Life at this time, trying to keep up with four children all about a year apart and their endless needs, felt like I was mouse running on a treadmill. The continuous chores devoured my days, leaving no time or energy for anything else in my life.
Despite the help of the new wringer washing machine mountains of washing filled the wash-house every day. Nappies had to be continuously recycled, soaking, washing, pegging out, fetching, and folding. Each morning, when they were strung out for the day, in their rows on the clothesline, blowing in the wind it was like a major achievement had been accomplished.
Mother in law, Elsie, donated her ‘singer’ treadle sewing machine to help out with making clothes for the children. I was grateful now for those sewing classes at Wellington East Girls College. To keep them all in warm winter jerseys, I also took up Fairisle knitting, enjoying the brain challenges involved in working out the complicated patterns.
In winter, we discovered our new house had damp problems. The steep hill directly behind our house shut off the sun early each afternoon, and on rainy days was a source of water running down the hill and pooling under the house. The bigger kids bedroom was getting so damp, mould started growing and spreading in the wardrobe and over the wallpaper. Only having bare floorboards also made the house really cold.
When August arrived, it was time for our eldest boy turning five to start school. Our own area was too new yet to have a local school, so he and I rode the bus to the other side of the valley to enroll him in a school there.
For a few seconds when leaving, I looked back over my shoulder at him, dressed in his new school clothes, brown leather schoolbag over his shoulder, standing alone in the School’s porchway and was struck by how small a boy he looked, to be leaving behind. His lips trembling trying to hold back tears, had me recalling my own first school day. I remembered my panic seeing mum’s back disappear away up the street, and my heart hurt for him.
Baby number five arrived in September, at the same Lower Hutt Hospital, where as a kid on my new blue bike, I had looked up to see mum and my new sister all those years ago. This time there was no chloroform masks and no stirrups. I clambered on to a hard flat bed and the baby, a girl, practically fell out all by herself. Gob smacked staff kept asking over and over, did I always have such easy births. This little girl was a very quiet placid baby, who took to breastfeeding so well, the staff wanted me to be a demonstration for other mothers in the maternity ward. I felt too shy and embarrassed to agree.
Other big changes in maternity care had also happened. The time spent in ‘confinement’ was now reduced to seven days, and a more relaxed attitude about how often, and long, you had your baby out of the nursery and handled them prevailed. At last mums were able to have a say in what their baby needed. I think the straight forward easy birth and more relaxed hospital rules contributed to this being the first baby I felt really bonded to straight away.
Back home was another story, the husband had been holding the fort and it was like time had stood still for a week. The house was a pigsty. Nothing had been done since my departure a week ago. The kids were dirty and unwashed and still wearing the same clothes, only much grubbier, that I had last seen them in. Seven days worth of dishes were piled sky high in the sink making the bench impossible to see. I had to set to and have a big clean up, after giving out an earful.
I fell in love with a really large old type pram advertised for sale in our local rag and decided to buy it. It looked just like the ones the nannies of posh English families’ used. Myself and the neighbours’ older girls, who gushed over the baby, took her out for walks each day.
My health crashed again with a mystery illness. I had a fever and the whites of my eyes and skin turned a horrible yellow, sick and weak, I was incapable of getting up off the couch for days. Mr and Mrs R, came over and said they thought I must have something, I had never heard of, yellow jaundice. They also said if we called the doctor he would tell the health department to come and stick signs on our house, warning everyone we were contaminated. The thought of that sounded so embarrassing and shameful, I skipped the doctor to try Mr R’s cure. He said to eat lots of oranges.
As I lay on my sitting room couch, unable to move and only half awake, I experienced the weird sensation of separating from my body and floating up to the ceiling. From my vantage point above, I looked down on my sick body still there on the couch and suddenly in a sudden flash of understanding, my head told me, I was about to leave my body behind for good. My response was to immediately shout out loud, ‘God, don’t take me now, the little kids need me’. As quickly as it took me to call out loud to God, I was back inside my body again. It took me many months to get my strength back and I never told anyone about, the leaving my body experience, in case they thought I was ‘nuts’.