My sister nicknamed my mom EB. It stands for Evil Baby. It’s a fitting moniker for a feisty senior (84 years old) who loves to push buttons and lash out in frustration most days. But my visit the other day was different.
I think in a familiar crowd EB tries to find the right mix of angry and helpless that gets everyone jumping. A crowd is anything more than three people. It doesn’t take much to wind up the EB spewing machine. I say familiar crowd because the antics rarely appear around strangers. Strangers (anyone not in EBs regular world) have the opposite affect. Suddenly EB is a sweet old lady who everyone adores.
The other day it was just me. And Molly. So EB was quite ok. No major outbursts. Just the usual requests to keep my dad (her personal servant apparently) hopping. My hearing aids are beeping. I need more wine. The light in the hallway is on. Did I take my pills? Turn the TV off if you’re not watching. Switch the dishwasher on. Tune in the news. Where’s my radio? It goes on. My dad loves to play cards and that drives my mom nuts with jealousy. When I ask her what’s wrong she says “I can’t see anything”. She suffers from macular degeneration leaving her with limited peripheral vision. I ask what she would rather do than watch us play cards. The response is everything she can’t do. Ah. The pity party. We are all invited.
My dad shoots me glances that let me know he’s heard all this before. His patience (so short during his working years) is now endless. He answers all the questions EB throws out and thoughtfully explains things when she’s confused. I’m so grateful they have each other. They need each other and rely on one another. A perfect team.
Dad and I are successful moving EB from the pity party back to the card table. We do this by reminiscing. EB isn’t so great on short term memory but her ancient past is crystal clear (we have no way to fact check but her words are her reality so we go with it). During this visit EB felt the need to confess. She tells us she did a lot of bad things. What I get is how some of her history has rubbed off on me and how those same thoughts shaped her perspective.
EB had two step sisters. My grandfather had been married previously (before my grandmother) and had two daughters. When he met and married my grandmother (9 years his junior) they went on to have four more kids. My mom was the second oldest and only girl. Her older brother Hans ;the first born ) was her mother’s favourite. He could do no wrong. The step daughters (there’s some confusion around their departure) were sent to live elsewhere. They were unruly. All step kids are unruly. Lesson learned by my mom: don’t marry an older dude with kids. Big mistake. Oops.
My mom, in her mind, was often saddled with babysitting the younger brother. The fourth child came years later when my mom was sixteen. So she was wedged between the golden child and the burden child. Claus, the younger brother by six years took the brunt of my moms frustration. On weekends the three children were allowed to climb in the parents big bed. My mom peed in the bed (anxiety? Excitement? Didn’t want to take the time to pee in the bedpan for fear of missing out on something?) and in order to hide her faux pas she plopped her diapered baby brother on the wet spot. EB.
During the war (WWII) the three small children were often left behind alone while their parents foraged for food. The parents would work long hours on nearby farms in exchange for provisions. My mom recalled having to share her meagre rations with the golden boy. There was never enough to eat. Her mom (my grandmother) contracted TB. In those days you were placed in a sanitarium to recover. If you did recover. My grandfather was sent assistance of nannies by the Third Reich; the nannies came to help with childcare and housework. One of the chores was bathing the children. While filling the tub with water, you had cold water from the tap and boiling water was added, my mom held the younger brother. The toddler. As the hot water was poured into the tub, EB held her brothers seem under the boiling stream.
Meanwhile, the golden boy was a “pech Vogel”. Literally translated it’s bad luck bird. EB says he was a klutz and very accident prone. Apparently his dorkishness followed throughout his life. He was constantly hurting himself or his things. His parents bought him a scooter. Within a day it was mangled and he was injured. Later in life he splurged on a new car. Within a week it was crashed. But nonetheless, he remained golden. Was my moms take away from yore that the more needy you are the more attention you get? I recall that my mom was fiercely independent and strong always telling us we could do and be anything. Where did that person go??
I would like the opportunity to ask my uncle (the very youngest boy and sole survivor of the brothers) his take. Being so much younger he must have a unique perspective on these recollections (confessions).
After a lengthy trip down memory lane with several refills of merlot, EB needed “to move”. Moving for her is fidgeting in the kitchen or with laundry or collecting the mail from the building lobby. Or, in this case, to feed the dog. Molly knows that when EB hits the kitchen it’s a giant likelihood that there’s a snack nearby. Molly is never disappointed.
Molly embraces EB without judgement or concern. I’m going to do the same.