I was pregnant when Joe and I married. Not many young couples could have been less prepared for parenthood than we! Dreams and plans flew out the window when we discovered that, not only were we in love, but that I was “expecting.” Passion had prevailed over prudence! What next?
I waved goodbye to a magazine job waiting for me in New York. Joe abandoned his expectation of a scholarship to Harvard Business School after graduating the following year. We married in haste, snatched a quick honeymoon in a borrowed trailer on a hill above Sturbridge Village, and tried to learn how to be married while getting ready for the arrival of an unexpected baby.
We had no money beyond what we had in our meager checking accounts. We hadn’t the slightest idea of how we were going to manage. But we were young and crazy enough to think there was nothing we couldn’t do. And we set about doing it.
Housing first. Where were we to live?
Fortunately, Joe had served 2 years in the army before returning to school, making us eligible for Yale’s Veteran’s Housing. This turned out to be half a Quonset hut in a sea of 100 Quonset huts, hastily thrown up beside the Yale Bowl after World War II, to house returning married vets and their families. Each half a hut was furnished with a Ben Franklin stove for heat in winter. Period. The rent, I recall, was about $60 a month. A bit rich for our pocketbooks, but we grabbed it.
My hope of earning money as a teacher to help with expenses, was quickly shattered. In those days, Connecticut didn’t like employing pregnant teachers no matter how fine their degree. Instead, I helped Joe with several jobs he was given by Yale’s Development Office and attended his Portuguese classes. (He intended to become an international banker specializing in Latin America. I just liked languages.)
With the little money we had, we acquired a second-hand double bed, a crib, a wooden rocking chair, and a sagging sofa. We scrounged a tiny table and four metal chairs from the trash. We learned to live on things like canned codfish cakes and tomato soup (very cheap when bought in bulk). However, fancy baby equipment was beyond our wildest dreams.
Tracey was born. She was a keeper! Her proud parents invested in a pink plastic tub for her. This wonderfully versatile and cheap piece of equipment became her carry cot and car seat. When we drove any distance, we bedded her down in her tub, and set it on the back, plastic-covered bench seat of her father’s old bathtub Lincoln. As we sped round corners on the long, twisting route to Joe’s parents’ home in Belfast, Maine, her tub zipped from one side of the bench to the other.
This delighted Tracey! She gurgled with delight as she slid from side to side. Never once did the tub tip over or fall off. And when we went to class together (I was used to student life and thought she might like it too….) she accompanied us in her tub. I like to think that she and I were Yale’s first co-eds. It took ten more years before Yale formally admitted women to the college.
Our only problem was that Tracey proved to be a huge distraction to the male students and teacher. An increasing amount of class time was spent hanging over her tub, chucking her under her chin, coaxing her to smile, offering her a bottle, or even checking her nappy to see whether she needed a change. She was an enchanting nuisance! And she played it for all it was worth.
Naturally, this couldn’t continue. The day came when our time as unofficial students had to end.
“I’m supposed to be teaching Portuguese,” Mr. Ferguson told us, sadly. “It’ll never happen so long as you and that pink plastic tub are with us!”
Our school days ended. We returned to the Quonset hut, and in June, Joe graduated. We moved to New York City, Tracey outgrew the tub, and became a toddler who no longer needed to be carted about in her tubby.
But she still loved it. When it wasn’t in active use as a bath, I kept it made up with a pillow and blankie. Her stuffed animals, as she accumulated them, slept there. But when she was tired or cranky, my Tubby Girl would climb back into it for as long as she fit. There was something about its pink plastic embrace that never failed to comfort and console her.
Though I wouldn’t do things the same way now, with all the knowledge and equipment available to today’s parents, I cherish the memory of the plastic tubby.
I wish we ALL had a safe, affordable place to go when the world is too much with us.