My mother wasn’t a feminist. She didn’t long to make her mark in the workplace. She wasn’t a pioneer for social justice. Her desire was to be a wife and mother. She wanted to have six children befire the age of thirty. She gave birth to four. I was number one.
My due date was November 22, 1963, but I was actually born 3 months earlier, on August 22nd. I weighed 2 lbs, 3 oz. and was born with respiratory distress syndrome, known then as hyaline membrane disease. The prognosis was grim, and few newborns survived.
My earliest memory is of my mother reading to me. When my eyes were vacant and I didn’t respond to outside stimuli, she read to me. When doctors told her I would be limited cognatively, she read to me. When she was knocked down when she was 5 months pregnant and I was born 2 weeks later, she read to me instead of accepting the inevitable.
Reading was her way of fighting. She knew I would be well.
For three years she read to me, with no visible sign of change. My physical milestones were fine,but I wasn’t speaking. I wasn’t responding to verbal or vocal cues. My eyes still had that vacant look. But I was surrounded by her voice, and occasionally the television.
One day, we went to visit relatives in Englewood, New Jersey. My father was driving. My mother was in the front, with my baby brother. I was three at the time, in the back seat looking out of the window. As we passed a Shell gas station, I spoke my first words ever.
“Shell. They sponsor Sputnik.”
I believe her faith made me whole. For three years, she believed. She fought with the only weapons she had. And that was enough.