Tom was born in Paris in the same week in 1989 that the Loma Prieta earthquake shook the Bay Area. The World Series was in progress, with the players on the ball park warming up when the whole ball park moved and the stands lurched and swayed. There was a lot going on that week! Chrystie, his maternal grandmother in Palo Alto, likes to remind Tom that he is her “earthquake boy.” This nickname may also have a little to do with his direct and powerful approach to the world.”Hello world: it’s Tom!”
His birth itself was not the simplest. Within an hour after he arrived on this earth, the doctor diagnosed an infection, and promptly put him into an infant intensive care ward. A reasonable precaution: the only problem was that the hospital where his mom had given birth did not have an infant ICU. So he was transferred a couple of miles away to a hospital which did in the 13th arrondissement. His mom stayed where she was. Every day, I visited his mom and then walked the sidewalks across town to visit Tom. He was inside a plastic incubator to protect him from other ambient infection, and on an antibiotic intravenous feed to cure the one that he had. I couldn’t touch him or hold him, and neither of course could his mom, who was still miles away in her own hospital bed. That part was hard. I would stare at him hoping that he could feel me there, and when Nick was with me I would hold Nick up so he could see who was in that transparent plastic box.
I don’t know how much he was conscious of his solitude in that incubator for the first week of his life, but I do know that he has a lot of fight in him. Tom is a very tough nut to crack.
In part, that must have come from his early years. For one thing, his older sibling is Nick! That’s a challenge right there. Not that Nick isn’t kind to his little brother, which he is and was starting very young. But he also was not entirely happy with learning to share. Every older sibling has that problem early on, the transition from being the only subject of all that parental affection to playing second fiddle, and second to a more dependent and needy little person at that. In this case, I remember noticing that three or four of Tom’s first birthday presents were broken within a few days! Could have been Tom, could have been Nick, could have been nothing but poor quality merchandise: I’ll leave it at that.
Tom also arrived right in the middle of a parental conflict zone. Certainly not his fault. But his mom Sunshine and I had a deal when we moved to Paris, a simple deal: we would return to California after a few years. When she was pregnant with Tom in early 1989, she changed her mind, and announced that she would never return. Months, years of arguments and mutual reproaches ensued. I had already done my part of the bargain, finding a job in Paris and moving her there. I always felt like an outsider in my new home town, and now she was giving me no choice but to stay there indefinitely. Well, there was a theoretical choice. I could return alone to California and leave my young sons in Paris. That was simply not a practical alternative.
It was a debate that continued for years, and Tom arrived right as it was getting rolling! Dealing with Nick on the one hand, and with his feuding parents on the other, must have toughened him up. More significant perhaps for baby Tom was that from the age of about eight weeks, he spent every weekday first with a “nourrice,” a state-licensed child care person who looked after him and several other babies in her home. Both Sunshine and I had demanding legal jobs, and neither of us was able to take a prolonged maternity or paternity leave.
Upon occasion, one of us would see his life at the nourrice’s, while picking him up for a medical appointment – French medical care for newborns is impressively thorough and almost free – or for a long weekend. The nourrice was a sweetheart, as you would expect of a woman making her living out of looking after babies. Yet every time I picked Tom up early, he was in front of a TV. She explained that he was happier that way, which I think meant quieter and more easily occupied, but he would have spent less time in front of a TV at home.
At the end of the nourrice’s workday, around 4 or 5 pm, another child care person whom we had engaged would come to collect him from her home, and bring him and Nick to our home and feed them and play with them. On warmer days, the boys might be taken to the local playground, the “square de la mairie,” for a little outdoor entertainment. We found good people for this job, and paid them relatively well compared to our French peers. Tom was with Nick, his older brother, during these late afternoons. Either mom or dad, the first parent, would arrive home at maybe 7 or 8 pm, maybe later when there was pressure at work, to relieve the second child care person. Finally. From 8.30 or 9 in the morning until at least 7 or 8 in the evening, Tom was with a professional child care person.
France is a great resource of child care, even infant care, for working couples, but you have to wonder what so much separation from his parents at such a young age does for the child. That’s a comment on the parents, of course, more than on the wonderful institutions which allow them to raise their children in part by surrogates. The way that Sunshine and I lived was an inevitable result of believing that we were entitled to everything, an interesting career, children, the works. We were grateful that Paris was set up for people like us and our children. I wouldn’t do it differently if I had it to do over: there’s no justification in the modern world for denying both parents a career if they both want one. And we did ensure that both boys were very well looked after when we weren’t there ourselves.
Life on the weekends and on vacations was the same as if we did not have demanding US-style careers. Okay, so we missed a few weekends when client deadlines required weekend work. But visits to the parks around Paris, and trips to the country, were a constant distraction and fun for the whole family. We visited Chartres occasionally, and Normandy, and Parc Asterix when it opened. Further afield, we explored the Alps in the snow and Biarritz in the sun. There was never a shortage of intriguing destinations. Tom benefited from this French indulgence in vacations as much as we did. US employers (like mine) complained about all the long weekends – there were three in May alone, if I remember correctly – and vacation entitlements in France, but they did make life easier for two-career families.
Here is a cute photo on the left. If I remember correctly, Tom was given the roller skates for his third birthday, just a month or two before this little vacation, and spent much of his time learning to use them happily on his butt!
Back in the real world, by the end of 1991, I had moved out of the family home, into a maids room (a small studio) in the same area as Sunshine and the boys – in the same building at first! Nick and Tom barely seemed to notice. I was around almost as much as before, and Sunshine and I are were being relatively civil at that point. Let’s not forget Grandma! Even though never in the best of health and always easily tired, she was simply delighted to have another grandchild. Tom was her fourth: Antony and Laura, Sue and Derek’s children, came first, and ten plus years later Nick and Tom arrived.
Grandma didn’t do badly at first with our little whirlwind of activity: the boys were always very energetic, always buzzing here and there and doing this and that, but she figured out how to manage us all. She would lodge us in a nearby hotel, often at Handy Cross, so that she could regulate the time that she spent in our whirlwind. Very sensible! As her ailments worsened over time, we all be came a bit much for her, but she would always want to come back for more. She spent her last years living for the weekends when we would all come to visit, or Nick, Tom and I would come to visit. Then we would arrive, with the boys a constant low-key hurricane of interaction and action, running here and there and everywhere, noise, noise and more noise, and within a couple of days Grandma was looking forward to her peace again! Tom was only six years old when his Grandma Stock died, and so never got to know her very well. But she was very thankful that she had been able to get to know him and Charlie as well as Nick, and that is what it’s all about.