Lots of Nannies and …a Taste of Freedom!

I am still trying to determine if in those early years of my life, when I was first allowed to be born and then overcame a generally fatal illness, it was God that intervened,  my parents, or the skill of many doctors and nurses. Perhaps it was a combination of efforts and determination.  Above all, I wonder about the role played by the willpower in that little, fragile body in which my soul was housed… Which of these factors allowed me to continue life on Earth?

Perhaps I was already thinking positive thoughts subconsciously, because remember, that’s when it really works! May be I have to thank the Law of Attraction…perhaps,  in my innocence, I was doing it right! Truth is, what I do remember is the unfocused fear that I might disappear if I stopped fighting and didn’t know where I would go if I died? Where do little dead bodies go? The perspective was probably not attractive because I became determined to keep on living and stay in the world I knew even if I didn’t like it much, at least I knew it. Much, much later, I learned in my psychology classes that people prefer to stay in their “comfort zone” even if it’s hurting them, because that’s what they know and the fear of the unknown is greater than the pain of what one knows.

But in those days, in the 1950’s I didn’t have such sophisticated knowledge.. Everything was simple and basic:  After I was out of danger,  and back home from the hospital, my parents returned to their daily routines, mainly trusting me in the hands of various nannies who took care of me while my parents worked.  My mother, an M.D., was always “saving” many lives in the hospital, while my father was somewhere in the country, “inspecting” the quality of crops at some “cooperativa”,  state owned farms. He was always out of town, and when he wasn’t he was drunk and violent, so we were thankful for his out of town job which protected us against his  unpredictable fits of rage.

For this reason, I have few early memories about my father. My only early recollection of motherly love, was  the feeling of her rushed hand rubbing my back late at night, to soothe me to sleep.  It was a quick rhythmic movement whose message was:”I have little time”.  If I was really good, sometimes, she gave me the bonus of invented stories about little bears or deers and a little girl’s adventures in the woods.  There was no question in my mind, the girl was me, but I didn’t know the bears or the deer, but they were nice and I wish I did!

It was around the time when I got sick that my first nanny was hired.  I remember bits and pieces of what happened during her reign. According to stories I learned as an adult, she had a crucial influence on me.  She was a former nun, but when the communists took over, in late 1940’s,  she no longer could be a nun, she became a nanny desperately trying to earn a living. My parents, both atheists, hired her on condition that she kept God out and never mentioned or did anything religious to influence my education.  Everything seemed to go well and I loved Teta, my nanny, and she probably loved me enough to  disobey the orders and introduce God in my early consciousness. She also introduced me to the idea of  “secrets”, meaning, lies, as I was told to not mention our prayers, our little secret to anyone. I kept the secrets, but since I was not told the deep bowing after the prayers and crossing myself were  secrets, I welcomed my parents home by bowing so deeply that my head hit the floors.  Mother was mortified as she immediately understood her child was introduced to God and prayers and “matanii” (bowing to honor God).  The sin was unforgivable! Teta  was disgraced and was ordered to leave immediately. She packed a small bag under my teary eyes and screams  and promises that I didn’t mean to betray our secrets and promised it will never happen again.  It was too late! Teta’s bed was placed in the same room which housed the stove, the kitchen sink, small counter, and the bath tub.  Teta’s “area” was in the corner opposite the tub and was “privatized” with the help of another curtain, around the bed.  Not your usual maid’ quarters, but a luxury for Communist Romania!

She left immediately, without being given notice, without a word!  She just disappeared… I wondered where she went, out there, in the blizzard? Did her God take care of her, or did she freeze to death? Did she have to go in that ambiguous place I feared, where dead bodies go?  I sat on her bed, breathed in the smell of her pillow and cried, and cried, until mother had enough of it and said: “Enough, already, I have to wash the sheets”.  This was the last time Teta’s name and what happened were mentioned in our home. My mother’s orders were never ambiguous: “Don’t you ever bow like that again and cross yourself, it is stupid and dangerous! She was a crazy woman, I should have never hired her!”

I don’t remember how much time passed before another nanny was hired, a lot of them came and went, because I had become a difficult child and no one was able to tame me, so they came and left quickly, leaving my mother in a bind often.

Many times, she had no choice but take me with her to work. She sat me in a corner of her doctor’s office and threaten: “If you move, if you say one word, I will make you regret it for the rest of your life. It is your behavior that makes nannies leave, now you sit here and listen to me while I consult the patients! See how it feels, instead of playing at the park!”.

I must have been five at the time, and I was so terrified because I wasn’t sure what exactly would happen to me if I disobeyed. my other and moved.  I indeed sat there frozen for hours and listened to her asking the questions: ‘How long have your eyes been red? Any discharge? What color?” “This is a very contagious infection…”  Then, my mother wand the patient would go to a little dark room, at the end of the main office, so that my mother could look inside their eyes and decide the real reason of their problems.

This went on for a while, and I have noticed, that in most cases, people had red eyes, which she called conjunctivitis and then she prescribed them an unquent and off they went. One day, my mother had to leave the office for a few minutes and left me alone with the patient.

“How old are you? He asked, bored by the wait.

“Five,” I answered, and looked closer to his eyes.

They were red and crusty. “I know what’s wrong with your eyes,” I said, “You have conjunctivitis, it’s a very contagious infection, and you need medicine! Oh, and wash your hands , you can pass it on to your girlfriend, don’t touch her!”

“What?” How do you know all this?” He smiled amused.

I didn’t have time to answer  him, how I aquired the knowledge because my mother came back. I quickly moved in my corner and I sat down.

The diagnosed patient, looked at me and said nothing.  My mother  examined his eyes and said with concern in her voice “You have conjunctivitis….”

My mother  continued and asked  him the same questions I did and gave him the same advice and medicine I recomanded. I was secretly proud of my newly discovered skills to diagnose conjunctivitis!

As the patient was leaving, he turned and looked at me, then at my mother, and said: “Doctor, if I were you I’d not keep her here, she is stealing your profession.! She diagnosed me while you were out!” He smiled and left. My  mother was livid. I disobeyed again! This could not continue, she had to find a new nanny to avoid  a disaster and loosing her job. Imagine such shame, a five- year old diagnosing eye problems! I sure was a difficult child!

This is when Mrs. Orban came into our lives. Unlike the rest of the nannies, she demanded to be called “Mrs” a sign of great respect. My parents complied and so did I, although I didn’t respect her much. She was a large woman of Hungarian origin and she was the best cook ever! She didn’t sleep in the kitchen-bath tub combo room but had her own house and a schedule.  Her main responsibility should have been to take care of me, but she liked to cook so I was left alone for hours to play with my only doll and the French books. I did not like Mrs. Orban and she wasn’t fond of me either. Our main conflict was that she would rather have cooked while I would have rather been in the near by park playing with my buddies.

“Mrs. Orban” I asked meekly one afternoon, “Could we please go to the park today?”

She kept stirring in her yummy smelling pots, my parents appreciated so much.

“No, no, I told you I am cooking, just play with your doll, I have no time to take you out, don’t you see, I am cooking!”

“You mean, not even later, after you’re done? Can we go later?”

“No, I said no! Your mother is right, you are a difficult child, that’s why no nanny stays with you!”  She turned around still stirring and looked me up and down with disgust.

I didn’t like her either!

I closed the door to the kitchen and slowly  tip toed and opened the main door to our apartment. My heart was pounding hard, but I was determined to “show Mrs. Urban” just how bad I was.  Slowly, I went down the smelly steps of our apartment building where drunks from a near bar constantly urinated, and I left the building.

I was outside. I was free! Mrs. Orban, will be in trouble, I thought, and I wasn’t sorry for her!  I knew I were to be punished but I didn’t care!  This was my opportunity, but which way to go?  To the park, of course! I knew where it was, but feared a little going through a dark alley, a “gang”.  I had to walk  through  this long covered alley full of all sorts of strange people.  Many times I was told there were bad people in this alley, but no one could possibly be as heartless as Mrs. Orban, I thought and continued my walk!  I took my chance, didn’t think twice of perhaps going back. I walked through the alley which had the fancy name  of “Pasajul Englez”. It seemed endless, but it wasn’t! Just as  like going through a tunnel, I finally saw the light at the other end.

“Pasajul Englez” ended in  Calea Victoriei one of the busiest streets of Bucharest in the 1950’s and even today.  I looked right, I looked left. Cars were zipping by and the pedestrians waited for the red light to change. I waited too.

“Little girl,” a smiling woman asked , ” are you alone?”

“No,” my nanny is just behind me, we are going to the park.” I said”. “We live there” I  continued, and  “she let me go to the park, across the street, ahead of her”.

“Oh, that’s nice… she must trust you… would you like me to help you cross the street?” The woman offered.

“Thank you, thank you,” I said. “My nanny would really appreciate too,” I said, and held the woman’s hand tightly. Her hand was warm, firm and reassuring. I was no longer afraid.

We crossed on green.

Eventually Mrs. Orban discovered I was missing and her Hungarian gulash  probably burned because she had to stop stirring the pot and find me!

Oh… well, Mrs. Orban had to leave as well… what a shame!  I didn’t care what happened to her. All I cared was  that I never had to see her again or eat her gulash!

Yes, in Romania parents believed where a parent hit you, the flash grew healthier, or better, or wiser?  The little adventure in the park caused my butt to grow much healthier, or better, or more beautiful? However, I never regretted my escape. It was the first time I tasted FREEDOM and there was no return to the old ways of total control and fear.

I knew, instinctively I trusted, no matter what, someone, perhaps an Angel from Teta, will show up and hold my hand when I cross a street. I became fearless!

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