Their faces are muddled, yet I can clearly see the eyes, staring at me in judgment. They are the eyes of other mothers.
“You’re not doing it right,” they say to me.
They critique the disorder in my house, the smudged make-up under my eyes, and the pants on my daughter.
“Those jeans are too tight. They don’t fit her anymore,” the eyes say.
I know. Nothing fits. Nothing is in its proper place. I see it too, you know.
I wish the eyes could assist me on the field of motherhood, instead of staring at me from the sidelines. Can’t you see I need some help out here? I want to shout, “Help me! Are you open? Can I pass something to you?”
Maybe the eyes don’t help because no one ever helped them. It’s a rite of passage, I guess. I have to go it alone. It’s only fair.
The eyes tell me I’m strong, and I can handle this. It’s not the first time I’ve heard it.
“You’re so strong. You are such a strong woman.”
It must be true.
But I don’t want to be strong all the time. I want to take a timeout, sit on the bench, something! I need a break. Can you send in a sub? Is there someone who can be strong for me?
I need someone else to take on the stress of potty training, medical appointments, and endless paperwork. I need a fill-in for conferences, meetings, and follow-ups. I want someone else to be there when my daughter is labeled “failure to thrive.” Someone else can cry from the guilt of that diagnosis because THEY let her eat a Fiber One bar for breakfast when she should have had something more nutritious.
I need someone else to monitor the breathing treatments, pack the inhaler, and make sure we never leave the house without the Epi Pen. I need someone else who knows, by heart, the allergens in nearly every packaged food, the safe items on each fast food restaurant’s menu, and someone who understands that every extracurricular activity presents another risk for my child to be exposed to a potentially life-threatening allergen. Because how do you know that the vanilla cupcake is safe if there is no label on the package? It could have been made in a facility that also manufactures tree nuts.
I have to tell my son that he can’t eat the cupcake.
The eyes just stare.
They watch as we get out of our car at soccer practice. They don’t know about the battle that took place at home before we got here. They don’t know that it took thirty minutes for me to get my daughter to put on real clothes. She wanted to wear her bathing suit today. We compromised on a red tutu and a Little Mermaid t-shirt. They see her long, stringy hair and think that I don’t care about how she looks. Of course I care. I just couldn’t listen to her scream anymore while I tried to brush it.
“That’s a nasty sounding cough,” one pair of eyes whispers to another. They glance at my daughter and scoot their chairs a little further away from ours. It is a junky cough. I hear it, too. I want to tell them that she’s not contagious, that she’s had 3 antibiotics and a steroid since August. And now she is on breathing treatments. She has asthma, not Whooping Cough.
I need to get more sleep. I know I do, and the bags under my eyes confirm it. I have turned off the lights, but I cannot turn off the thoughts in my head. It’s only February and I’m already worried about where my daughter is going to go to school next year. Who will keep her so that I can work? She has one more year until she begins kindergarten, and there are very few full-day preschool programs.
“They are only young for a short time,” the eyes remind me, reading my very thought of wishing away one little year. I know these years will pass quickly. I really do understand the passage of time. I know I will miss their little hands and voices, but that doesn’t make this point in time any less difficult.
Right now, I am at the mercy of everything and everyone around me: my husband’s job, my parents’ schedule, and of course, my children. If everyone is well, I can do the things I need to do. If all the stars align, I can do some things I want to do.
Some women are born oozing maternal instincts, and others struggle more with the demands of motherhood. I have no problem admitting that I fall into the second category. Maybe the eyes think this makes me a bad mom.
Maybe I am.
Prince George, VA
Melissa Face lives in Prince George with her husband and two children. She is an English Instructor at the Appomattox Regional Governor's School in Petersburg, VA. She spends her spare time grading papers, writing creative nonfiction, and hiding in the bathroom with candy bars that are just too good to share. Visit Melissa's page at https://www.facebook.com/MelissaFaceWrites/.