Friday, January 16, 2009

Patrick: The Early Years

My dad taught English at a small college for over forty years. This provided the whole family with some wonderful opportunities, one of the best being the time we spent in Ireland and the UK. Between sabbaticals and foreign study programs from the school, we lived in London (with regular excursions elsewhere) on three different occasions. The first time this happened, I was about ten months old. Sadly, I don't have many memories from this three month period.

I blame the drugs.

The trip started with a five-day boat crossing. Because the time difference between the US and England is five hours, it seemed like a sensible plan to move the clock one hour each day of the voyage, so people could get acclimated easily. Like most infants however, I was a conservative child, and did not cotton to this kind of messing about with clocks. According to my parents, I stubbornly maintained my schedule and routine in the face of all obstacles and entreaties. Eventually I must have given in to the new schedule, but it sounds like I did not do so with much grace.

No, there were no drugs involved in that part of the story, but I suspect my recalcitrance may help explain a later event. See, it was early Spring in London when we arrived, and for those of you who don't know what that means, it means cold and damp. In 1967 central heating was unknown in most of England so the cold damp seeped into our bones, making relatively mild temperatures seem much more frigid. Almost everyone on the program (this was one of those times Mom and Dad were leading a student group) came down with a cold at some point. I went one better, and came down with the croup. No, I don't really know what that is, I'll google it later. Feel free to do the same, and let me know what you discover. The important point here is that said croup made me very cranky and noisy. After my cranky, noisy ocean crossing, this was probably getting a bit old. Following the advice of a local pharmacist, my folks doused me with something available in England called Gripe Water, and it worked like magic. Suddenly I was calm, quiet, not coughing, just a whole other baby. I finally appeared to be comfortable, so everyone in the household breathed a sigh of relief.

It's unclear how long I was on the Gripe Water. It may have been only a day or two, I can't really say, probably because the medicine affected my sense of time. You see, eventually my folks discovered that it contained laudanum. Did I mention this was London, in 1967? Yup, I was following in the footsteps of Coleridge and others of the Romantics. Frankly I think it's too bad no one gave me a pen and pad at the time, maybe I could have discovered the ending of Kublai Khan. My folks got me off the stuff ( if heroin is horse, what would laudanum be? Pony?) seemingly with no ill-effects, but the story isn't over yet.

(On an unrelated note, one of the students on the program discovered I was able to palm a basketball. No, we have no idea how that worked, and sadly, it's the last time I ever distinguished myself with a basketball.)

When it was time to head home, we were scheduled to fly out of Shannon airport, in Ireland (I'm not sure if this had always been the plan, or if my behavior on the voyage out had ruined my family's taste for sea-travel). We had dinner in the airport, and Dad had some sort of whipped cream dessert that I took a great liking to. I kept leaning forward in my high chair, mouth agape like a baby bird, and I guess I was just too cute, so he'd give me another small spoonful. It wasn't until we were on the plane that my folks realized the dessert contained Irish Mist. The amount was negligible to my dad's taste buds, but I couldn't yet hold my liquor, and was now nice and toasty. According to Dad I was -surprise- a noisy drunk, singing songs, telling stories, offering to fight anyone on the plane, and sleep was simply out of the question. Mom and Dad had to take turns walking me up and down the length of the plane. For the entire trip. I bet they -and every other person on the plane- wish they had packed some Gripe Water. Or possibly some cyanide.

It's a testament to my folks that I lived through this trip (maybe there were just too many witnesses, including my six year old sister), and again, there don't seem to have been any serious repercussions, but we weren't out of the woods yet. I had begun crawling while we were in London, naturally. We'd been staying in a typical London flat, with small rooms, so when we were back in our more spacious Indiana house, I tended to huddle in corners. My family assumed I was just a little freaked out by the greater size of the rooms, but I don't know. It sounds to me like I was going through withdrawal, don't you think?

I did manage to get clean, but there was at least one relapse. At some point I got a hold of a jar of rubber glue, and drank it down. When my dad realized what I had done, he picked me up to smell my breath, and I cheerfully licked him on the nose. Until I barfed the glue up later that night, I was a very happy little fellow. Thank god I was at least quiet about it. I'm not sure how much more my poor family could have taken.

I think all this early experimentation on my part actually served me well. I've never even been tempted to try hard drugs as a teenager or adult, and I think I had no more the requisite number of stupid drunk experiences in college. If I suffered any developmental delays or damages, we've never noticed them. Frankly I think my folks deserve credit for seeing that I made it to my second birthday alive, let alone unscathed.

Parenthood is not for sissies, is it.


Birdie said...

I dunno, sounds pretty normal to me. I mean it. It is amazing any child makes it to adulthood. But we're sure glad you did.

My infant daughter was susceptible to croup for several years. It is frightening when your child can't get enough air; but there is no agreed-upon treatment. (One doctor said steam, another doctor said cold air. We tried both, quite often at 3am.) I wish to heaven we had Gripe Water.

Ingestion of hazardous substances as a child makes a handy excuse for any quirks later. I say use it for all it's worth.

Greg said...

You sound like an adorable infant, crawling about, agreeably licking people on noses. Great chuckles at you huddling in Indiana corners, as you sweat out the addiction.

Glad you survived, Pal!

tornwordo said...

It's funny, with all the traveling we did lately, one theme kept coming up for me - Why do people travel with infants? It really should be forbidden.

Patrick said...

Birdie: yes, actually, I think my story is pretty normal, which is why I'm impressed by most parents. Ooh, hadn't thought of the excuse angle with all this! I'm shorter than both my siblings, as you may recall. Maybe I can claim the drugs stunted my growth. Okay, that isn't as satisfying to say as I thought it might be. I'll keep working on it though, there's got to be some stuff I want to excuse.

Greg: yes, it does sound like I was a cheerful drunk/druggie, though I didn't always know when to shut up. There are some who would say I've never outgrown that problem.

Torn: I bet I can answer your question with one word: grandparents. I suspect that especially during the holidays, parents get subjected to some SERIOUS pressure to bring the grandkids for a visit. The infants you were dealing with have grandparents who can't or won't travel.
Just a theory.

GayProf said...

It seems nowadays parents drug their kids with Benadryl for traveling. While I appreciate the quiet, one does wonder about the long term consequences.

As an aside, my father believed liquor was medicinal for children. Any cold or flu was solved by a hot toddy. I'm amazed I that wasn't an alcoholic by the time I entered junior high.

Marta Rose said...

no it is not! and croup is no fun, i can't imagine a 10 mo with croup on a ship crossing the atlantic. i always liked your dad, now i have even more respect!

Sooo-this-is-me said...

Licking noses eh, I wonder if that is why you feel so connected to dogs these days. Glad to hear you got all your addictions over with early in life.

On a side note, when I was young, my sister and I loved to sniff the large gas tanks at my parents whenever they were refilled. It a wonder any of us make it to be adults.

Java said...

You think parenting isn't for sissies, and you are right, BUT until you've done it yourself you have NO IDEA!! I (foolishly) thought I was prepared for parenthood. And I was more prepared than most, I think. It hasn't done me a damned bit of good. Because, you see, children don't read those child rearing books.

I can't imagine you as an angry drunk, even at a year old. This is a very amusing story. Thanks for sharing it!

Butch said...

What a wonderful way you told your story of the early years. Thanks.
I especially enjoyed the Irish Mist surprise. ;-)

Eric said...

This is very funny. (The lack of an exclamation point simply points up how funny this truly is. I don't feel the need to convince you.)