Two Potato Three
Being a mother was better than anything else I had experienced in my life to this point. I was hooked on the continual flow of love that I felt every day and every time I held my son, looked into his face or inhaled his baby scent coming off his little head, traveling in waves. I felt pure, unconditional love. I never experienced this before, not from my parents, my siblings or Len. I was addicted to this love drug. My son’s smiles or laughs could turn me into butter. I always wanted more of it. It filled a spot in me I rarely acknowledged that was dark and empty. Baby love filled it with ambrosia. It was bliss.
Motherhood changed me forever.
This is when my life stopped being about me and became about my son and my husband. It is where I shifted from the identity of Dale to that of wife and mother. I now had a purpose and a calling, motherhood, but it was also wrought with identity trade-offs that eventually got the best of me.
Our little family carried on brilliantly. We lived in on Staten Island until the spring of 1972 then moved to another apartment in Pleasantville, New York. We moved because when our downstairs neighbors left, we got their cockroaches! It was nasty. When I found a few stray ones skittering through Joel’s crib like miniature samurais, I immediately looked in the Sunday newspaper real estate section and found a nice apartment in the burbs. No more roaches for us!
We moved to Westchester County outside the city. Len had to commute now by train instead of ferry, but it only took thirty minutes.
Len began to move up the corporate ladder. He received a large promotion in his second year as a CPA and was on his way to becoming a manager. He worked at a company called Arthur Young. By now he was working long hours, and during the tax season I might not see him for days at a time. It was a joke among other work spouses that we were “tax season widows.” Not so funny.
In February of 1974, and six months pregnant with my daughter, I came down with the flu. I ran a fever and found it difficult to cope with a two-year-old, a dog, and staying awake. Joel, the dog and I camped out on my bed, watched TV and ate soup and popcorn all day. The sleet outside beat against the windowpane and created a corresponding ache in my body. I needed help! I was a feverish pregnant mess!
I called Len at work in tears. I begged him to come home. He said he would do his best but he had to meet his tax deadlines and never showed up until 2 a.m. He was a shit-head for not coming home to help me out. It was the beginning of a pattern with him, but I was stoic and ill prepared to believe that his work came first and everything else came second. I sucked it up because I saw my mother and other friends doing the same thing. I made excuses for him to convince myself otherwise.
Len still had good qualities. He was a dedicated provider; he loved his children in his own way; he was smart, funny and still politically liberal. We enjoyed some things together, like reading the Sunday New York Times, going to movies and plays, eating good food and listening to music.
Len and I wanted to grow our little family. Isn’t that what everyone does? If you have one little chicken, aren’t two better? My second pregnancy was easy. I had only a tad of morning sickness. I was now dedicated to using natural childbirth and didn’t care if the breathing techniques barely worked.
Rachel arrived right on time, May 27th 1974. She was a Watergate baby—conceived and born during the hottest time of an unprecedented presidential political scandal. Americans were glued to TVs and radios, watching, listening and discussing the Watergate Hearings twenty-four seven. Nothing like this had happened before in our country’s history where a sitting president was caught red-handed orchestrating a criminal act then covering it up. The only other President to be impeached was Andrew Johnson in 1869, but his crimes were of a political nature not criminal.
Since the first reports of the Watergate break in, at the offices of the Democratic National Committee Headquarters in 1972, investigative reporting turned up evidence and stories of illegal wire tapping, high level cover ups and clandestine meetings with a whistle blower dubbed “Deep Throat” who years later was identified as an FBI deputy director. We were all consumed by the unraveling of the presidency, his staff, and the audacity of the crimes committed.
It seemed like high drama every day. Between the evidence being uncovered by reporters, the heated Senate hearings and the Supreme Court duking it out with Nixon to release secret recordings that he refused to hand over willingly, all hell was breaking loose!
The official Senate hearings commenced in the spring of 1973. John Dean, the 13th White House Counsel to testify who had been covering up his involvement with the break in, was the first to rat out Nixon and blow the lid off the cover up. Then like lemmings jumping over a cliff, other White House aides and lawyers came forward with their own scathing testimony about Nixon’s criminal behavior in order to save their own asses from long jail sentences.
It was riveting stuff, and for a while all three channels broadcasted this unfolding story live every day 9-5. Everyone watched or listened to the hearings all the time for a year. It was like a soap opera on steroids, but real and frightening because no one knew what would happen to the government of the United States. Would the country fall apart? Would our enemies see us a vulnerable and attack us while the chain of command hung in jeopardy? Who controlled the nuclear weapons?
I didn’t know anyone at the time who supported Nixon or gave him the benefit of the doubt, except for my brother who always played the devil’s advocate. Everyone was furious with Nixon and few of us could stomach seeing him as anything but a crook. One of my brother’s favorite sayings was “If you’re young and a Republican you have no heart. If you’re old and a Democrat you have no brain.” He got this quote from Winston Churchill. It used to really piss me off when he said this to support his Republican leanings. But after what Nixon and his Republican crew did, there was little sympathy or trust of Republicans for years afterwards.
Rachel was born three months before Nixon’s resignation in August of 1974. Just by osmosis she was exposed in utero to the hours and hours of testimony, political bantering, news stories, drama and excitement. While Joel was a mellow child, easy going, laid-back and influenced by our folk song serenades and my faux hippie tendencies, Rachel was not.
Rachel had strong opinions and determination early on. She didn’t always want the hugs and kisses I lavished on her brother. She had a distinct mind of her own from the beginning. I remember a time when she had just started to walk on her own. We were in the living room of our first Connecticut house. Rachel relentlessly tried to walk by herself, refusing my hand to help her. She fell and got up over and over again. When she got up for the last time and took six steps of her own, she ended up right in front of me. I reached down to hug her and say, “Well done, baby girl!” But she waved me back and said, “NOOO” and toddled away like a little drunken person in the opposite direction. She surprised me all the time.
Maybe her exposure to a politically turbulent time, where no one knew how to trust anyone, effected her outlook on the world, and so she decided not to take any chances, only trusting herself, and doing things her way first!
Rachel definitely had the rebel in her. She was in many ways like me, but she did things openly and without hesitation. As a fourth grader at East School in New Canaan, Connecticut, she learned to her surprised that she was the only Jewish kid in her class. When Hanukkah came around, she insisted on doing a presentation for her class and brought in potato pancakes, dreidels and gelt. I helped her rehearse her pitch and off she went, determined to bring a Jewish holiday into a very upper crust Waspy school. I was so proud of her!
As young siblings, she and Joel did pretty well together. They played, argued, made up: the usual stuff. By then we had moved into our first home in Norwalk, Connecticut. It was a kids’ paradise. We lived on a cul de sac and they ruled the street. Bikes, toys, and skates littered lawns while kids darted back and forth freely between houses like scurrying squirrels hunting for nuts.
By then we could afford a baby sitter, so I began to take college classes at night again. I studied archeology, English and history. Nothing I took lit a fire in me. I just plugged away at getting my degree.
I also renewed my interest in pottery and made nifty pots and hand built sculptures for Len’s office. I taught myself how to sew and made lopsided clothing for Joel and Rachel because I seemed to have trouble sewing overall shoulder straps that matched each other. I excelled at sewing sheets into a multitude of items like shower curtains, drapes, tablecloths and pillows. If it had a straight line, I could sew it.
And I sold Avon beauty products for a while to fund an old dream of learning how to ride horseback.
As I kid, I badly wanted to learn to ride. I loved books and movies about horses like Black Beauty and National Velvet. Who wouldn’t want to imagine themself as Elizabeth Taylor all decked out in her red riding jacket, jodhpurs and spiffy black velvet helmet? Her famous line “I want it all quickly ‘cause I don’t want God to stop and think I am getting more than my share!” was right on the mark for me.
When I was twelve, I found a stable in the yellow pages that gave lessons on the outskirts of Rochester. I was so proud of myself for figuring out how to the get lessons, but my parents didn’t share my enthusiasm because they were too busy and strapped for money to help make my dream come true.
When I moved to Connecticut, horse farms were everywhere. My sister-in-law Joyce took riding lessons not far away in Westchester and I also wanted to take them. Len didn’t want to spend the money on this. It was expensive once you added up the cost of lessons and gear. So I decided to sell Avon products to fund myself.
My biggest customer, my sole supporter really, was my grandmother. She ordered lipstick, face powder and bubble bath all the time. I tried to talk her out of ordering so much, but she insisted she needed these items. If I didn’t call her up on a regular basis to take an order, she tracked me down to place an order. When I visited her in Rochester, I saw all the unopened packages of products she bought from me stacked in a corner next to her dressing table.
I took horseback riding lessons for one year. It was a lot tougher than the fantasy of it. Horses are a force of nature and you have to be confident that you can control them when you ride. It turned out that I was not a natural at this. I had no idea how to connect with horses. I tried petting them on the ears or muzzle or whispering what a good horse they were while I rode them. Whatever horse I was on seemed implacable to my gestures of reassurance and appreciation. No matter what I did, I couldn’t break the ice between me being human, and the horse being horse. I couldn’t find a way to create a bond. Without that bond, the chain of command shifted and ultimately the horse was the one in control, not me.
During my last lesson, after practicing posting and cantering at an indoor ring in Weston, Connecticut, I had a near-serious collision with another rider that ended my riding lessons for good. The instructor told me to ride on the outside edge of the ring while other riders jumped in the middle. Since for a split second they might end up right in my pathway as they cleared their jump, I had to have good timing and riding skills to avoid a collision. I had neither of these skills even though I had been riding for a year.
I saw one rider make her jump, and I was supposed to account for this by slowing down my horse so she could use the lane ahead of me. It was one of those inexplicable moments when you know what the right thing is to do but you do the wrong thing anyway. My horse, which had a mind of his own, intimidated me. I wasn’t in control when I tried to slow him down. The other rider had to yank her horse back quickly, pulling the bit in his mouth so hard to the left that his mouth nearly met his neck. The horse screeched in pain. Everyone in the ring stopped in place, and when the rider recovered, she was furious with me, yelling obscenities. It turned out the rider was the actor Linda Blair from the movie The Exorcist. She cursed me up and down like the green-faced, swivel-headed character she played. I didn’t blame her a bit. I should not have been riding in that ring. I could have caused serious injury to the horses or us. I ended my lessons at that moment.
Once, in California on a dude ranch, during a 1993 business trip Len’s company arranged for spouses to go on a trail ride. It had been almost twenty years since my bad experience and I had forgotten some of my fears. I was told the horses were gentle and used to the trail. I was riding western which gave me a lot of saddle to hang on to. But damn, my horse got spooked and took off like a shot. Everybody else thought, “ Wow, she can really ride!” as I galloped full speed through a field, passing the group and not able to utter a plea for help. No one knew that I hadn’t ever galloped before. I got the horse to finally stop and jumped off. The horse reared up and I let go of its reigns. It then ran into the woods and the trail guide had to retrieve it. Failed again! My riding mishap was the joke of the cocktail hour that night.
The last time I rode was on a trip to France in 1995 with two friends, both avid riders who found a local stable that offered trail rides. I thought, “No way am I going to be a part of that,” but my friend Susan talked me into going after too much champagne and foie gras the night before. I surprised my friends and myself by posting and doing some cantering. My confidence was building when Whoa! My horse decided, as it carefully negotiated a climb up a rocky hill at the end of the ride, that it wanted out. The damn horse caught sight of the stable in the distance and started a heated run in that direction. I couldn’t stop him. He was crazed! A big old walnut tree came up fast on my left side and to avoid being creamed by it, I slid in slow motion off the horse before I hit the tree, then ended up landing on a rock. The horse continued on its way. My friends who towered above me in the saddle laughed and said that it was the most graceful fall they had ever seen! The stable manager was furious with me, yelling in French, “Merde! Tu es con!” It translates as “Shit! You’re an idiot!” My butt was sore but my ego sorer. Jamais Plus! Never again!
By the time Rachel was three, and Joel six, in the spring of 1977, we moved to a bigger house with two acres of land in Westchester County. The schools were very good in the town of South Salem, which was one reason for the move. The new house sprawled beyond anything I thought we could ever be able to afford. We moved from a one bath, three-bedroom split-level home on a small lot, to a four-bedroom colonial with a fireplace, a huge kitchen and two acres of land. Woods and farmland surrounded us and it seemed like an idyllic place to live for a very long time.
Since family was my focus, I started cooking a lot. Although my mother wasn’t much of an inspiration in that department my grandmother was. I wanted to cook from scratch like she did, just not Polish food.
Julia Child was all the rage and I loved her show on PBS and her cookbook, The Art of French Cooking. I started with the first chapter and ploughed my way through making cheese sticks, stuffed mushrooms, coq au vin, beef stroganoff, fish cooked in parchment paper, puff pastry, béarnaise sauce, omelets, crepes, bread and baked Alaska!
If I couldn’t have a college degree, I wanted to darn well excel at something! Cooking opened social doorways. Most everyone loved to eat, and by hosting dinner parties I could shine. Len loved my new talent and especially liked being the host. This was a valuable asset for Len as his career opportunities grew.
When we moved to the new house, Len had just been hired by one of his accounting clients, PepsiCo. At thirty, he became the assistant controller. I didn’t realize it at the time, but we were stepping out of one world and into another.
Arthur Young, Len’s previous employer, was a conservative place to work. It required long hours, especially during the tax season, but Len didn’t have to work weekends or travel very much. They also had very few social functions to attend so I felt little social pressure to fit in.
Welcome to the world of being a corporate wife, Dale! I was an innocent at the time. I just thought, “How nice, Len got another really good job.” He was flying high and I wanted to be the good wife and mother, grounding our lives and cooking for our new friends. Len thrived in the new corporate environment.
The headquarters was in Purchase, New York, right next to White Plains. The impressive office complex included a world-class sculpture garden. Works by Louis Nevelson, Alexander Calder, Giacometti, Rodin, and Henry Moore dotted manicured lawns and formal gardens with bucolic ponds and streams.
Inside the headquarters polished marble floors glistened. Honduras rosewood burl walls with dramatic picture windows offered a vista of the outdoor sculptures and trees. Indoor gardens seasonally changed with hordes of tulips from Holland in January, mounds of orange and rust mums in the fall or thousands of poinsettias in pink, red and white at the holiday. Tapestries and paintings hung with brass plaques describing the artist. A fully equipped employee gym, an upscale cafeteria, dining rooms with private chefs, and a staff of receptionists, secretaries and assistants met your every need. It was seductive and uncompromising. If you worked there, I learned, you felt privileged and important. It was the first time I heard about the “golden handcuffs.” I also wondered, “Do the shareholders know how much money is spent on all this non-business stuff?”
Ok, this was different than working on the 32nd floor of a Park Avenue skyscraper in a windowless office. Len became awestruck with his new environment and in love with his new employer. How could he not be? He was after all just a middle class, Jewish guy from Queens who, through hard work and luck, had found the golden key, the way to the top of the heap! It was the rung of the career ladder you only dream and pray you get a stab at.
He found fitting into his new work environment as natural as breathing air. It suited him. He loved the Waspy nature of it. He did everything he could not to let on he was Jewish and excelled at playing down his Jewishness. Even our close friends Lee, and her mother Florence, both worldly New York Jews, were shocked to find out Len was a Jew. The three of us were eating at a posh restaurant in Greenwich, Connecticut when I mentioned something about his Jewish roots. Lee and Florence put down their forks and screeched simultaneously with food still in their mouths, “LEN’S JEWISH! You’re Jewish!!!” several times, making diners turn and gape at us. It was very funny.
I am not sure how they missed this obvious detail since our last name was Schutzman, but it was a testament to Len’s ability to fit in so seamlessly to his ethnically bland world. In time PepsiCo would evolve beyond the stereotype of plain vanilla male and hire Indira Nooye, an Indian born naturalized American woman to be their CEO, breaking the glass ceiling for women and minorities, but this wouldn’t happen until 2007.
I became pregnant with our third child in February of 1978. By then Rachel had adjusted well to her Montessori nursery school, Joel had started first grade, and we had plenty of room in our house to welcome another little one. I was so excited to be pregnant again. I knew this would probably be my last baby, so every moment was special. I still remember when I felt my third potato move. I was three months pregnant and taking a bath. Relaxing in the warm water, I felt a slight twitch in my belly. I looked down in that direction and saw a microscopic flutter like a pollywog catching the surface of a puddle. I didn’t know if what I felt or saw was real and then it happened again and again. Wow, my baby was swimming around!
I really wanted another child. With Rachel in school, I felt a bit of the empty nest syndrome during the day and longed for more of that baby love experience again.
Len was being pulled away more and more by work. I supported him and his dreams of grandeur as long as he let me have a few dreams of my own. He clearly shined like a star at work because, after only nine months on the job, they asked him to transfer to sunny California as the CFO of their newly acquired restaurant chain, Taco Bell.
This news did not thrill me. I was pregnant and looking forward to feeling settled and rooted in our new home, using the same OB doctor and hospital as before. I had begun to feel a sense of community. We now lived fifteen minutes from my brother and his family, and were becoming very close.
Why would I want to move to California? The company emphasized that they wanted me to go willingly. That was refreshing, I guess. They planned a trip out west for Len, the kids and pregnant me.
We flew out first class. I loved it. They booked us into a five star hotel, gave us tickets to Disneyland, paid for all the food and transportation and had people from Taco Bell chauffeur us around. They took us out for every meal and event, basically blowing sunshine up our asses about how a move there would be an incredible opportunity to live in warm weather, eat farm fresh food, go to beautiful beaches and parks, and live the California dream. The only thing missing was piped-in music by the Beach Boys!
I hated California. Maybe it was the heat, or that it never rained or that people seemed so damn cheerful all the time, but Len looked like a puppy dog nursing on a full teat the whole time we were there. He wanted this opportunity badly. How could I say anything but yes?
I also hated the idea of leaving my home, my friends, and the comfort of knowing where I fit in. I let Len know I sacrificed these things to follow him and his dream. He promised me I would have more freedom once we moved. He promised he would be home for dinners and spend more time with the children and that he’d support whatever I wanted to do with school or work.
I reluctantly agreed to go. My father was very opinionated about the subject and told me to “suck it up because a good wife does what she can to help her husband move ahead.” My mother said, “Your father is right, dear.”
I put my feelings aside and dove into the move determined to make it work. Maybe that was my first mistake.
I had a lot to do, finding a house, schools, doctors, friends, and as it turned out safe drinking water!
Imagine my surprise when I found out after leaving a pristine woodsy environment with our own wonderful sweet-tasting well water, that the water in our new home was not safe for our children to drink! The California dream was step-by-step becoming a nightmare, at least for me.