It’s my baby’s birthday today. She’s nineteen. Yes, nineteen and yes, she is my baby but I don’t call her that to her face. She will always be my baby because she was my last-born.
I remember “going to town” with Mom to shop. She wanted to hold hands. I was embarassed. I pulled my hand away, knowing I was hurting her feelings but I simply couldn’t help it. I was grown up. Grown up girls didn’t hold their mother’s hands. (I must have been eleven or twelve.)
We met two of Mom’s friends on the sidewalk in front of the dress shop. “This is my baby,” Mom said. The women clucked over me like I was a newborn chick. I wanted to be anywhere else; I was mortified.
“I’m not your baby,” I said with a sassy attitude.
“You will always be my baby,” she said, ignoring my bad manners. “Always.”
We didn’t say “Whatever,” in those days but if we had I would have said it.
We went in and out of shops, Mom visiting with friends she met between racks of dresses, over bolts of cloth, comparing the price of one type of hand lotion against another. I heard it again and again, “This is my baby.”
Why she kept telling people was beyond a mystery because I was not charming. I was bratty. Today I understand. It was because I really was her baby, her precious child; even though I was doing my best to be obnoxious, she knew who I really was. She had years to know the real me. She perhaps knew that one day I would return, would want to hold her hand. Would be proud to be called her baby.
Mom died seventeen months before today’s birthday girl was born. I grieved over her death and then, nine months later, when I found out I was pregnant I was devastated. I needed my mom. When my baby was born I grieved again. I wanted my mom there, fussing over me and fussing over my newborn.
Now this precious little person is off on her own, not living in our house. She never says, “I love you,” unless I drag it out of her. Does she love me? I have no doubt. Will she give me a hug? Fat chance. When I give her one she stands like a wooden soldier unless I make her put her arms around me and then they are not arms, they are noodles.
If I called her “my baby” what would she do? Cringe, but it’s all right. She is, and one day she might, just might be proud to carry the title. Just like I am.