The Displaced Nation

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Me and my shadow: LIBBY’S LIFE #49 – An unwelcome blast from the past

Well, here I am again. Kate, that is, not Libby.

Not sure when Libby will have enough free time to write her journal herself, so you’ll have to put up with me this week, and possibly next week as well. After that, who knows? Maybe Libs can persuade Maggie to fire off a bulletin for you. Or perhaps her mother could do it…now that would be interesting.

~ ~ ~

Having changed my flight,  I’m going home rather later than I intended, so am now snugly ensconced Chez Patrick where I have agreed to stay for the next two weeks.

A somewhat rash decision, in retrospect. Might have been wiser to stay in the local Motel 6 and commute to my temporary job as Mother’s Help.

It’s not that Libby’s accommodation isn’t wonderful. I’m sleeping on a big sofa-bed in Oliver’s home office. It’s warm, cosy, and has free wifi with a strong signal. Being here means that Oliver can’t use his office much, because the contents of my suitcase are draped all over his swivel chair, but that doesn’t matter. He spends most of his time ten miles away at his workplace.

Yes, Oliver is back at work already. No paid paternity leave for him, but I suspect that is merely an excuse for his absence.

The real problem, for both Oliver and me, is his mother-in-law.

Oliver and Jane aren’t a good mix. We’re not talking chalk and cheese or even oil and water here. Think chemistry class, think sodium and water, think fiery explosions on calm water, and you’re on the right track.

“I thought you said they used to get on well together?” I said to Libby on Oliver’s first day back at work, when the twins were barely a week old. He had stomped out of the house before seven a.m. while Jane tagged after him, swiping ineffectually at his back with a clothes brush. This morning, just before he slammed the door on his way out to the garage, Jane asked him if he’d got a clean hankie in his pocket.

“They did,” she replied, wriggling around on the couch, a baby in each arm. “When I first started going out with Oliver, she pandered to him the way she panders to my father, and he lapped it up. Every argument we ever had, his trump card was ‘Your mother would never say that to your dad.'”

“So what’s his problem now?”

“Ah, well, everything’s got a flip side, hasn’t it? The reason she panders is because she thinks men are useless in the home. According to her, Oliver’s totally incompetent and shouldn’t be allowed near one newborn, let alone two.”

“Ah.”

“I don’t blame her in the case of my Dad. I mean — he is useless, although I sometimes wonder if she makes him that way. Self-fulfilling prophecy and all that. But Oliver’s quite capable of rustling up some bottles of formula and cooking dinner.”

“Not that you need to do any cooking for weeks.” The freezer was chock full of homemade, ready-to-reheat meals, courtesy of the Coffee Morning Posse. Every day, Charlie, Anita or Julia would turn up with more Tupperware boxes, labelled “Chicken a la King” or “Chilli Con Carne” or “Swedish Meatballs”. I’d got to the point where I was considering another pregnancy myself, just for the Meals-On-Wheels benefits.

“Just as well, isn’t it, if I had to rely on my Mum to feed me? She claims Oliver’s incompetent, but then she can’t get past the American-English differences. The other week she decided to make some scones, but couldn’t find the plain flour. It’s called all-purpose flour over here, right, but the leap of imagination to translate was beyond her. All I heard was, Ooh, it’s not the same as what I get in Sainsbury’s.”

“Did you get your scones?”

“Are you kidding? She walked to the gas station up the road and bought some Twinkies. Jack ate four, and he was awake until midnight. I used to take the mick out of Sandra because she once gave Jack some Red Bull, but this was actually worse.”

One of the twins started to cry, so I took the non-crying one from Libby. I think it was Beth. Or maybe it was George. Both twins wore green footie pyjamas, so I couldn’t tell which was which from the outside.

I rested Tweedledum over my left shoulder, absent-mindedly patting its back. Libby handed me an old towel, and I tucked it underneath the baby’s chin.

“I didn’t bring any babyproof clothes with me,” I said. “Mostly business work clothes, and I’m running out of things to wear.”

I’d forgotten the trick of keeping an old cloth on your shoulder when burping babies, and all day yesterday I had the sensation that a piece of ripe Camembert was following me everywhere, until Jane pointed out the trail of curdled milk on the back of my favourite white shirt. The local dry cleaners’ profits would skyrocket when I got home.

“Raid my closet,” Libby suggested. “Take some home with you. I’ll never fit into half of my clothes ever again.”

She’s sweet, but — no. Even at ten days postpartum, she’s thinner than I am now.

If I didn’t like her so much, I’d hate her.

“Or you could go to the mall for some more things,” Libby went on. “Take Jack and Mum with you, and I’ll have some quiet time with the twins.”

That didn’t seem like a bad idea. I’d take Jane, tire Jack out on the little indoor playground there, and when they got home they’d both be ready for bed.

“It’s got possibilities,” I said, and went in search of Libby’s mother and first-born.

*  *  *

Once you get Jane out of the house, she’s different. She even opened up a little to me.

“It’s not that I don’t want to help,” she confessed. “It’s just that I feel very inadequate around Libby, as if I’m going to get everything wrong no matter how hard I try. She’s not the same person who went away a year ago. She’s so much more…confident.”

“She’s not expecting you to be Superwoman,” I said. “Just her mum. And by that I don’t mean Oliver’s mum as well. He can work out himself if he needs a clean hankie or not.”

She had the grace to look a bit ashamed.

As well as going clothes shopping for me, I dragged her and Jack into a supermarket and a craft store. It’s Jack’s fourth birthday in just over a week, and I’m pretty sure Libby won’t have got her act together enough to do anything really special. Between the three of us, we picked out birthday napkins, party favours, and all the stuff Jane needed to make a 3D Lightning McQueen cake.

“I do hope Libby won’t mind me doing this,” she kept saying. “I don’t want to end up being more of a hindrance than a help.”

I told her that she had a long way to go before she attained Oliver’s mum’s standards  of “helping” and that her birthday cake was unlikely to put Libby and Jack into hospital.

She seemed mull this over, and by the time we got in the car to drive home, was the perkiest I’d seen her all week.

When we arrived at the house, a strange car was parked in the driveway.

“Another food delivery from Libby’s friends, I expect,” I said to Jane as we hauled the shopping bags into the hallway.

“Libs?” I called. “We’re home. We’ve got everything sorted out for Jack’s bir–Libs? Are you OK?”

Libby walked unsteadily towards us from the living room. Her face was pale. Following behind her was a woman: tall, fair-skinned, with sparse, sandy-coloured hair. Another of the Coffee Morning Posse, I presumed.

“I’m fine,” Libby said, giving me a too-bright smile that pronounced her a fibber. “Did you get what you need?”

“Yes,” I said, holding up a Macy’s bag in one hand and a Stop and Shop carrier in the other. “Your mum’s going to make Jack’s birthday cake.”

The woman behind Libby spoke to Jack who, at the sight of the stranger, had hidden himself behind his Granny Jane.

“It’s your birthday soon? When’s your birthday, darlin’?”

An English accent. Definitely one of the Coffee Morning Posse.

“Thirteenth of May.”  Libby replied for him after a pause.

“Aww. He’s shy.” The woman put her head on one side. “Just like our Damian.”

Silence from Libby as she looked down at her bare feet. The silence grew until it filled the two-storey room.

“Is Damian a friend of Jack’s?” I asked.

The woman laughed.

“I hope he will be,” she said.

In the living room, one of the twins began to whimper. Normally this would have Libby running to see what the fuss was about, but she didn’t look up from studying her toes.

“This is my mother Jane and my friend Kate,” she said sideways, in the general direction of the stranger. “They’re both staying here, so you can see that it’s not really feasible for you to stay as well.”

“No problem at all. You’ve got your hands full, I can see that. But I’d love to stay and see Oliver.”

“Well, as I explained, Oliver’s on a business trip for three weeks, and that’s why these two wonderful ladies are helping me out–”

Oliver? Business trip? First I’d heard of it, but Libby must have a good reason for telling such a whopper, so I went along with it.

“That’s right.” I nodded, and looked across at Jane to make sure she was going along with whatever plan Libby was hatching.

She wasn’t.

“But –” she said, in a tone of bewilderment. “But Oliver left this morning and said nothing about being away for three weeks. In fact, I heard him say he’d be home in time to cook dinner.”

The woman called Tania folded her arms. “You know, I thought something didn’t sound right. What kind of man leaves his wife on her own with newborn twins, for heavens’ sake?”

She shot a look of triumph at Libby.

“Not my brother, that’s for sure.” She held her hand out to me.

“Tania Patrick,” she said. “Oliver’s long-lost sister. Pleased to meet you.”

Next: LIBBY’S LIFE #50 – Home again

Previous: Me and my shadow: LIBBY’S LIFE #48 – Hospital visiting hours 

Stay tuned for Friday’s Displaced Q!

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Img: Map of the World – Salvatore Vuono

2 responses to “Me and my shadow: LIBBY’S LIFE #49 – An unwelcome blast from the past

  1. Janice May 5, 2012 at 8:22 am

    Oh my! Poor Libby! Hang in there.

  2. expatlogue May 8, 2012 at 6:50 pm

    Lol! This’ll be good🙂

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