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Prompted By Baby Books

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David Benjamin Pfau

I had a somewhat tortured gynecological history (never regular periods, an ectoptic pregnancy in 1981, leaving me with one working Fallopian tube, followed nine months later, with the same IUD in place – the doctor never told me to remove it – by another pregnancy which Dan and I chose to abort for health reasons), so I had some difficulties becoming pregnant when we decided it was time. I was 32 years old and we had been married 11 years when David was born at 7:11pm on August 20, 1985 after a grueling 37 1/2 hour labor (he wasn’t breach, but “sunny-side up”, I had unproductive back labor for hours).

We didn’t know the sex before-hand, but were thrilled to welcome David (just an easy name to go with our challenging last name), Benjamin (for Dan’s grandmother Bessie, who died two weeks before I became pregnant). Jews don’t name for living relatives. According to legend, it might confuse the Angel of Death, who could  take the wrong person when she comes to claim her prey, if people have the same name; hence, no “Juniors” or “the second” in Jewish tradition.

I already had the “Baby Book” ready to go and began filling it in immediately with details from the birth, a first photo of David, his hospital bracelet, an original birth certificate (which I’ve removed and used when I need to).

David’s record

David’s first photo

The book queried “The World As It Was” on the day he was born. I saved the front page from all the sections of The Boston Globe, so there were two car bombs that killed 29 in Moslem area of Beirut, Mayor Flynn tells BU ‘no’ on apartments. Senator Laxalt won’t run again despite Reagan request. Front office constructed a comeback for the Yankees; Sox swept under. Walton deal still in limbo (with the Celtics).

Big movies of the summer: “Volunteers”, “Cocoon”, “Rambo”, “Back to the Future”, and “Prizzi’s Honor”.

Big TV shows: summer re-runs of “The Cosby Show” and “Miami Vice”.

Hot books: IacoccaYeager, A Light in the AtticSmart Women, Foolish ChoicesLucky.

Fads:  Calling young urban professionals ‘Yuppies’ and their kids – ‘yuppie puppies’, punk clothing and music, Trivial Pursuit, Vaurnet sunglasses, Swatch watches.

The book prompted me for all the milestones: first smile, roll over, sit up, first tooth, first word: bye bye, etc. I filled them all in. I included his Consecration Certificate from Temple, when he was no longer a baby. In the front, I have cards he made for me on Mother’s Day at Nursery School and all his immunization records, given when he outgrew his pediatrician. The book is bursting with information.

I found a fascinating piece of correspondence. David always had a mathematical mind (he went on to major in physics at Stanford, get a PhD in computational neuroscience from Columbia and now is a Senior Scientist at DeepMind in London, doing pure research in machine learning). In 6th grade math class, David made an interesting observation, that I can’t quite describe here, but he wrote out the equations for me (I have the original paper on my study wall). He had stumbled on Pythagorean triples and described them to his teacher and classmates. No matter what numbers he tried, the equation always worked. This was well beyond 6th grade math and the teacher was impressed. With David’s help, she wrote this up and sent the paper off to Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School. The editor was so excited with the paper that she skipped the usual rewrite cycle, as she was in a hurry to publish it, which she did. His teacher shared this with us, the head of the department and the Vice Principal of the middle school and asked if David wanted to skip to 8th grade math, as he was clearly bored with the current curriculum. I don’t remember that outcome, but I did share my son’s observations with one of my older Sarason cousins, Donald Sarason, a well-respected math professor at UC Berkeley, many years my senior. He wrote back that it was clear David had the mind of a mathematician and could he and his wife (who taught middle school math) correspond with David’s teacher. I have all the correspondence from 1998, including the original article, safely tucked away in the Baby Book.

I also kept a copy of his first pay check. During the summer of 2000, he worked as a stock boy at the local bookstore around the corner from our Edgartown home. During that first pay period, he earned $66.50, which he tucked into his savings account. One of the Harry Potter books was released that summer. The women who owned Bickerton & Ripley (long-gone now) opened at midnight, dressed up as wizards and let the kids of the neighborhood line up to get those precious books. Jeffrey was already asleep, but his big brother got him one.


Jeffrey Bennett Pfau

Three years later, I was pregnant again, also planned and it happened very easily. Today this would be called a “geriatric” pregnancy, as I was 36 when our second baby was delivered. I had amniocentesis and knew it would be boy. This book was a gift from Dan’s parents.

Present from Grandma Gladie and Grandpa Erv

Jeffrey Bennett Pfau came quickly into the world. In fact, there was no time for anesthesia. He arrived 45 minutes after we got to the hospital. The name Jeffrey (like David) was just a name we liked (though it did get misspelled too often as Jeffery), Bennett was for my maternal grandmother Belle, long-gone.

Jeffrey, born at 6:08am on May 8, 1989 was pink and healthy.

Jeffrey’s first photos

I put those first photos in his baby book along with a family tree that was prompted.

Family tree

This gave his whole lineage. This was a new addition to the baby book.

This book didn’t prompt for as much information as David’s did (or perhaps I was too busy to fill in as much information). I saved the whole Boston Globe from the day he was born, so the big news stories that day were: Lender’s caution cools fever pitch of Boston development, Cold War over, says German, Panama casts votes for leader. Census to be taken of homeless in 1990. New wisdom on humble ankle sprain (by columnist Betsy Lehman – a sad note; she died at one of our best hospitals while undergoing treatment for breast cancer due to an incorrect dose of chemo – WAY too high, some years later). Red Sox’ homework pays off, 9-5 (over the Texas Rangers).

The president was George H W Bush, popular entertainers: Kevine Costner, Eddie Murphy, Madonna, George Michael, Bette Midler

Fads: casual clothes, “couch potato”

As with David, I have Consecration certificate, homemade Mother’s Day cards, his complete medical records from his pediatrician. His first word was “kitty cat”. He LOVED his cat.

Jeffrey held two part-time jobs in 2006 and I made copies of both first checks. One was at He has walked in cold, looking for a job from them that summer. They usually hired local kids and Jeffrey had no outside experience, but had been programming for his own amusement for years. On his resume, he put his SAT scores. He got 800 (perfect) on his math test. That impressed the owner enough to give Jeffrey some hours and Jeffrey didn’t disappoint. His first paycheck amounted to $146.29.

He also did an independent project for our friend Tony, who owned Edgartown Marine. Tony installed a webcam, which he wanted programmed so he could control it to scan the harbor. Jeffrey had to figure out how to program the camera. It was not a simple task. His paycheck was $312. (I believe that was one installment.) This was a significant job and we believe it impressed one of the gurus of the Computer Science Department at Brown University and helped him gain admittance.

Jeffrey took 4 1/2 years to graduate from Brown, which was fine with us. They did a nice ceremony in December, 2011, but not cap and gown or diploma. He had to come back the following May for that (which he did, though he had already moved to California and was working for Apple, but I got my cap and gown photos). The very first document in his baby book is:

The letter declaring that Jeffrey had completed all the requirements and was a college graduate. He needed this to get a discount on a car loan (new grads got one), get his first apartment, and all sorts of other things. It was a precious document before his diploma came through several months later. I cherish it.

Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Tags: David, Jeffrey, details of birth, first months, birth certificate
Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. Wonderful Betsy, your pride in your kids comes thru! Alas, I kept no baby book for mine!
    And how wonderful to have spent last evening with you and Dan, come to New York more often!

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    I can’t believe how much of your story was similar to mine — the ectopic pregnancy and back labor were painful experiences we shared. We both recorded the news of the day, but I love that you also wrote about movies, tv shows, popular books, and fads. I’m also so impressed that you kept these books up through college graduation. Your sons are lucky to have all of this saved for them.

  3. Suzy says:

    Wow, Betsy, you did a great job of documenting your children’s lives. I thought I was doing well by keeping a calendar for the first year! Now I’m wishing I had done what you did. Love that you kept the front pages, plus movies, books, fads of the era. I kept the whole newspaper each time, but have no idea what became of them. And you even have their diplomas and paychecks. You are so organized to keep everything in one place! Have your kids ever looked at their books? As Laurie said, they are very lucky to have it all saved for them.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks,Suzy. Some the book prompted for, some I thought of on my own (the newspaper). The rest I just tucked away so that I would know where it was. No my kids haven’t really looked at their books, except when they needed their birth certificates for some reason.

  4. Aw, such a proud momma, and deservedly so, Betsy! Interesting about Jewish tradition . . . I knew about the not naming children after living relatives but not the why, and I do love that legend about confusing the Angel of Death. Vaurnet sunglasses, I’d forgotten about those! And geriatric at 36? Really?? Love that you saved the whole newspaper the second time around, speaks volumes about being a busy mother of more than one child. I had just one child, but once her baby book began splitting at the seams it turned into a baby box because I can’t seem to throw anything sentimental away, and now she has it and both her and her daughters love digging through it from time to time.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      It’s so nice that your daughter enjoys and cherishes what you put together for her, Barbara. It may have turned from book to box, but that shows that it has been looked at and loved loved through the years. I am terribly sentimental too.

  5. Risa Nye says:

    Wow! You take keeping a baby book to a whole new level! I wish I could’ve looked at my kids’ books again while writing this, but the books are in their hands now. I love the references to what was going on in the world at the time–a little time capsule for each of your sons!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, Risa. Your books are treasured by your family. The ones I made aren’t yet and my kids still live in small spaces and always seem to be in transit, both having moved within the past month. I think they would lose these books first (and they do contain original birth certificates and the only copies of health records). So I’ll just hold on for a while longer.

  6. John Shutkin says:

    I knew that you would have great photos to share and you sure didn’t disappoint, Betsy. And that you would have been a meticulous recorder of events even back then. A really terrific story about both of your children’s entry into the world.

    Like others, I particularly enjoyed your reference to the news and popular culture of the day; the proverbial blast from the past. For some reason, the one item that I had remembered — and you confirmed — was that “Back to the Future” came out in 1985, And yet you still named your son David rather than Marty (or DeLorean).

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