“You’re Just Fine”

Barbara Thomas, my Mom, with my Sister Gwen and me at the Batrasi Resthouse in West Pakistan late 1960s.

Note to Blog Readers: I have just finished reading Alexandra Fuller’s lovely book “Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness” and was inspired to write a few lines about my own experiences in Africa and Asia and my own incredible mother. Both “Cocktail Hour…” and Alexandra’s first book “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight” are beautifully written. Another woman author whose tale of an African childhood experience, and an extraordinary mother, worth reading is New York Times’ White House Correspondent Helene Cooper’s story of growing up in Liberia, “The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood.” I’ve divided my brief tales into three parts. Here’s the first.

Part I – “You’re Just Fine”

My experience being a Mamma in Italy is in sharp contrast to my experience of having an American Mom. As I have mentioned in earlier posts (see Fevers ) it is an Italian Mamma’s life-long duty to constantly fret about her children’s health. My mother’s attitude was quite the opposite. She told me once, “the best pediatricians are the ones who tell you your child is “just fine'” In fact, that was her attitude to most of her own three children’s ailments. Scraped knees, bloody noses, stitches, broken bones, amoebas….the response was mostly the same, “you’re just fine.”

My mother applied her philosophy to herself first. She was living in Dhaka, Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) when she got pregnant with my older sister Gwen. Gwen was upside down, feet first, and in most countries that would have called for a C-section. My Mom said there was a confident Nun-Obstetrician at the Holy Family Hospital in Dhaka who told my Mother, “Don’t worry, I’ll turn the baby around and get her out. She’ll be just fine.” And so it was.

In the photo above my mother is looking very glamourous as she holds my sister Gwen’s hand and I hide behind her. There is a note on the back of the photo that says “Batrasi Resthouse, West Pakistan, Between Abbottabad and Kaghan.” Underneath in parenthesis is a little note (P has been car sick). P means me, Patricia, and, well, if you want my side of the story, we were winding up a perilous road with hairpin turns and I was sitting in the back of the landrover feeling steadily worse and worse and once in a while announcing: “Mom, I don’t feel good.” I believe she answered, “look straight ahead pumpkin and you’ll be just fine.” It was impossible to look straight ahead because I was five-years-old and from the back I couldn’t see over the seat in front of me, and even if I could, it was so steep and curvy there would not have been much of a view straight ahead anyway. So finally I announced, “I’m going to throw up!” at which point the driver slammed on the brakes and my Dad hopped out of the front seat and whipped open the door just in time for me to yack all over the side of the road. So, this little inconvenience required the stop at the Batrasi Resthouse for Tea. I was just fine, but that was just the beginning.

(These are what my mother likes to refer to as my Tall Child Abuse Tales)

Tomorrow: The Mini-Purply Eggplant and My Lost Opportunity to Become a Princess


12 thoughts on ““You’re Just Fine””

  1. Ok, fascinating! I can’t wait for part two! I haven’t read many My Life In Africa type non-fiction books but this reminds me a little of Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud (which I read in 1999)… except your parents were far more responsible and far less hippie-dippie from the sounds of it! That’s so amazing you were a global traveler from an early age!!!

  2. Hi Trisha,

    I love that picture. It’s the first time I have seen it. And I used to do the same thing with David. “Oh no, you don’t feel sick, you’re fine.” I was always wrong. Maybe this “you’re fine” trait runs in the family.

    Love, Tish (for those who don’t know, I’m Barbara’s sister)

    PS – Love your blog!

  3. Just a brief reply. Interesting Abbotabad and Kaghan were unknown in 1969. Subsequently they have been put on the map; Abbotabad as the hiding place of Osama bin Lauden and Kaghan as the epi center of the terrible northern Pakistan earthquake..

    1. I did think about the Abbotabad – Osama Bin Laden connection as I was writing, but I did not know that Kaghan was where the earthquake was. What I remember was a beautiful, isolated mountainous area. I would be curious to hear more of your memories.

  4. Having known you and your mother for more than 40 years, I believe every word you say! Never have I known a stronger pair of mother/daughter women. Let’s hear more of your early adventures.

    1. More early adventures coming up soon….
      I think my “you’re just fine” Mom was part of a generation of which you are also very much a part. I don’t remember much fussy over children or lamenting coming from Anne Simmons. It is a style you both have and I admire!

  5. This post had me laughing and crying. It is SO interesting to hear as someone that has only known Barbara as a young adult/adult. I have often thought of the B approach in comparison to the things you write about here re: Mozzarella-mamma-style mamma-ing, if you will allow that newly-coined verbiage. I think that when she joined the Slayter clan later in life, the “you’re just fine” response got EVEN more entrenched as a result of my Dad’s Yankee ways – what do you think? :)

    Also – what a glamorous mom!

    1. Totally Glam Mom! I never realized until I was grown up how both glam and cool my Mom was. As far as the “you’re just fine” aspect, it can definitely be applied to current events, once ingrained, the “you’re just fine” mentality sticks with you.

  6. That’s so right on: I grew up in the 50s with my Italian parents and grandparents (in NYC) who were always obsessed with my health. Christ my nonna took me to a special store to be fitted with orthopedic shoes because I had knock knees and flat feet. I despised those expensive ugly shoes and refused to wear them. Nobody else in kindergarten had such shoes! Evedntually my legs straightened out and my feet are no longer flat, imagine that. As a result, I became the laid back mother like your own, and I always heard myself telling my kids..’you’re just fine.”

    1. Oh Barbara, that is so funny about the shoes, although it obviously was not so funny for you at the time. The doctors in Italy told me my second child, Caterina, had to wear special shoes because something was wrong with her legs before she even learned to walk. I obediently made her wear them, and she didn’t start walking at one year as her older brother had. I got worried about it. Then at 14 months one day, when I took the shoes off her, she stood up and started walking. I put them back on and she stopped walking. I tossed those shoes in a big hurry. Oh, what a silly and insecure Mom I had been. I needed to be more like my “you’re just fine” Mom.

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