Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Time My Mother Tried to Keep My Cousin's Baby

When I was seven years old, my eldest cousin Ellie had a baby.  I had always been the youngest of the cousins, so I was excited for someone else to be the baby for once.  When Wendy was close to a year old, Ellie let my mother babysit her for a few days.  I'm not sure where Ellie was going or what she was doing, but she was still only twenty, a single mother, and needed some time off. 

My mother and I had a grand time taking care of Wendy.  I remember watching her eat dry Cheerios and playing with her and even showing her off at my elementary school when she and my mother dropped me off one morning.

Then Ellie came to pick her up one evening.  She was smiling and seemed excited to be reunited with her baby.  "I'm even twenty minutes early!" I recall her saying with a smile.   

"Twenty minutes early and a day late!" my mother retorted, my first clue that she was angry or that anything was wrong.  My mother refused to let Ellie in the house.  Ellie seemed bewildered and nearly as confused as I was.  My mother told Ellie that she was a day late picking up Wendy.  Ellie disagreed and said she had come back exactly when she'd said she would.  My mother got angry and insisted Ellie was late and unpredictable and an "unfit mother" (a favorite phrase of hers, as I recall).  Ellie demanded her baby back so they could leave, and my mother refused.  If anyone else was home while this transpired, I never saw them.  It was just my mom and Wendy and me in the house and Ellie on just the other side of the front door.  Ellie threatened to call the police, but I don't recall my mother's exact response beyond something along the lines of daring her to do it. 

It was the '80s, before any of us had cell phones, and my mother wouldn't let her in the house, so Ellie had to leave to get help.  She came back a little while later with two police officers who ordered my mother to hand over the baby.  My mother explained how my cousin was an unfit mother and that she couldn't in good conscience turn a child over to someone like that, at which point the police threatened to arrest her.  My mother decided that she could in good conscience turn Wendy over to the police though and they could hand her over to Ellie if they really wanted to, but she stressed that anything that happened to her after that would be on their heads and not her responsibility.  I recall one of the officers rolling his eyes as he accepted the baby and immediately passed her to Ellie. 

I don't recall what happened after that except that they all left.  Ellie didn't invite us to babysit again, but she if she held a grudge, she never let it show.  She brought Wendy over regularly for the large family birthday parties my mother hosted almost monthly until years later when they moved to another state.  I haven't seen either of them in person for years, but we're Facebook friends, as I am with most of my cousins.  Ellie is nearly fifty now and posts a lot about her weekends at the lake and her love of Bernie Sanders.  Wendy is my half-sister's age and has a family of her own.  We share old family photos from decades ago and laugh about how we looked.  I assume Ellie remembers that time my mother tried to keep Wendy from her, but I don't know if Wendy ever heard about it.  We don't talk about my mother.

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