Her name was Mandy and she was a horrible child. I was five or six years old that blustery fall weekend when my parents agreed to babysit her, so that her own parents could slip away for a few days before their next baby was born.
As an adult, it is not always easy to remember specific details from childhood but some events parade through my mind’s eye as though they happened yesterday. This was one of the latter.
In all fairness, I was a first-born pleaser by nature. I could read the temperature in a given situation and pull back (she’s so shy) or attempt to fix and please. The pleasing usually meant deferring to anything other than what I wanted. And after living that way for so long, I stopped recognizing that I even wanted anything. This led to very few problems in getting along with others, but it came at a great personal cost to me; one that I did not begin unraveling until much, much later.
So, Mandy. An only child, and four years old. The weekend was a disaster from the beginning. She bossed me and grabbed my toys and did not share and did not want to go outside to play on our big wheels. I gave her everything she wanted, but she always wanted what I was playing with and there was no satisfying her. My parents denied several of her requests and she stomped her feet and screamed at the top of her lungs. This scared me, because one did not tell my father “no” without fallout. He stood his ground and assured her that he was the boss and she would obey. She screamed louder.
I had never heard such wailing in my young life. At that time, we lived in an old farmhouse that had been converted into four separate apartments. Ours was an upstairs apartment, and two elderly sisters lived below. Occasionally, if my brother and I were playing tag upstairs, we would hear a tapping from below as one of the sisters struck her cane on the ceiling. My parents made us hush, which was hard because we were good kids just playing like children do. Our solution was to spend most of our days running outdoors in the beautiful New England air. The yard was gigantic and flush with raspberries, blackberries, and Concord grapes. Surrounding our home was a pond across the street for catching turtles, and in the backyard a pair of swings hung from the crab apple trees in front of a field.
But none of this great outdoors pleased Mandy, so we had been inside most of the weekend. Facing the threat of a cane tapping from beneath us, my father told Mandy firmly, and with a harsh glare to “Shush.”
I felt his anger rising, and I held my breath, as I backed up toward my bedroom. Somehow the behavior of this little girl was my fault.
And then it happened. Mandy reared back and hit my father’s leg as hard as she could.
“Don’t you shush me!” she screamed.
I do not remember what happened in the minutes that followed. I don’t know what my parents said or did, but I returned to the living room with my beloved “Baby Beth” doll and handed her to the wailing Mandy.
Baby Beth was my favorite baby doll, and I loved her dearly. She had a pale pink sweater with a matching hat and botties. She was plump and soft and slept in a cradle my grandfather had carved for me.
Mandy held Baby Beth and her wailing turned to whimpering.
My next memory is of our family standing in the front hall of my grandparent’s house. Mandy’s parents had come to retrieve their spoiled child, and I was relieved. As the adults were talking, my father began to tell of Mandy’s outburst and the “don’t you shush me” story. I stood frozen. Would there be an argument? Would someone get in trouble?
I tiptoed into the living room, where I had wrapped Baby Beth in a rosebud blanket. I kissed her cheek and whispered good-bye.
Running back into the front hall, I handed her to Mandy. “She is for you!” I said.
Mandy stared and grabbed the doll. “Mine,” was all she said.
I nodded, already missing my Baby Beth, but knowing I needed to give her away. Mandy’s parents made a point of thanking me for sharing. But I knew that I had not shared. Sharing did not work with Mandy. I had given her away and all was well.
That night I cried myself to sleep. Silently.