What Your Mother Forgot to Tell You: On Motherhood, Mindfulness & Madness
If you forget a glass dish on a hot burner for long enough it will explode. Sometimes, in the sleep-deprived haze of motherhood, one forgets the obvious. I am constantly forgetting car keys, closing the clasp on my belt buckle, that the tag goes on the inside not the outside, my patience.
When my twins were newborns, I once greeted the UPS man with one breast peeking through the secret hole in my breast-feeding shirt. Parenting books do not tell you to tuck in your boob, that you will be disheveled and sleep deprived for the rest of your life, or that once they walk, they will start to run (away from you), and once they talk, they will start to talk back, and finally they’ll learn Socratic logic.
When the glass hits the floor I introduce my boys to the F-word. It’s yet another failure to add to today’s list. I am a failure as a cook, a housekeeper, a wife, and as a mindful mother. I am a forty-three year old divorcée wiping glass and peanut sauce from the floors; I was supposed to be on “Oprah” discussing my Great American Novel — the one I’ve been editing for ten years (in between wedding planning, birthing twins and scouring floors).
My twin four-year-old boys stand wide-eyed in the doorway. The crash of broken glass has momentarily graced our house with silence. Aidan is head-to-toe in orange, like a construction sign, and Quinn is in his favorite high-water jeans — three inches too short and three days thick with maple syrup, dried prunes and sour milk.
“Don’t move!” I yell, in a voice that echoes the sharpness of my New-York-City-Don’t-Mess-With-Me-Mother’s voice. A sea of glass lies between two sets of miniature bare feet and my sanity. Like my mother, and her mother, and I imagine every mother in history, I have vowed to be a better mother: more Mrs. Brady meets Mother Teresa. But the yoga, meditation and psych 101 — all of it is awash in the face of The Peanut Noodle Debacle. Dinner was the last card in a fragile tower that I’ve been holding together all day.
Only an hour before, I returned home to a note from the cleaning lady (the wife of the landlord, who had thrown in free cleaning as a part of our temporary rental). Every mother’s dream –except for the fact that it turned out to be more like a biweekly home inspection from the Mosad.
The floors are covered by wall-to-wall beige carpet, the perfect canvas for two feisty boys who enjoy spilling and juggling food. In no time it’s a Jackson Pollack retrospective! The last time said carpet was steam cleaned, Quinn hurled a raw egg across the room. He watched it puddle into a small yellow lake at the bottom of the wall. “But Mama,” he said, “I didn’t know it wasn’t cooked.”
The landlady’s letter complained about the pile of dishes that rise from the sink like the Tower of Pisa. Only today, Ms. Berstein tripped over one pile of Legos, one headless doll, and two cardboard boxes that were doubling as pirate ships. Neighbors have been descending upon her to report on me like Communist collaborators. “Pamela’s sons vault off their beds, as if they cannot discern the difference between furniture and athletic equipment. The twins’ soccer ball is killing Mr. Smith’s camellia tree. Mr. Smith will speak to the Homeowner’s Board about Pamela’s inability to comprehend condo living.”
I wonder if he complained before or after extracting the stray toothpick from the ball of my left foot. (The toothpicks had been doubling as skewers and swords, and several had failed to make it into the compost bin.)
This time, the trail of blood is shorter. As I remove the last shard from the tip of my pointer finger, I realize I’ll have to buy another dish to replace this one — the fifth thing destroyed in five months.
I contemplate where we’ll go if we get kicked out. Since I ended my seven year marriage — only three months earlier — we have already moved twice: Once out of my dream house, which I sold to afford the lawyers and the alimony, and a second time after I discovered that the mountain view bargain I purchased was full of toxic mold. My mother likes to ask, “So the divorce, do you think it was worth it?”
The boys look concerned about our kitchen and the blood running down my arm. I grit my teeth cheerfully and say, “It’s okay, Mama’s fine!”
I think about how I might have reacted had I not had two small witnesses, and the ways in which motherhood has made me realize my own power and sometimes — my best self. I was so terrified about my capacity to be a good enough mother, but the drudgery — that came as a surprise. No one says: you’re going to have to scrub the floors and turn your home into a twenty-four-hour laundromat. No one prepared me for the resentment that builds after your children have not noticed that you are starving, tired, sick and still — you go on like Sisyphus.
Only seconds before the explosion, Quinn and Aidan had been running around the fireplace giggling, “Let’s not listen to Mama!”
Picture, if you will, a woman with three master’s degrees and at least fifteen years of therapy (40,000 hours of enlightenment), chasing twin midgets around in circles hollering, “Listen to me or else I will… take away your dessert, your bunny, your bedtime stories!”
Quinn leaps up onto the dining room table and began to do the “booty” dance, the only thing he has learned in preschool. Aidan, my second born, follows. I grab at two sets of reedy legs, bouncing hips, wiggly arms. Having successfully wrestled Aidan, my more malleable child, into his stained chair, I growl, “Sit down and eat!” Every time I get one down the other rises back up, howling in triumph.
I think about what the neighbor must see: a woman in an inside-out shirt hollering hysterically at spirited twin boys. He does not see us when we are snuggling over our tenth “George and Martha” story, or when the boys are balancing peacock feathers on their noses, or when Aidan is drawing his first person and had the forethought to put a penis on the mommy.
The salvageable noodles have grown cold, the forks need washing and there isn’t a vegetable in sight. A year ago we would have been holding hands around the dining room table, four of us, saying what we were grateful for. (The result of a Berkeley gratitude study I read about and the closest I could come to God.)
“Let’s say grateful!” I offer, throwing out my arms like a true Berkeley hippy.
Quinn aims his little finger at me and says, “Here’s my gun. Bam! Bam! I’m gonna break your heart.”
I take a deep breath and say, “I know you miss your Papa. Now eat.” There is so much I do not say.
I place the reheated remains of dinner in front of the children. The sight of food brings blessed silence. Until a silver roach steals toward my foot. I yank the Diatomaceous Earth from beneath the counter began sprinkling poison around the room, trying to calculate how I can kill the roaches without killing my children too.
The landlady had not failed to point out that in the 20 years that she and her husband have owned their properties, they never before had problems with lower life forms. Not until my arrival.
My mother spoke about “housewives” the way one would speak about prison inmates or high-school drop-outs. She was a workaholic who slept in her stilettos and smelled like Chanel Number Five. I wanted to be that glamorous, that important, that brave.
But my mother wore stilettos because she didn’t climb jungle gyms. She wasn’t sleep deprived, because she didn’t wake at four a.m. — she had help for that.
Mothering takes a different kind of courage: the courage to put your child’s fever ahead of your own rest, the courage to stay home when you’d rather go out, the courage to say you’re sorry when you screw up, the courage to remember that once they are safely slipped into their rocket pajamas your sons will lean their honey-scented heads against your shoulders and with their bodies warm and heavy against your chest one of them will say, “Mama will you marry me?”
And the other will say, “Mama, I love you all the way up to the solar system and past the whole world,” and everything that you gave or gave up or have yet to give will be forgotten, as you are left with a moment of perfect gratitude.
Note: Some names have been changed to protect the privacy of certain individuals.
About The Author
Pamela Alma Weymouth