Once upon a time, there was a little girl who lived with her mother and father and many siblings in a house in the woods. Each morning before dawn the father would get up and go to work at his job in the city and he would not return again until after dark each night. Every day the mother stayed at home with the children. The children were quiet and obedient because that was what their mother expected of them. Anyone passing by the house in the woods would never have known that the house was filled with children, for they never made a sound, they knew better. That’s just the way it was.
One day, when the girl was nine, her mother locked herself in her room and would not come out. The girl could hear her father at the bedroom door pleading with the mother to come out, to not be angry, but the mother only screamed that she would never come out! The little girl went to the door of her parent’s bedroom and, pushing her father aside, told her mother to come out at once.
“We need you to be our mother,” she said, but the mother refused. And so the little girl became the mother that day. She took care of the other children, cooked for them and her father, cleaned the house and went to bed an exhausted little mother. The next day, to the little girl’s great relief, the mother came out of her room and carried on as if nothing had ever happened. That’s just the way it was.
Not long after that a new baby was expected in the family. The little girl was very excited about this new baby. “When will it be born?” she wondered. “Who knows,” said the father. There were many emergency trips to the hospital, but the mother always returned home to wait a little longer for the new baby to come. One night, the father told the little girl that he was taking the mother to the hospital again and that she was in charge of taking care of all the other children until they got back.
The next morning the little girl woke to hear her father coming in the door, looking tired and bedraggled. “Is there a baby?” the girl asked, all excited. “What was it? A boy or girl?” The father, in a dead tone of voice, as if it were not the most important and exciting thing in the world, simply replied, “Oh, a boy.” And he went into his bedroom and fell fast asleep on his bed while the little girl kept everyone else happy and quiet. That’s just the way it was.
Later in the day, when the father awoke, the little girl asked him questions about the new baby. “Where will it sleep and where are its clothes?” she asked, for she saw that no preparations for this new baby had been made. She made the father climb the rickety ladder to the spider-filled attic and get the old, dusty, baby bassinet down. She told him it had to be cleaned and when he stood there helplessly, his hands hanging at his side, doing nothing, she took over. In spite of her fears of spiders she cleaned and scrubbed that bassinet until it shown. After that, she found sheets and baby blankets and made it up so the new baby would have a place to sleep. Next, she asked the father to help her find the old baby clothes, but he did not know where to look. “Don’t worry,” she said, “I’ll take care of it.” And so she did. The girl did all of this because she knew if she didn’t no one would, and that’s just the way it was.
On the day the new baby came home from the hospital, one of her brothers claimed him as his own, for the baby was coming home on his birthday. The little girl let this pass, knowing that the baby was really hers, for she was the only one preparing for its entry into the family and she felt a special bond and great tenderness for this new baby. She vowed that she would be a good big sister to it and so she was.
As time went on and the girl became more observant of the family dynamics, she began to notice that the mother had many tantrums, that she spent a lot of time fuming in her room with the door locked, that she rarely left the house. The girl noticed that she was not like other mothers. It was extremely rare for the mother to attend a school function or accompany her children to extra curricular activities or even encourage them to express themselves. She liked things to be predictable, her children to be quiet and everything perfect. She did not like others to ask things of her, but if she wanted something she demanded it be so, and so it was.
The mother did not drive and so as soon as the girl got her driver’s license she became the mother’s chauffeur, taking her on trips to visit people and places at the mother’s whim, sometimes great distances away. She took care of the younger children on these trips, keeping them quiet and preoccupied while the mother attended museum exhibits, tea parties and bridge club meetings, while the father was away in the city. The girl accepted these assignments, because that’s just the way it was.
The girl grew up and left home. With great relief she left the house in the woods and all her duties as little mother and went off on her own adventures. Eventually, she got married and became a mother herself. Whenever she took her children to visit their grandmother she took note of how distant and uninterested the grandmother, her mother, seemed to be to the people around her. Her interactions with her grandchildren were brief and then she’d shut herself off in her own world, literally turning her back on those around her to pick up a book or disappear into another room. “That’s just the way she is,” the girl thought, “it’s how she’s always been.”
After the girl’s father died, the elderly mother grew increasingly dependent upon her daughter. The girl began to remember her life as the child of this woman as she took on the role of chauffeur once again. Without complaint, she quietly attended to her mother as she had once done as a child and teenager. One day, as she was chauffeuring the mother around as usual, the girl, to make polite conversation, asked a simple question. The mother, for some unknown reason responded with an angry retort which escalated within seconds into a full blown tantrum. Screaming at the girl in a bitter and condescending tone, insinuating that she was a stupid idiot, the mother unleashed a fury of pent up anger. The girl, much taken aback, looked at the mother as clarity struck. “Oh, My God!” the girl thought to herself. “You are the World’s Biggest Baby! You are a f***ing big baby!”
A voice in her head told her to let this truth stand, and thus she refused to take responsibility for her mother’s outburst. She did not allow herself to take the insinuation personally, nor did she make excuses for her mother as was her usual tactic. For rather than let herself feel the full impact of the mother she had gotten in life, she often toned down the reality of who she really was, sensitively striving to see her as just another human being struggling to make sense of her journey. But this time the girl let the full impact hit her: her mother was indeed the World’s Biggest Baby, she always had been, and she was not a very nice person, either! And that’s just how it was!
In a rush of insight, her whole relationship with her mother suddenly made sense, her whole upbringing and her childhood in the house in the woods made perfect sense. She had indeed been the little mother while her own mother lived out her entire life as a big baby, tantruming, demanding and refusing to grow up.
More fully liberated from this big baby mother than ever before, she continued to chant, first silently to herself and then out loud as she drove away from her mother. “You are a big baby! You are the World’s Biggest Baby!” Shouting it out for the whole world to hear, she drove down the street happy and free at last, knowing that it was just the way it was!
The moral of the story is, don’t get caught in thinking that you have any responsibility for how your own mother acts in the world, for she is living out her own necessary life and—until and if she chooses to change—she will live it to the fullest. She may, in fact, just be another World’s Biggest Baby! And that may just be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth!
Just telling the truth, like it is,