Owen and I were holding hands as we walked back to the car along the sidewalk from dropping off Nora for school. Drop-off is always hard for him and today was the first time, after a month, that he didn’t cry. He loves his sister so much but he shows it in ways that are inexplicable to her. Like screaming at her when she goes to school.
I was telling him how awesome it was and he would stop to hop up and down in excitement. One of the many rituals he has but today he stopped to kiss the back of my hand while he did so. I can only think of two other times he’s kissed me and one of those was with a mouthful of chewed up banana. This was a big deal.
We neared the car and he stopped, held his hands up, and said, “Up!” Not only did he recognize my car but he remembered our routine of me telling him “up” to get him to put his arms up. I was so happy and proud of him. I swooped him up, crying, and told him so and he giggled with delight. My heart was bursting with relief to hear him speak spontaneously without prompting or echoing the words spoken to him. After so much work together, so many meltdowns of frustration over not being able to communicate to each other, after so long to hear that simple word was like seeing a bird take flight for the first time.
Just then an elderly woman walked by, someone that I had seen drop-off her grandchildren at Nora’s school, and commented with disdain, “Aren’t you too old for saying “up” for the first time?”
She was smiling, as if her comment was wanted and amusing as I glared at her. I felt myself biting down on the inside of my mouth as the words boiled on my tongue. I remembered to respond with my version of “%$#@ you” since becoming a mother and shouted at her in a tone that said “I will end you” with the words, “HAVE A GOOD DAY!”
Owen sensed my anger and shouted from my arms, “BYE! BYE! BYE!…” He kept shouting it over her defensive response so she couldn’t be heard until she gave up and walked away muttering criticisms about us.
We hugged tightly and he sighed against me before I put him into his carseat. I sat in the driver’s seat for a moment before heading out and thought back on how many times I’ve wanted just a kind word or act on the hard days. So many days have been hard lately that I judge a day by how many good hours we’ve had instead.
The hard hours are those where he won’t stop screaming, hitting himself, hitting me, crying and thrashing. They make those early days of motherhood with Nora seem like a spa trip.
How anxiety filled I was just leaving the house as a new mom with her. I would dread dealing with her carseat and the diabolical gymnastics of completing an outing that it felt like staging a military coupe. Fearing blowouts, marathon nursing sessions, crying bouts…all of it was a breaking in period. Boot camp for parental trauma.
I remembered back to a trip to Fred Meyer to get groceries with Nora when she was only a few months old. It was pouring down outside, we’d had a rough night, and I was feeling so very down on myself. She hated the car and cried the entire ride over. My nerves were raw and I felt incredibly insecure and shaky as I tried to grocery shop and console her simultaneously. People stared, some smiled, as I sang and rocked her in the cart to give her constant motion. My back was burning in pain from wearing her in a carrier nonstop to ease her colic. I managed to grab most of the items and headed to the checkout as I sensed she was going to fall asleep again.
The checker was annoyed with her whimpering and bagged my things badly and slowly, “Why don’t you just pick her up already?”
Back then I tried to reason with people and have always felt compelled to answer a direct question because I was raised to do so since doing otherwise is rude. “I’ll have to nurse her and she’ll fall asleep and – ” She cut me off with the total and practically shooed me out the door.
I trudged towards the car and realized my error. If I buckled Nora in she would be inconsolable as I loaded the groceries since she needed the car to move right away or she cried and I would have to pull her back out again to nurse her to calm her down. If I left her in the cart she would be caught in the rain.
I stood under the awning looking up at the rain, contemplating what to do, and noticed Nora shiver a little. The hot tears started down my numb nose as I hung my head and I couldn’t stop.
Why doesn’t anyone talk about this stuff in the baby books? Where’s all the unsolicited advice now?! All the useless bullshit about “sleep when they sleep” and “breast is best”…it’s all bullshit.
Motherhood, I had decided, was the biggest sham of all. Greeting card images of twirling in Disney-esque sunshine as you cradled your non-shit smelling, smily baby. Lies. Dirty, mean lies to trick you into doing this. Just like those evil baby outfits that are so lovingly embroidered and embellished by the dark arts to make your ovaries ache and your arms feel empty.
I took a deep breath, pulled my coat off to cover Nora and headed out in the rain towards my car. She whimpered as we rattled over the asphalt and my boobs answered by leaking. I hooked my foot under the cart to ensure it wouldn’t roll as I loaded the groceries into the car like a contortionist. Just then I felt a hand on my shoulder. I jolted upwards and stared down into a kind, smiling face of an elderly Asian woman.
Another woman, a youthful version of the first, hollered across the parking lot smiling and laughing with exasperation at the other, “She wants to help you!”
Just then I noticed she was holding an umbrella over Nora and handing me my coat. I began crying again and thanked her as I whisked the bags into the car as quickly as possible. She returned my cart for me while I loaded Nora into the car. I drove up to the front and thanked her as she was walking back. She smiled and patted my hand that rested on the open window, waved, and walked away. I waved at her companion and she smiled with a nod.
Ever since then, I try to remember that day when I see another parent struggling. Often I don’t succeed but I try to give back that kindness I felt that day because I know how much that simple act meant to me. Then other days I shout “HAVE A GOOD DAY!” like a loon.