'My Summer With Molly': A Professor's Tale of True Love

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It begins, appropriately enough, on Labor Day.

No, not the national holiday. Labor Day in this case is May 12, 1986, the day before Molly Margaret Meyer--the 7-pound, 11-ounce, 19 1/2-inch-long, red-haired apple of her daddy's eye--is born.

It's a day that begins at 3:07 p.m. when Timarie Meyer calls her journalism professor husband, Larry, at Cal State Long Beach to say that her labor pains have started.

First rushing home to Huntington Beach and then rushing Timarie to the hospital, Meyer struggles to remember what he learned in Prepared Childbirth Class as Timarie "yelps and twists" through labor.

The long day of "tension, anticipation and distractions" ends with Molly's birth still three hours away and a befuddled Meyer, not sure whether he will faint in the delivery room, musing, "Is this any place for a 53-year-old father of three grown sons, newly embarked on a second marriage to a former student who is pregnant with his child, to be?"

Thus, the stage is set for "My Summer With Molly: The Journal of a Second Generation Father" (Calafia Press, $16.95), Larry L. Meyer's day-to-day chronicle of his decision to stay home and take care of Molly after his young wife's maternity leave ends and she returns to work.

Taking care of an infant for nearly four months is a new experience to Meyer, a former editor-in-chief of Westways magazine, a one-time free-lance magazine writer, author of six books and head of the magazine option in the journalism department at Cal State Long Beach.

"I was close to my three sons, but I was not there during the day when they were little," Meyer said. "I just enjoyed being with babies, and this one was my first daughter, and I just wanted to see what really being close to a baby all the time was like."

Meyer's journal of his daughter's first 17 weeks is, by turns, funny, warm, honest and insightful as he shares his experiences with diapering, feeding, burping and pondering the answer to that most universal of questions: What do you do with a crying baby?

"I think I've just lived the most productive summer of my life," he writes near the end of the book. "My soul is nourished. My mind thinks younger than in the spring. I hope and like to believe that Molly has benefited too. That through our closeness, through the strokes and whispers and rhymes and songs and games and much touching, I have given her something of value. Not something she'll remember, but something that may help mold her."

The "pre-story" to "My Summer With Molly" begins when the fiftysomething Meyer, who was divorced in 1981 after 21 years of marriage, falls in love with twentysomething Timarie, one of his journalism students.

In 1985, the couple fly to Ireland, where they are married in a village church outside Sligo, the hometown of William Butler Yeats, Meyer's favorite poet, and "far from the snickering crowd." Laughing good-naturedly, Meyer concedes: "I guess there's a little touch of scandal in all that--that classic story of professors and co-eds falling in love. My only alibi is, hey, it's true love."

Meyer said that both he and Timarie wanted children, "and I wanted to make it soon so I'd be around to enjoy the child. Little did we expect to succeed so quickly."

The birth experience was a far cry from Meyer's "first round of parenting" in the late '60s, when "the father was put in the smoking room and you're probably the 50th person to see the baby."

This time Meyer was determined to be a "really modern father." He not only went through Lamaze classes, but he even attended a breast-feeding class with Timarie. (Laughs Meyer: "I was the only guy there.")

"The actual birth," he said, "was probably the greatest thing I've ever witnessed: the wonder of it. I know I cried. Women talk this way. . . . I had never experienced that emotional rush of seeing them come out in the world."

Meyer concedes that he had misgivings about starting a second family in his 50s.

The misgivings weren't "about the distractions or the nuisances or the crying--that didn't bother me," he said. "What really bothered me and caused me to write the book were fleeting thoughts of immortality--that I'd die, that I'd never get to know my daughter and my daughter would never get to know me. That's even more important, I felt. So I wanted to leave a record of our first months together."

Meyer said he took "fragments of notes" during the day--"if Molly barfed on the Von's conveyor belt," for example--and he would "rush in when she was asleep, turn on the Kaypro (personal computer) and start pounding stuff into it."

In writing about his summer with Molly, Meyer, who self-published the book, said: "I had great euphoria recounting what she was doing and what I was feeling. I just kept thinking this is a record for her. She'll remember me. One day she'll get to read it and understand how I felt."

Being as close as he and Molly were, he said, is an experience few fathers have.

"That's my impression, and I think they really miss out," he said. "I must say the greatest lesson of all is my appreciation of mothers. I began to think like one, and I realized I didn't value them as much as I should have.

"It sounds kind of simplistic, but I really feel they do the important work. The rest of us are really drones. They're doing what's really important for the survival of the species. They're creating good and civilized citizens where we're putting in our time, punching in our (time) clocks. We're replaceable; they are not. There's no one who can replace a mother with a child."

A postscript: On July 27, Timarie and Larry Meyer presented 3-year-old Molly with a baby sister, Madeleine Jeannette.

"I'm back in school now, and I was only home one month with Madeleine," Meyer said. "I don't see her as often, and I can't follow her development as much as I did with Molly. In a way, she's a bit of a stranger compared with Molly. Madeleine is really coming into her own now. She's 3 months old and trying to talk, but I'm just seeing that on weekends."

New books--"Seeing Solutions" (Signet), a "practical, personal humorous guide to creative visualization for problem solving," by Barbara Ardinger of Garden Grove. . . . "Drug-Proof Your Kids: A Prevention Guide and an Intervention Plan" (Focus on the Family Publishing), by Stephen Arterburn and Jim Burns. Arterburn is chairman and chief executive officer of New Life Treatment Centers Inc. in Laguna Beach, a company that treats patients with drug, alcohol and psychiatric problems. . . . "Seats and Votes: The Effects and Determinants of Electoral Systems" (Yale University Press), by UC Irvine political science professor Rein Taagepera, who argues that electoral systems can be crucial determinants in elections.

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