No-child #2 turned 19 years old today. Noman remembers his birth vividly.
No-family had moved the prior fall to Barcelona for Noman to take a faculty position at a Spanish University. It was explained that while Spain had socialized medicine, nobody who could avoid it used the public system. We promptly purchased private insurance and began seeing a highly recommended MD.
No-wife's pregnancy was a preexisting condition. So, while pre-partem visits were covered, the delivery would not be. No problem, as our MD, like all doctors in Spain, worked in the public system during part of the day or week, and at his private practice the rest. He would simply deliver the baby at the public hospital, which would spare us the expense.
Naturally, it was costing us in the price of everything we bought, earned or paid for. But, that's another story.
As he wanted us to feel comfortable in unfamiliar circumstances, he had us visit the hospital, and meet the nurses that most likely would be assisting him deliver our child. It was a very nice touch, and everyone seemed more than friendly.
The night of the birth, we arrived at the public hospital and proceeded to fill out dozens of forms in a cold, dark basement while No-wife lay on a gurney.
Once in the hospital room, we were informed that our MD was on duty that night, but was in the middle of his third consecutive delivery at the tail end of a long shift. He wouldn't be delivering our baby. We were crestfallen at the prospect of dealing with an MD who knew nothing about us or our son.
By pure serendipity, our MD stumbled bleary eyed into the room an hour later solely to inform a nurse that he was going to sleep. When he saw me he exclaimed "hombre!", grabbed me by the shoulders, looked at No-wife on the gurney, and unhesitatingly instructed the nurse to awaken him in an hour so that he could perform the delivery.
The man was a hero, and we are eternally grateful to him and the breasts that nursed him for his sacrifice and the care that he showed us.
Once he left, the nurses informed us that they would be administering a pain killer to comfort No-wife and make the delivery easier. That's when the trouble started.
No-wife was concerned about the possible long-term affects on the baby of pain killers administerd during labor. Neither did she want to dull her faculties at this critical moment, knowing that she'd need to push soon.
No-wife had delivered our first child without drugs in Boston, and she expected to do the same in Barcelona. Noman conveyed her wishes to the nurses. What followed was hell.
They remonstrated that we were mistaken. We assured them that we understood the alternatives, but that she nevertheless had chosen to deliver without drugs. That a patient would exercise an informed consent was not within their frame of reference.
They explained that we simply didn't understand. We had checked ourselves into their hospital, and they would now take care of everything. Our part was over. They were the pros. Our task was merely to let them help us as they saw fit. We were in their hands.
It was what can only be described as a cultural experience, a moment when one realizes that so many of life's presumptions about the way things are, and that people will act, what they will consider reasonable and capable of accepting, are culturally conditioned.
As Americans, we expected that our choices would be respected. Americans take personal volition seriously, too seriously perhaps. We wanted information from them, and compliance. After considering everything, we expected to make the final determination and to have our wishes respected. Not.
We were amazed as well as alarmed by their vehemence. We were in a frightening environment in a foreign country. We spoke the language badly. We were at their mercy because no-wife was ready to deliver.
When the nurses began spitting out the words "una isla" meaning "an island," we knew we were trapped in a nightmare. They took umbrage at No-wife's supposed acting as if she were an island, an autonomous being. No such creature exists anywhere, as moments like these underscore, but especially not in the Spanish mentality.
In highly sociable (and socialized) Spain, independence is derided as individualism and viewed as a form a egotism. It is the ultimate in bad form, and considered selfish behavior. Moreover, it is their stereotype of Americans. So, everything we do falls into their misconceptions.
The contractions were coming hot and heavy, and No-wife was in no position to argue her case. That left it up to Noman to handle the nurses. The cave man protector emerged with each nurse's agitation and insistence on doing things her way, the way.
Eventually, they all stormed out of the room leaving us to wonder whether they would help deliver our baby. After a brief respite, they returned in a single file, three perhaps four nurses.
The one in the lead charged directly at Noman waving a placard in his face and throwing him back onto his heels. While she distracted him, the other nurses held No-wife down and forcibly administered the shot.
Rather than respecting our wishes, which were not within their set of acceptable alternatives, they'd merely left the room to regroup and plot strategy to disregard them.
Ultimately, they settled on methods employed by gypsy thieves on the streets of Rome, who surround an unsuspecting foreigner. While one of them distracts the startled tourist by waving cardboard in his face, the others pick his pocket (or her purse).
The nurses left us alone after that. They had won. Order, had been restored. Personal preference had been disregarded. Egotism had been smote. The foreigners had been put in their place, for their own good. They'd been forced to be free.
The irony is that No-wife was in so much pain when they pulled off their gambit that she didn't care that they had drugged her against her express wishes.
Noman, on the other hand, felt violated in a way he had not experienced since being robbed at machete point late one night while in college.
The bitter taste of the episode was largely washed away by the joyful birth of our first son. (The nurses helped and were gracious.) Nevertheless, it was quite an introduction to life in a foreign country. It, and what followed for a decade of life thereafter, left him convinced that in the final analysis, intercultural understanding is fated to stall at an uncrossable chasm.
How much truer this holds respecting Quixotic international projects to turn Americans into social welfare continentals, or orientals into freedom loving Americans. The former can't happen on American soil (or the latter on Iraqi), and attempts to impose that outcome will ultimately result in rejection, perhaps revolution.
One has heard much comparison in the decades following collapse of the Berlin wall between America's savage breed of capitalism and Europe's kinder social welfare type. People rarely stop to question whether America is really so savage, or Europe so kind. Neither do they consider that both places might have the system best adapted to the people who inhabit their respective continents.
Over the decades, Noman has learned to take (or at least try to take) Spain and Spaniards on their terms rather than on his when he is there. He tries to forget, to the extent possible, his American expectations.
Privacy--real privacy, not the bogus type promulgated by sexual revolutionaries and Leftist lawyers--is a concept with great moral force and vitality in America, but little in Spain.
For instance, making oneself available to people over meals, in the coffee bar at break times, in the hallways, at after-meal get togethers is indispensable, whether one cares to or not. In fact, one must learn to care to.
No-son #1 is 19 today. He travelled to Spain on on his own last summer to see friends in Barcelona, and to have an adventure at world youth day in Madrid. He visited with his elder sister, No-child #1, who studies in Pamplona.
He is better prepared to adapt to changing circumstances than his stubborn parents were, and to avoid confrontations with people in other places, given his birth and early upbringing in a foreign country.
Since our President also spent formative years in a foreign country, it is worth stating that our son would be a fool to attempt to impose his unique perspective onto others in either Spain or the US.
The world is his oyster as long as he remembers that when in Rome, he should do as the Romans do--but certainly not when in Ann Arbor.
Eternal life will be his if he remembers to render unto Caesar the things that Caesars, and to God the things that are God's.
Happy birthday, son. We love you.