Sometime in November of last year, my wife, Melissa, bought a baby doll from Target to give to my mom as a gift. She thought it would occupy mom’s time and give her something to do besides torment my sister, Nel, who was (after five plus years of a losing battle with Early Onset Alzheimer’s) in the final, horrific stages.
Nel got extremely agitated at mom for hanging on to her and wanting all of her attention. Mom wanted her buddy, sidekick and constant companion, but the Nel mom knew was long gone.
Nel wanted peace. She didn’t know what was happening to her, but knew it was serious. She would ask in broken, disjointed words and phrases, “What’s wrong with me? I have been a good girl. What’s wrong?” The tears in her eyes asked the questions. She was terrified, desperate for the answers that were lost to us all.
Nel kept asking me to take her away from mom and from the home mom and she had lived together in since 1972. She would whisper, that she couldn’t take any of it anymore. When I would drive her down to the river, she would just say thank you, over and over and over. The fact is, she didn’t know where she was, but she did know she was away from mom … for a brief time, it would mean needed peace.
The fact is, both Nel and mom needed each other and in earlier times would have each been able to stand tall for the other. But, those times had passed. Nel didn’t understand mom and mom didn’t understand Nel. For the first time in their lives, there was tension between them like none of us as family had ever seen, or even knew how to begin to comprehend. It was as inexplicable as it was devastating. Our world, as we knew it, was gone.
From the instant Melissa handed mom the baby, Mom held it in her arms, cuddled it and talked baby talk to it for hours. It gave her something to hang on to besides Nel and that baby doll gave mom something Nel couldn’t .. its undivided attention.
We thought it was a godsend, but one of our caregivers at the time thought the doll was demeaning to a woman of mom’s stature.
So, in deference to the caregiver, the baby went into hiatus until Nel passed away in April and the caregivers were told we couldn’t afford them any longer. When they walked, we resurrected the baby doll.
Tovi, my daughter and the mother of four of the coolest kids/grandkids ever, gave us support and feedback that backed our plan to give the baby a try, again.
As a caregiver, not only for her kids, but for an elderly lady in Wilmington, North Carolina, Tovi had observed the positive impact baby dolls had on a variety of women with dementia. I Googled the subject and there was plenty of evidence to back Tovi’s findings.
In spite of our intuition, Tovi’s take and Google’s last word, this particular doll gives me the willies. Its “skin” is just way too pinkish, too soft and too pliable. It looks like Baby Cadaver to me. My word for it is squishy. And, even though its blue eyes don’t/can’t blink, they seem to stare at you – no, through you – no matter how you look at them, whether from the front or the sides … willies, willies, willies!
Well, since the day that squishy little Cadaver Doll was introduced to mom, she has adopted it unconditionally. She sits with it, sleeps with it and most of all talks to it in pure baby talk babble. The two of them have become mother and child and genuine pals. And, though the baby is creepy to me, it makes mom smile, gives her something to nurture and most of all, it engages her and occupies her time for hours.
If you suspect jealousy in my life, just call it envy. I can’t keep mom’s attention, interest and connection as well as that, well, Cadaver Baby.
When I walk up to mom’s big soft chair, while she’s holding the baby, she’ll look up at me and say, “Look at this little girl! Ain’t she boo-ti-ful?!”
And, my reply is always the same, “Yep, mom … she is the most boo-ti-ful baby I have ever seen (gag me with a spoon).”
Mom’s two word reply is always the same, too. “That’s right.” Then she just rocks that little ungodly creature in her arms and kisses its forever-bald-head over and over and over. She’ll whisper to the doll, “You have been my little baby for a long time.” And the doll fixes its eyes on mom’s as if to say, “right on mom,” and then shifts to mine as to say in no uncertain terms, “me … not you, big man.”
We have asked mom to name the baby, and she always turns it around and asks what we think the name should be. I named it something like “Good Looking” once, but none of us could remember it.
Mom told me a couple of times she wanted to name the baby after me. But since I am not the father, since it wears a pink dress, and since it gives me the willies, I put my foot down on that one.
Last night, while mom was eating supper, with the doll propped up on the table next to her plate, I asked her what her doll’s name was for the umpteenth time. She looked at me and said, what do you think it is?
For whatever reason, I looked down at her plate. She had only two things left on it after devouring everything else in record time … some butter beans and chicken. By the way, mom really does love her food.
Well, the first thought that came to mind was, no matter how I feel about that baby, we can’t name it Chicken.
So, the only other choice left on the plate was Butter Bean. I suggested it to mom, and without hesitation, she picked up the doll, rocked it in her arms and whispered, “Butter Bean, that’s you, precious. You are my little Butter Bean! What cha think about that, little boo-ti-ful?”
It was such a surreal moment,, I was literally anticipating an answer from the little twirp. After a short pause I said, “Mom, let’s name her Queen Butter Bean!”
Without missing a beat, Mom held Butter Bean close to her lips and said, “You are a queen, little girl! You are the queen!”
For the first time since it had come into our lives, I joined mom and we were smiling ear to ear at that baby.
Quickly living up to her new name, Queen Butter Bean bestowed happiness and joy on both of us. She had a name, and it was a boo-ti-ful thing.
Love the stories. It brings your mother back to me along with all the wonderful memories. Thank you! Thank you!
I love that you were able to step into (and contribute to) the joy she’s feeling today, Tom, even if you don’t understand it. Living and loving in the moment is the thing!
Sara, this is indeed an honor and a privilege I have been given. My mother, whether either of us knew it or not, was preparing me for this opportunity her whole life. If I remain true to the values she instilled in me, I will stand tall. And, she is still teaching me lessons I couldn’t get anywhere else but here, now, with her. I am the lucky one!
Mom goes to Day Care four days a week and has found a new baby doll there that she wants to bring home. When I told her it had to spend the nights at Day
Care, mom said, “That’s not fair, Butter Bean needs a sister.”