The mother is at the grocery store, putting formula and diapers in the cart. Organic milk and cage-free eggs. The Greek yogurt the girl takes every day for lunch and the crackers she keeps in the car for when it’s 5:00, the ride home, and the kids are screaming for a snack. She pushes the cart through the produce department, the meat aisle, the dairy case. She pushes the cart past the beer and wine, past the frozen pizza and appetizers stacked in the twenty-somethings’ carts. In an hour they will be at home and the children will be bouncing a ball in the living room, whacking it with a drum stick, hitting the TV, one of them hides the remote from the other, and NPR on the news while dinner simmers in the pan. And when they sleep she will sit on the porch with a friend, drinking Moscato or a mint julep, thinking of how long ago it was she sat here, waiting for good news, wanting everything that today seems too loud, too fast, too much.
The mother is making dinner. Today it’s green veggie pancakes and meatloaf, today it’s curry rice and chicken, today it’s potatoes roasted with lemon and rosemary. Slices the vegetables, dishes simmer on the stove. She could enjoy it but for the children pulling at her legs, me-mee up up up, children so hungry they can’t wait to eat, so hungry they don’t know they’re hungry but she does, she can see it in their dim eyes, she’s their mother after all. Slice some carrots, dip them in hummus, pour herself a glass of wine. The days used to be easier. Now she makes dinner sometimes at noon, when no one is home, no one to get in the way of her knife.
The mother is driving. She is taking the kids to soccer or gymnastics or swimming. She is taking the cats to the vet, the computer to be repaired. She is getting an estimate on car repairs, on fixing the furnace, on having dead trees ripped out of the yard. She is driving to school to camp to daycare. She is driving and they are hitting each other in the back seat, they are fighting over space, over snacks, over toys. They want the radio on, the air conditioner on, they want the heat off, they want the music off. They are putting their knees up, they are throwing their garbage on the floor. Their car seat straps are too tight, too loose; the sign says, 3 out of 4 children are not safe in their seats. The sign says, it is inevitable that someone get hurt.
It’s 10:20 pm and the children are awake, rolling in their beds, the baby with his leg caught up to the knee, the girl staring out the window or reading Harry Potter with a flashlight. Once she took pictures of them sleeping, the girl from small to big with a line of drool on her pillow case, the boy with his butt up in the air. They call it “child’s pose” for a reason. Once she took pictures of them sleeping but too often the flash woke them up and sleeping is the best part of the day. When they sleep, she can pretend. She can dance in the kitchen. She can call a friend on the phone. But now there are dishes in the sink and toys scattered across the living room and children awake in their beds.
It is 7:00 am and the children are awake. They pull up the covers, they yank on the blinds, they look out the window at the yard. Mah-mee, the baby says, deet-deet! Mom, the girl says, there’s a rabbit! They hit each other with pillows, they fall off the bed. They hold up bruised elbows and knees. Ow, they say, owie ow. They straggle downstairs, they eat oatmeal and eggs. They bring board books to read and homework to sign. Mommy, they say, mama, mom. Their kisses are wet on her cheek. The dampness stays with her all day.
Robin Silbergleid is the author of the memoir TEXAS GIRL and two chapbooks of poetry, FRIDA KAHLO, MY SISTER and PAS DE DEUX: PROSE AND OTHER POEMS. She lives in East Lansing, Michigan, where she directs the creative writing program.