|Child Rearing - Love,
Words and Rod
By Alfred Opp, Vancouver, British Columbia
Edited by Connie Dahlke, Walla Walla, Washington
That young people would marry and have children
was the normal expectation of our ancestors in Teplitz
and Bessarabia. It was the responsibility of children
to carry on the culture and way of life. Without children
there was no hope for future prosperity of the family,
nor the benefit of having someone to care for the
needs of the parents in their old age - there was
only the prospect of an end to the family line.
Cultural life was strongly embedded within the family,
and children were raised to fit the family mold. Starting
from the cradle, the rigging was assembled to carry
the sails that would provide a safe voyage over the
waters of life. Girls were trained to become good
wives and mothers. Both the mother in the home and
the grandmothers were actively involved to make sure
young girls developed all the skills required for
their journey ahead. Boys were educated with equal
attention from the family to shoulder their male role
and responsibilities. Boys grew up with an understanding
of what was expected of them - they were to become
a good family man and provider.
Sex education was minimal. The inner secrets of reproduction
were never discussed at home nor were young adults
allowed to listen in on such conversations. The village
Elder maintained a strong stand on moral standards,
using the same reasoning and terminology that had
been handed down from the past. But for details to
satisfy their curiosity, young people went to strangers,
servants or a confidant to have their questions answered.
Since we were a farming community, there was also
ample opportunity for most young people to be familiar
with reproductive activities among the farm animals.
In the German colonies, women gave birth in their
homes. In most cases a midwife was present to make
sure the birth went well. My dad at home was not allowed
to be present when my mother was giving birth. This
was by strict orders from the midwife who felt that
the presence of the husband would only be a distraction.
On the other hand, there was never a shortage of help
from the women in the family. It was the rule of the
day that a "Woechnerin "(a woman who had just given
birth) must spend 10 days in her "Wochenbett "(birthing
bed) after giving birth, not moving a limb for the
first three days. The midwife was totally in charge
of the care of both mother and infant. The midwife
set the schedule as to when the baby should be nursed,
bathed or diapers changed. At least one other family
member who was an experienced mother herself was always
on hand to assist. My mother had purchased "Schmeckseife
"(a bar of special soap that smelled like roses) to
be used to bath me. This was a special treat, as such
soap was a luxury item.
After a successful birth, the grandmothers of the
infant provided the midwife with a rewarding treat
that included real coffee and often specialty baked
goods. The birth of a child was anticipated with mixed
feelings. While the family welcomed the arrival of
a new baby, they were well aware of the many tragic
complications that could take the life of both mother
and infant. Serving as a midwife carried heavy responsibilities
and had its anxious moments. A successful birth resulted
in a celebration, while a failure resulted in a funeral.
When successful, the midwife was treated like royalty;
if the child died, the midwife carried the infant
during the funeral procession to the cemetery.
It was customary for relatives in the village to stop
by to see the mother and baby. Much attention was
focused on the baby. People were especially curious
to see whom the baby looks like, what family features
the baby showed. Along with the visitors came food
dishes of a finer variety. Dishes such as stuffed
pigeon, nourishing soups, or sweet rice and raisins
were common gifts. A favorite dessert for such occasions
was "Schneeballa," a dish of fluffy whipped egg whites
served in a tasty sauce made from egg yolks, milk
and sugar. These dishes were attractively presented
to the new mother in a special embroidered cloth spread
("Tuch" ) that was tied up by the corners into a slip-knot
to carry the dish.
My birth was typical for the culture and times. I
was my mother's first-born child and my "Oma" Zacher
made sure there was a second midwife standing by who
had the experience to handle any emergency situation.
As a newborn, I slept with my mother for three days
before being placed in the cradle that stood next
to my mother's bed. Baby clothes were presented to
my mother by many family members and close friends
of the family. These items were hand-made by the women
who went all out to make these baby garments look
pretty. Diapers, little shirts, booties and hoods
were nicely embroidered in colors to go with a boy
or a girl. Pillows and covers were hand-decorated
with both lace and embroidery. Diapers were made of
a flannel material that was easy to wash. To keep
diapers from leaking, Mom used a red rubber sheet
called "Glonka" between the layers of diapers.
Breast-feeding was of primary importance. If the mother
was unable to breast-feed or if the baby could not
nurse satisfactorily due to a health problem, a substitute
method had to be found. This was when the mother turned
to a wet-nurse or purchased a bottle to feed the baby.
When I was four months old, when my mother tried to
feed me I would turn my head away and cry inconsolably.
Again and again my mother urged me to her breasts,
but I would not cooperate. This went on all night,
until I fell asleep from exhaustion. Mom was at a
loss to know what to do. She couldn't figure out what
was wrong with me. My "Oma" Opp stopped by the next
morning to see my mother, and Mom told "Oma" that
I must be sick, since I was refusing to eat. "Oma"
Opp knew right away what she needed to do. She told
Mom that I was fine - I was just hungry! How could
that be? My mother was surprised. "Oma" Opp went to
work heating up some milk and browning a bit of flour.
This she added to the warm milk along with a bit of
sugar. "Oma" had used this formula on her babies,
and now she used it on me. She sat down on a chair
and took me on her lap to feed me. First she put a
spoonful of formula in her mouth until it was the
perfect temperature, then she put the formula back
into the spoon and into my mouth. I ate well and soon
was so full that I fell into a long, deep sleep.
For me, learning to walk came naturally. Learning
to talk was a different matter. Mom used a lot of
baby-talk with me, trying to get me to talk: da-da-da;
babala; tu-tu-tu. Nothing seemed to work. "Oma" soon
had heard enough and scolded Mom for not doing a better
job teaching me. Then my" Oma" Zacher began her method
of speech therapy on me. "Oma" went to work to teach
me using my name, saying "Alfred, Alfredle" or "Alfredche.
"Then she simplified it even more, repeating "Alfred,
Afed, Afredsche." In the end I said "Fredsche" and
that name stuck with me for a long time.
Once children started to walk, they no longer wore
diapers. What came out went down one leg or the other.
My mother would time me and take me to the outhouse
to prevent accidents. If she missed the timing, I
learned the result. I can honestly say that it didn't
take me long to learn to keep my pants dry.
Children learned very young what behavior was acceptable
and what was not. Parents didn't stop to ask questions
about why the child misbehaved. Disobedience was handled
with a rod quickly and on the spot. We early learned
what was coming our way if we ended up on the wrong
side of the "law. "The result was the same whether
at home or at school. From a very young age, children
accompanied their parents wherever they went, with
few exceptions. As young children, we learned to socialize,
to behave, and to be part of the communal life. We
learned to respect our parents, and they taught us
to be honest, God-fearing and loyal. Obedience and
hard work were the order of the day - to be otherwise
one could not exist.
As a teenager, my mother never received advice on
feminine well-being - only warnings to "behave."
However, Mom was fortunate to receive a "Doktor Buch"
- a medical journal - from her parents. How much she
educated herself on human health issues, I cannot
say. Mom didn't pass any of her intimate information
on to me either. What my mother did for me was unusual
and especially emotional to me: the day I left for
America she gave me a condom. I was 25 years old when
I said farewell to my family. It was a very emotional
moment for me. Leaving my mother behind was especially
difficult. It seemed to both of us that this might
be the parting with no return. I was so touched by
what Mother did. Her care and devotion left me standing
there in tears. Her love at that moment reached an
all-time high with me, knowing that she wanted me
to be protected and safe.
Years later, in Canada, Mom was more open about her
growing-up experiences and life in Teplitz. Yet she
and I never talked about the gift she gave me. I was
fully aware of her sense of duty that she
carried out with such dignity. God bless you, Mom.
Alfred Opp is the author of "Pawns
on the World Stage" - the memoirs of his
childhood in Teplitz, Bessarabia and the experiences
of his family in war-torn Europe (Poland during 1941-1945
before they fled to East Germany in 1945, then the
reconstruction of West Germany 1945-1955).
Note: Many of the recipes mentioned can be found
in "Bessarabische Spezialitaeten:aus der Kolonisten
am Schwarzen Meer, 1814 - 1940", 1999, 82 pages
in color, compiled by Gertrud Knopp-Rueb.
English translation of the cookbook title is "Bessarabian
Food Specialities: From the Settlement Period of the
German Colonies in the Black Sea Region, 1814 -1940".
This cookbook is available including the translation
of the recipes at this webpage: library.ndsu.edu/grhc/order/cookbook/knopp2.html