Zenna James

I never wanted to have children. I thought I’d be a bad mother, and I’m not crazy about babies the way some people are. Of course they’re darling, they’re BABIES. But I prefer people who can talk. They’re just more interesting.

All my preconceived notions about mothering started to fly out the window 28 years ago today. That’s when Zenna James was born. As long as I WAS going to be a mother, I decided to do it my way, so we attended Bradley Method Birthing classes, which teach you to exercise the right parts of your body, in order to strengthen them enough to birth a baby without drugs. We chose a hospital that had birthing rooms - queen-sized beds, and “normal” furniture - a setting that was home-like while still having the advantage of handy access to the nurses and doctor.

We headed there a little after 11 pm, having just taken a long walk around the neighborhood. I still have a photo of me, naked and very pregnant, blow drying my hair before we left for the hospital. I wanted to look good for the baby, whom we had already named Zenna, since Ultrasound had proved I was having a girl.

Zenna James - One week old. I needed sleep!

Zenna James - One week old. I needed sleep!

Actually I knew I was having a girl as soon as I found out I was pregnant. I dreamed that Zenna was five and readying for kindergarten. She came to me sternly and demanded to know where the pencils, notebooks and crayons were? Didn’t I remember she was starting school the next day? And actually this is pretty much what Zenna’s personality turned out to be like. Very organized and on top of things. Which took me awhile to get used to. But I digress….

So after six hours of labor, and with just a little more time to go, we were doing pretty well. I hadn’t had any drugs. The bed was comfortable and I was panting away; the only clothing I still had on was a pair of turquoise socks. The doctor was there, as was Zenna’s dad. There was a knock on the door and it was a group of young pre-doctors - wondering if they could watch.

That’s probably the only time I haven’t wanted to be on stage in my life. Even though my hair was clean. And I still have the socks.

Zenna was born at 7 am and by eleven we were in the car learning to use the car seat. We drove straight to our restaurant, where several of our friends had gathered. And that was Zenna’s introduction to the world.

Mothering turned out to be a blast. Not easy, but fun - and more fun after Zenna learned to talk. Her dad and I divorced after a couple of years, and she had to go with me to classes I taught, lectures and art openings. One show featured huge drawings of friends of the artist. One was of a guy; full frontal and unclothed. Zenna was probably seven, and she marched right over to that drawing and took a very long time examining it. Maybe that’s when she decided she liked art. And boys.

Showing me a drawing.

Showing me a drawing.

Another time we were going to an opening and she was buckled into the back seat with her good friend, Jenne. They were in second or third grade by then, and were whispering something fierce. Suddenly Zenna spoke out. “Mom, is penis a compound word?” She pronounced it several times, emphasizing each syllable distinctly - to prove to me it was. Chagrined, she pouted momentarily when I told her she was wrong. (Thankfully I’d read the book that advised answering questions related to anatomy and sex one at a time without freaking, and launching into the whole story of what happens) - so I was off the hook with the details - at least for awhile.

There are many more stories, and maybe eventually I'll tell a few more, but right now I just want to celebrate the day an amazing young woman arrived on this troubled planet. She’s working hard at being a good, kind, compassionate, human being, and it’s not always easy.  And here’s to children everywhere - whether they’ve begun to talk yet, or not. And to the power of parenting to change lives for the good.