank
goodness for an astute doctor who correctly diagnosed me as being anemic.
This health-threatening condition overrode my parents' disappointment,
kicking in their parental instincts. Cow's milk
only worsened the anemia, and my worried mother literally mothered
me back to health by breast-feeding me. I was the exception, as my siblings were
The silver linings of
this anemia were the
benefits of breastfeeding, including an unbreakable mother-child bonding
that has withstood the test of time and heartbreak, as well as the protective
antibodies that fight diseases and the building of a stronger
immune system in general.
Once the anemia was
under control, the parental doldrums could have set in. But the angels were watching over me, and
they fought off the impulse to catch me as I rolled off the sofa
and broke my collarbone.
That kept my parents' attention on me for a little while longer.
mended quickly, as babies do, remembering none of the trauma. And maybe that's when the ennui
-- the satiety of parenthood which leads to benign disinterest -- set
in. Here's the tangible proof: there is not a single baby -- or
toddler -- photograph of me.
Not a one.
I was four when the
first pictures were taken of me, when I graduated from Mrs.
Pereira's pre-school. My cousin, Milton, graduated with me,
and since he was the first-born, first son, first grandson, his
father's camera was ever on high-alert and went berserk at
this graduation. Fortunately, I happened to be in a few of the
shots and Uncle Frank made copies of these to give to my parents.
These made it into the family photo album.
Mom was pregnant with her third child, and one evening, reclined
on their bed as I rubbed her tummy, she asked, "Do
you want a baby sister or a baby brother?" Maybe, she
shouldn't have asked.
How could she know that God and my
guardian angels materialize whatever I fervently want? San
had a little sister, me. I wanted to be a big sister, like
San. And like San, I also wanted a little sister, like
me. This could be a two-fer, and I announced:
want a baby sister!"
On January 17, 1956,
my wish came true and my sister, Joan, arrived. She was Disappointment #3
for Mom and Dad. They were so
hoping for a boy. I was jubilant!
The day Mom came home from the hospital
with the new baby, she sat me in the
middle of their bed and handed her to me.
"This is your own little dolly."
Children, at four
years old, accept things at face value. I certainly did, and
Joanz as mine. She was my own little,
brand-new dolly, and I was her Mommy. She was my Joanz
[my personal nickname for her, pronounced, one syllable, long o,
as in Jones, or two, as Joan Zee; don't ask
why, I don't remember].
works in mysterious ways, and with the angels, I was given the best gift
of my childhood. Up to that moment, everything in my
life -- diapers; my favorite toy, a panda bear; and clothes -- were hand-me-downs from my older
sister. When Mom placed Joan into my arms, it was the first time I had received a brand-new
anything (that meant something to me).
Thereafter, dolls held
zero appeal for me. No fake doll could ever measure up to my real LIVE dolly. No
plastic doll could wrap its tiny little fingers around mine like
Joanz did. No
doll could coo and smile back at me as Joanz did.
And no doll had Joan' soft baby cheeks that I loved to stroke
I loved, adored, and
pampered Joan, showering my little dolly with "motherly"
hugs and kisses. I am a very affectionate person, and my little
dolly never lacked for tactile
stimulation, critical to a child's emotional and
The timing couldn't have been more perfect, as my
parents were distracted by rough times at home and tough times at work, so distracted that there are no infant pictures of
One year later, my
parents finally got to hear the words they were waiting for:
"It's a Boy!"
On March 4, 1957, their much desired
son, Dean, finally arrived. Everyone, it seemed, was
elated, in striking contrast to year before when Joanz was born.
steady stream of well-wishers -- relatives, friends, neighbors,
and co-workers -- made visits to our home, with
arms laden with baby gifts with blue ribbons, to personally congratulate Mom and
Dino [our family's
nickname for him] was Mom's pride and
joy; she doted on him and lavished him with scads of love and
undivided attention. By being born a son, Dino was the validation
Mom needed after producing three girls.
After a five year
picture deluge began. Snapshots filled the empty back pages of the
family album. Joanz, as tag-along, finally had pictures taken of her, alongside
her baby brother.
Once again, the professional
photographer was engaged for a series of photoportraits over the next three years.
Two months later, in
May, on Boy's
Day, there were more presents for Dino and more pictures were
taken. The following year, my parents threw a huge baby
lu`au, a uniquely Hawaiian tradition for good
luck, as it celebrates that the baby has survived the dangers of the their first year.
No expenses were spared, and every friend, relative, and co-worker was
invited to celebrate.
Once again, Dino was heaped with presents,
and countless snapshots were taken of him.
Growing up, I was very
aware that I was the only one without a single baby picture, and
believe me, I looked. I said nothing.
As a little girl,
gazing up at the stars, I came to a very clear and logical conclusion
why there were no baby pictures.
Simply put, besides
being Disappointment # 2 in a family (and society) that
valued male children over females, I was also the victim of the
dreaded Middle Child Syndrome.
I got lost in the
shuffle. Kids are inventive. Just as sexually abused children
create multiple personalities to avoid shattered psyches, I psychologically defended myself
with a fantasy.
[Be kind, and don't laugh too hard]
I was dropped off
by space aliens
and adopted by Earthlings!
Using kid logic,
this precisely explained why I never had a birthday party. How could my
parents know when to celebrate it if I was dropped off and adopted
by them? My "birthday" on September 29 was made
up. Not real.
As an adult, more
detached from that childhood, I'm
thinking, "Wow, pretty wild!" Not to worry, I'm
laughing with you.
As an adult, I am able
to my parents' world through their eyes. If these two
oversights were my biggest "problems" in childhood, then
I was blessed. Believe me, my parents
showed me their love for me in countless, myriad ways.
Photos and birthday parties were just not their ways.
I also realize as an
adult, that at the time, my parents' plates were full with work and family obligations.
They were barely making ends meet back then, while riding an emotional
rollercoaster, trying to keep a rocky marriage
together for the sake of us kids.
They were doing the best they could. It
was benign neglect, emphasis on benign.
"Life is a Gift."
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