I remember feeling very proud at age four-and-a-half. Practically ready for kindergarten, I knew my ABC’s, the days of the week, and that on Sunday nights at eight, I could see my TV pals Dan and Dick and those girls who danced with paint all over their bodies. In 1968 my parents allowed me to watch Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In, a show full of sexual innuendo and political satire.
I am the youngest of five, also known as ‘the baby.’ My parents referred to me as ‘the baby’ until middle school, maybe even high school. In my family, being ‘the baby’ held significant meaning: I was not allowed to hear bad news, witness any kind of family strife, or be disappointed. This meant that I played only a minor role in the actual family dynamics. Reality and I would not meet until many years later.
For me, the best part of being ‘the baby’ were those early years where I spent every day with my Mom. While the others schlepped off to school or work, I stayed home with the nicest person I knew, who totally got how babies should be treated. While she drank coffee by the potful and picked up after everyone else’s mess, I plopped myself on the sofa with my coffee milk to watch Captain Kangaroo. While she made the beds, I helped shake out the sheets. When she hung the clothes out to dry, I ran around the backyard jumping off my favorite rock, pretending to fly. In the afternoons, we’d watch our ‘stories,’ like Search for Tomorrow and The Guiding Light. I ignored the mature plots and drifted off to nap while my mom rubbed my back. The perfect life for the perfect baby.
What I didn’t understand until I wrote my mother’s memoir, A Girl from the Hill, was that my mom was a survivor. She also grew up as ‘the baby,’ with siblings and parents who shielded her, too. Like me, she loved being pampered and the center of attention. But before she got a chance to graduate high school, my mother lost her mother forever, forcing her older siblings to inherit an impossible task – shielding ‘the baby’ from death.
On Federal Hill in 1941, wakes were held in homes. Watching her father sit and stroke her dead mother’s hair dealt my mother a harsh blow that changed her forever.
I didn’t appreciate her journey until I stopped being a baby and listened to her story, a story of strength and determination, sprinkled always with a bit of laughter to endure reality.
Sure, I may have resented my over-protective family growing up. But I’m over it. My mother understood how important it was to let me be ‘the baby’ for as long as possible.
Patricia Mitchell’s lifelong love of writing and desire to capture the story of her mother’s life prompted her to embark on her first professional writing project – A Girl from the Hill. She holds degrees in mass media and communication, English literature and creative writing. This work expresses her interest in Italian-American culture as well as the relationship between mothers and daughters.
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