There’s nothing my mom loved more than babies. She was the baby of her own family. Her siblings started having their babies 20 years before we came along. I know that she was afraid that she wouldn’t be able to have any. My parents got married when they were older (especially according to 1970s standards) and it took five years before they had me. Even I wasn’t expected to come along. At first they thought I was ectopic. Luckily I was fine, possibly came along a few weeks early, and Mommy finally had her baby.
Exactly three years and one month later, my younger sister came along and Mom had another baby. I think that would be my first experience realizing how much my mother loved babies. She was always talking about my sister’s “kissing pillows,” because she had these adorable chubby cheeks. And Mom loved nothing more than kissing on babies’ cheeks.
About a year before my sister came along, my parents built and opened up their own furniture store. We had an apartment at the end of it with a door connecting the two. It was great for so many reasons, including us living in this world where both of our parents worked, yet they were almost like stay-at-home parents.
The baby furniture was at the end of the store that was closest to their “office area,” and also closest to the house end. Mom is the one who would take the parents-to-be under her wing to talk to them about what they truly needed in their nursery. She even served as a sounding board to calm their nerves. People frequently returned to the store after the baby was born so that my mother could meet the young ones. Parents always trusted her to hold these darling bundles of joy and even bring them into the house to meet me and my sister while they continued to shop around. I met dozens and dozens of babies and toddlers who got their start in life living in rooms decorated by the goods in my parents’ store.
This was my introduction to how to hold a baby and how to entertain them. Parents started to trust me to help keep an eye on their young ones as they perused catalogs and fulfilled their furnishing dreams. When I turned 11, I took the obligatory Red Cross Babysitter’s Training. My first job started the week after I graduated. I had my sister’s nine-year-old friend and his four-month-old baby brother every Saturday morning. (Can you imagine trusting an 11-year-old today with your four-month-old baby?)
I was instructed to call my mother partway through every babysitting shift so that I could check in with her. Usually I called when the baby went down for his nap. We would go over what he was doing, what I was doing, and I asked all kinds of questions. Then that job led to other jobs. I got some via word-of-mouth. I even set up a sign near the table where my parents discussed orders with customers. That way my parents could screen the families before allowing me to go babysit for them. I got dozens of jobs that way. Sometimes I even watched the babies at our house.
Mom gave me advice every step of the way. I learned how to have patience with a sick baby who couldn’t stop screaming because of chronic earaches. I learned how to handle the naughty two-year-old who couldn’t keep himself out of trouble (like swiping my nail polish and “painting” my mother’s brass lamps in the living room). I learned how to set boundaries and how to get a baby to go to sleep and to not play “Flying Baby” above my head within 15 minutes of the baby having his bottle. (I can still smell and feel the hot formula all over my face and hear my father howling with laughter as I yelled for a towel.)
When I graduated high school, my parents sold the furniture store to settle into a more traditional “9 to 5” type of life. I went to college and became a Montessori teacher and kept on nannying and babysitting children. My mother delighted in meeting those children. I couldn’t wait to meet the right man and get married so that I could have a whole house full of babies. I wanted them for myself, of course. But I also knew my parents would be amazing grandparents.
But life can be cruel. I came close to getting married a couple of times, but couldn’t find the right man. And then came personal complications and illnesses that led to a surgery when I was 33 years old that revealed that I was incapable of having children.
I will never forget calling my parents after I got the news. My father cried. Mom was in the beginning stages of her Alzheimer’s and didn’t quite understand what was going on all the time. Sometimes she did, though, and she was sad. I felt like a failure because I just wanted to give my mom more babies to love in her life.
When Mom was in the nursing home, someone brought in a baby doll. Sometimes, Mom would hold the baby and play with it and take care of it, just like it was a real baby. I think at times she really thought it was a real baby.
Other times, she would sing to the baby and play with it and then smirk in our direction, because she knew damn well it was just a doll. But she also liked to mess with people and make them think she didn’t know better. Just one of those weird Alzheimer’s things.
So I am sorry that I wasn’t able to give my mother the grandchildren she so desired. And I know that I cannot help that. She always told me it was okay, because I was caring for so many other people’s babies, so I had hundreds between all of those babysitting jobs, nursery gigs, and years of teaching. I am just grateful that she loved babies so much that she taught me how to love them as well. That is one of her legacies.
Catch up on the rest of my 2019 A to Z Challenge here.
Read my B posts about Mom from previous challenges:
B is for Bookkeeping (2012)
B is for Bras (2011 bonus post)