My childhood memories of my mother consist of her constant worrying about whether we’re safe, warm, and not hungry. I remember those annoying mitten holders I was forced to wear on the sleeves of my winter coat to make sure I always had my gloves. Or those annoying snow pants I had to fight my way into. When my brother came home from school with his eye practically hanging out the socket from getting beat up by bullies, I remember the way she jumped into her car, tires screeching to confront them. I also remember thinking my mother was going to prison, but it worked out fine. ; ) She put her own health on the line, working constructions jobs to keep food on the table. All these things she did for us. She’s the type of mother I want to be one day.
What I don’t understand is how someone could just throw their flesh and blood away without a passing glance. For nearly a year, my mother has been raising her niece’s, my cousin’s baby. The whole saga started last January when she received a call that my cousin was giving birth at the hospital. It came as a surprise to us since we’d just talked to the girl, who’s in her early twenties back in October and she hadn’t mentioned anything about even being pregnant. Since the girl’s mother, my mom’s sister had just moved out of state, my mother went to see about her and the baby.
Mom immediately fell in love with the 3 pound preemie and promised to do everything she could for her. Since my cousin was close to getting evicted from her place and the government was in her business because the child was born with drugs in her system, my mother came to the decision to take care of the baby until she could get herself together. I was skeptical at first, fearing that Mom was taking on too much, like she tends to do. With my mother, myself, and my two sisters sharing an apartment, it was a group effort but we all did our part to take care of the baby from the time she left the hospital.
Knowing the mother could barely take care of herself, Mom paid for everything the baby needed out of her pocket, from clothes, to diapers and furniture. Mom provided while all the girl and her family could offer were thank you’s. Mom isn’t the type to worry about getting paid back for her efforts, she does it because it’s the right thing to do and God will see to her having what she needs. The sleepless nights and 3 am feedings belonged to my mother, who’s staring down the throat of 60, works 40 hours a week and goes to dialysis 3 times a week.
In the meantime, she coached my cousin on getting support for the baby, including WIC for the formula, and making sure the baby got part of the father’s income from the government. My cousin came to get the baby late in the spring and 3 months later we got a call from her saying that she needed us to take the baby again.
The relationship with the baby’s father was taking an abusive turn and she was moving out of town to be with my aunt. The baby was returned to us in deplorable conditions. Her eczema was out of control, diaper rash had run rampant, and the clothes my mother sent when she gave her back the first time were filthy with most of them having to be thrown away. Once my mother got her home the poor thing guzzled three bottles of milk until we could go get more formula. The vouchers for the food and milk that the government gave for free had not been used and the lump sum of money my cousin received for her child, definitely wasn’t spent on her.
My cousin left with promises of sending a portion of the baby’s money every month for expenses, but that’s one promise that hasn’t been fulfilled. Since she skipped town we’ve only seen $100 of the promised money and we haven’t heard from her in nearly two months. When she does call it becomes an ‘I’m a bad mother’ docudrama worthy of Lifetime TV where she wants to rope you into feeling sorry for her. The focus turns to her, not to the baby she left. I see that the longer she’s away from her child the more disassociated she becomes, the bond between mother and child broken.
The baby is doing just fine and approaching her first birthday. She’s smart, loves to talk, and is happy as she can be. But kids grow up and one day she’s going to have questions. How will her mother explain why she abandoned her and took off with the money that was intended for her care? How will she tell her daughter she didn’t do all she could to make sure she was taken care of? Isn’t that what mothers are supposed to do?