A Smile for Noelle

“I want to watch Anastasia, Mimi! Please!”

“Just a moment, Hannah, let me finish feeding Gaga.” Noelle sighed. There was never a moment of peace. Not even on her birthday.

She ignored the hurt. No one remembered it was her birthday. Not even Mom.

“But I want to watch it now.” whined the four-year-old.

Her only grandchild was not known for patience. With a frustrated groan, Noelle gave into the demand and tossed the spoon back into the cooling mashed potatoes. Mom would have to wait for her next bite, not that she would notice.

Noelle quickly put in the requested video, wondering how many times one child could watch a single movie. Apparently one more time. If watching an animated movie on repeat kept the girl entertained, then maybe Noelle could get Mom settled and finish wrapping the Christmas gifts.

Mission accomplished, Noelle turned to see her mother sitting unmoved in her seat. A vacant stare settled into the familiar hazel eyes. The vibrant, intelligent and fiercely independent woman who had raised Noelle alone was gone. Alzheimer’s had stolen the woman she knew and loved and missed terribly, leaving a shell which required constant care.

She could rely on no one else to provide that care. There was no other family and the thought of a nursing home made her shudder. Mom’s body was as frail as her mind. In addition to the vacant eyes and lack of mobility, Mom’s thin arms were tightly locked into her chest. Any attempts to move or position the arms were met with angry, non-verbal cries of pain and resistance. One occupational therapist had suggested giving Mom a soft baby doll to hold. The suggestion was worth trying, after all Mom had worked in the church nursery for over fifty years.

Now was as good a time as any. Noelle looked past Hannah to a pile of toys. No baby dolls there. Then she remembered; Santa was bringing Hannah a special doll and it sat at the top of the closet. With the child engrossed in the movie, she would never know one of her presents was being used in an experiment.

“Here you go, Mom. Here’s your baby.”

She looked toward the voice, but the face of a kind woman was blurred. She must be the nurse.

A baby? Yes. After all of the waiting, she had a child to hold. It seemed like yesterday that she and Jethro said their vows, followed by goodbye a few days later. A uniformed man returned a few months ago to report Jethro’s death on a French battlefield. His baby would make up for his loss. Now she finally held that baby in her arms.

A baby birl. She felt her angel Jethro stand over her shoulder, viewing her Christmas present from him. She was so blessed.

“Noelle.”

Noelle turned at the unexpected sound of her name. The readiness which Mom had accepted the doll surprised her. The withered arms had taken the toy without resistance. She had  watched her mother relax and begin to rock in her seat, cradling the doll to her like a real infant.

Now, she witnessed a look of pure joy transform the normally blank face. What could possibly be going through that lost mind? “Mom?”

Teary eyes turned toward her. “Baby.”

“Yes, Mom, that’s your baby.” The experiment seemed to be successful. Now Noelle needed to find the money to replace the Hannah’s Santa gift. With three days left to Christmas, that would be no easy task. Finances were tight and shopping while caring for a young child and an elderly parent was next to impossible. Yet there was no way she was going to take the doll from her mother.

“Baby Noelle.”

A bright smile, accompanied by a tear, lit her mother’s wrinkled face as she continued to rock her doll.

Noelle stood with tears coursing down her face as she realized that maybe Mom remembered her birthday after all.

 

©2016 T. A. Seitz

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