It was hot. The boy and I had been out all morning, running errands, at the park. He started to fall asleep on the way to pick the girl up from school so I made him get out of the stroller and walk.
The air was heavy and humid. We had just said goodbye to our friends and were blocks from our house when I noticed the girl didn’t have her shoes on. Where are your shoes? I asked sharply. Here she said. There was only one purple Croc sitting beside her in the stroller.
Where is your other shoe? I asked. I don’t know she said, unconcerned. I took a deep breath. I am very frustrated I said. You have to keep your shoes on in the stroller. My voice was rising. My anger was building.
I walked a few steps away from the kids to think about my options. I could go back and try to find the shoe. I didn’t know where it had been lost but I could look. I had already lost one of the boy’s shoes that morning on the way to the grocery store when he had pulled it off. I hadn’t found it.
I could abandon the shoe to its fate. But that was her only pair of sandals and it was too hot to wear her other shoes. Plus, I didn’t want to have to buy another pair.
I turned the stroller around and went back.
I met another mom on the way home from prechool with her two kids. Did you see a kids’ shoe? I asked her as I passed beside her. Yes, she said, it’s back by the high school. I swore and kept walking. I would have to walk almost all the way back to the girl’s school to find that stupid shoe.
The girl kept trying to talk to me. I can’t talk to you right now I said to her. I am very angry and I can’t talk. Please be quiet until we get home.
Down the block from the high school I spotted the shoe. Furious, I parked the stroller. Stay there I said to the kids. I walked towards the shoe. I watched a teenager pass in front of it, pointing and laughing. Then I watched a truck drive over it as it lay in the middle of the road.
Did you do this? I yell at a group of high school kids sitting nearby on the curb. Do you think this is funny? One of them shrugged as if to say, it wasn’t me. Well tell your friends then that it isn’t funny! I yelled at them as I walked away.
I wanted them to yell back. I wanted to unleash the rage that was building about the shoe and the extra walk and the fact that we had been so close to home on someone. None of them responded, so I had to walk away.
I started the walk home again. As I knew he would the boy fell asleep on this second walk home. I tried to keep him awake. Facing me in the back seat of the stroller, he hung onto the sides while he dozed off.
I locked the stroller brake in front of the house. Please go into the house and upstairs while I bring everything in I said. I want to water my sunflower said the girl about the little Styrofoam cup I had been handed by one of the teachers that morning. Where is it? she demanded. Please go upstairs I said through my clenched jaw. No! I want to water my flower she said picking it up from the side of the steps where I had left it in a rush this morning. She started walking towards the water tap at the front of the house.
Get in the house! I screamed. If you don’t get in the house I am going to throw away the flower! I grabbed her arm and dragged her up the steps. I imagined that all the parents in the park across the street heard me scream. I had never screamed like that before. She started to cry. She kept talking about the flower but she went into the house.
I lifted the sleeping boy out of the stroller and carried him over my shoulder while dragging the stroller up the steps behind me. I made it into the house and started taking his shoes off as I headed up to the second floor. The girl was standing at the top, still crying. I went pee she said. Good, now please go read some books in my room while I get the boy in bed.
I lay him down in his bed. I debated changing his diaper but couldn’t face the possibility that it might wake him up. She followed me into the room, crying and yelling about her flower. I turned to her and screamed again. Get out! You are not listening to me! Get out!
I could hear her crying as she walked down the hallway to my room. I settled the boy. I took a moment to calm down. I went to her and told her I was sorry I screamed. That I was frustrated about having to go back and get her shoe. That I was angry that she wasn’t listening to me. I gave her a hug. I said she had to stay there until I came back to get her.
I was feeling better. Everything was going to be fine. Then I walked into the bathroom and saw a wet cloth diaper lying on the bathroom floor. I had left it soaking in the toilet because it had been particularly foul. Now there was water and poo and a diaper on the floor.
I marched back to my room where she was reading books in bed. I yelled some more and carried her to the bathroom to show her the diaper. I made her wash her hands. I cleaned the floor. I said all the things I had already said that morning. That I was angry. That I was frustrated.
I left her sitting in my bed surrounded by books. I left her upset and walked away.
I wish I could say the rest of the day was better. There were moments. Eventually she and I sat together on the couch, watching TV. We talked about what happened. We cuddled. But there were still more standoffs. Moments where I was overcome because she wouldn’t do what I asked. Moments where I longed for nothing more than to be somewhere else.
When the husband came home I went to bed. I lay there trying to make sense of the day and figure out how it had all gone so wrong. Sometime before I fell asleep I decided that my reactions and responses were a sure sign that my period was coming. Not that it is a good excuse. But it is an explanation I recognized as the truth as soon as I thought it.
The girl is asleep now. I can’t sleep. My heart is too heavy, my mind too full. We all have days of failure. I can accept that. What is hard for me is the fear that this will be a sign of things to come.
I don’t want to be her friend. I know that she won’t always like me. I know that we will fight. But I want so badly, so desperately to be the mother she deserves. The mother I want.
And that is why I am crying right now. The fear that I am not that mother.