As you vanish, unchecked
(your trusted safety belt)
trying to resist sinking
on a glimpse of consciousness
you cannot tell your age
or mine, or today’s date
‘then’ you say
‘we should say farewell.
I might not recognize you
the next time around.’
‘Chances are you won’t, Mom.’
‘But you’ll love me nevertheless’
I would like to add.
Tears choke me.
‘You’ll love me’
my mind whispers
‘because of the cormorants
we watched from the riverbank.’
Your arm weighing over mine
as I pointed at dark silhouettes
You were all there, were you?
Enjoying the breeze
and my words.
When you’ll recognize me
no more, your body
—your nameless soul—
will recall the cormorants
and the afternoon sun.
Your arm will seek mine.
You’ll know I am a good thing
you can lean on.
Toti O’Brien is the Italian Accordionist with the Irish Last Name. She was born in Rome then moved to Los Angeles, where she makes a living as a self-employed artist, performing musician and professional dancer. Her work has most recently appeared in Colorado Boulevard, Ruminate, Windmill, and The Write Place At The Write Time.
“Reeve better not bother us because we are so, so, so busy, right Mommy? We’re working.”
It’s 7pm on a Thursday night. I’m sitting on the floor in my bedroom, writing copy that’s due before my client opens his email tomorrow morning, before I miss bath time tonight, or worse, bathtime misses us entirely.
I need an hour to work, I had told my husband twenty minutes earlier as we cleared dinner from the table. I headed for the stairs with two sets of tiny but loud footsteps behind me.
My one-year-old, Reeve, whiny and panicked that I might escape her sightline, grabbed at my legs, frantically motioning for me to pick her up.
Easton, four, ran over with a different tactic: “Wait, I have work, too. Let me just get my stuff and we’ll go upstairs together,” she yelled, running into the living room. “Not you, though Reeve, you’re too little to work.“
Now, here we are, me at the computer channeling my quickest, wittiest copywriting self, Easton right next to me. Her tools? A purple plastic beach bucket, a Victoria’s Secret planner that they handed me in February when I bought a pair of pajama pants, and training scissors that rarely leave her side these days. She is cutting tiny squares, over and over, littering our floor with oversized homemade confetti, sometimes placing them in the bucket. I’m letting it go, because–survival.
Those tiny pink and white squares, her belief that we’re in it together, both of us seriously focused at our tasks at hand–that’s how we’re getting by, that’s how this is working, how I am working, how my family is working.
I returned to my full time job when Easton was four months old. After a rocky maternity leave, I had just started to feel like myself and just started to really, truly enjoy having a baby. I was fortunate to return to a place that I had worked for five years, to people who were welcoming, to a job that I knew very well at that point. While my return itself was much easier than expected, I was still heading back to a job that I was on the fence about, a fact that became clearer when I left my newborn to go to work.
One day in the hall, a co-worker asked how I was doing. I gave a version of that stock-new-mom answer, “It’s good…getting easier…hard to leave her…nice to put on real clothes again…“
I was expecting commiseration with my unspoken admissions. Because, inside, I wasn’t sure how much was true. In those first few months back, I worried I was too transparent, that people could hear my inner voice through my my partial PC BS. I worried they knew what I was really thinking: Working is good, but I really wish that if I was leaving my daughter, it was for a job that I love, a job that feels right, a job that doesn’t take me out of the house quite so much. And, what I was just starting to realize, now more than ever: I missed food writing, my original career path. Having a child made me think harder about my future, decisions, my time away. It made me question my ambition.
“Good. This will be incredibly important for Easton,” my coworker said. Clearly, I was not that transparent. “She needs to know that women can work, women have a purpose outside the home, that she is going to college someday to be someone, but also, because you worked hard to make the money to help her go to college.”
That is everything I wanted: for her to be anyone she wants to be, for her to be proud of her mom, for us to be able to send her to college. If I leave this job, how will any of those things happen? I am her mom, her first examination of female behavior. I need to show her what a stable career looks like, not what it looks like to be impractical.
So, for the next three years, every time I thought about leaving, taking a chance at a random opportunity, those words and the reminder came back to me. I needed to be her guidepost.
While on maternity leave with Reeve, I spent my nights caring for a newborn and considering my future. My job, which I had held onto for eight years, was changing, and I was given the option to walk away. It took until almost the very end of my maternity leave to decide. I was leaving.
This was the sign I needed to take that leap, not to stay home full time, but to start freelancing, to hopefully succeed and show my girls that they can have a good career, take chances, and be who they want to be. And, really, they were the ones who made me take the chance. They were the ones who I wanted to be around for more — to eat dinner with, to be with on the weekends, to just be there for — and they were the ones who I wanted to set an example for, early in their lives.
But, with freelancing — from home — comes different worries. Do they see me on my computer too much? Am I working too much? Do they think they’re second best to my assignments? Do they wish, as I admittedly do, that on a snow day, I’m cuddled up with them on the couch watching a movie, instead of upstairs, on deadline?
Or, are they learning that work is important? Do they see that their mom has goals and responsibilities outside of them, and that they have to work hard to succeed? Do they know that I believe they can be whoever they want to be, because they are both (admittedly, biasedly) amazing, and somewhere inside, I still think that I can be, too? Does Easton get it when at night we read Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls and She Persisted, and when I tell her that I love that she’s smart, but that I really love that she tries so hard? Does she get that, if she plays her cards right, that will always be her future: to try so hard? Does Easton see, even as a child so little, that a year later after leaving my job and working for myself, I’m still scared, but personally, so much more content?
On the hardest days in this new phase of my career, I worry that I’m too often absent, physically there, but focused on a screen. But, then other days, I really believe they will remember these moments: their mom figuring it out, believing that it’s not too late to finally be what she’s always imagined she should be, giving them space to find their future, passion, and work ethic somewhere within a beach bucket and a pair of training scissors.
And, so I look at her, wiping a piece of confetti off my screen. Yes, I think, tonight, we’re working.
Brooke Herman is a freelance writer, living in central New Jersey with her husband and two young daughters. Her blog, Life as we Cook it, focuses on food, family and trying to maintain sanity.
“Weeee…” you squeal in delight, as we ride the choo-choo train in the park for the third time that evening. Your tiny hands turn around and around the steering wheel. Your little mind brims over with thrill, laced with threads of fear in the illusion of being in command of the toy train. Your cherubic face glows; cheeks tinge a shade of blush as the cool evening breeze caresses them. Your eyes sparkle a carefree glint. You do not want the ride to end. I sit beside you, and I soak in every moment. There is a deluge of happiness. I do not want that ride to end either. I know you are safe. There are no bumps on this road.
I am a force in your life, and you look up to me. You are just three years old. Your tiny soul trusts no other. A new life in this bustling world, you are curious of its ways. Every morn you wake up with wonder. Where are the ants marching to, you ask and why does our dog not have to wear underwear? Did someone eat a slice of the moon? Could Poise pads stop bathroom leaks? Your big eyes gaze at me, their twinkle intense with determination, to seek answers. Your thirst for knowledge finds the deep sea in me. “Mommy, you know everything,” you say.
That was years ago. Back then I was your Alexa, your Siri and Google.
“Ready to go, Mom?” you ask, as your slender hands rest on the steering wheel of our five-seater SUV. Again, your mind brims over with thrill. If there are threads of fear, you do not show it. This is no illusion. You are in charge. Your face, youthful, reflects confidence. Your eyes gleam a carefree teenage sparkle. I sit beside you in the passenger seat. Crow’s feet that have just begun to mark my face, reflect worry. Soon, you will be on your own, and I do not know how the path you choose will be. What I do know with certainty is that there will be bumps on that road.
I am no longer the person you come to when your curiosity is piqued. You are seventeen years old, and you have your own smartphone. I am not your Alexa or Siri. I cannot compete with Google. Most days I am just Mom who nags you to get things done. Some days I am Mom who does not know anything. Do you still look up to me? I wonder as you turn on the ignition.
Google has robbed me of a few cherishable moments. The other day you draped the beautiful gold and blue saree by yourself. I wanted to be the one to teach you the nuances of pleating and folding in six yards of silken fabric. “You were busy Mom, so I just googled it,” you said. Or the time you made ‘Mutter Paneer’ by yourself. I thought you would do it the way I have been doing it, the way my mom has taught me to do it, the way that has been the tradition of our family. You chose a veganized version from ‘Vegan Richa’ instead.
We are on the way to the grocery store today, a route that is so familiar to me. I ask you to stop at the stop sign that looms out of nowhere ahead. “I know what a stop sign is!” you yell. I am hurt. Just then, the Carolina skies swell up. There is a sudden downpour of rain.
“Mom, where is the switch for the wipers?” you ask frantic, fumbling around.
“Google it,” part of me wants to say. Yet, you and I both know that would be the worst thing to do. The other part of me perks up. You need me, still. I lean over and turn on the switch.
You have just completed your maiden journey as the driver. You have done very well. As we unload the bags of bags, you seem pensive.
“Mom,” you ask me softly “How did you know Dad was the one?”
Now that was one question that Google could not answer. We proceed to converse about matters that belong to the realm of the heart, which terrain can be devious and baffling to anyone, including technology. We talk about arranged marriages and relationships. You listen to me, intrigued.
I light up. I am still a force in your life.
Born and raised in Mumbai, India, Vidya Murlidhar now lives in Charlotte, NC with her husband, children, father-in-law and puppy. Her writings carry the flavor of her homeland and have appeared in ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’, ‘Life Positive’ and ‘Perfection pending.’ She is also the author of a children”s book ‘ The Adventures of Grandpa and Ray.’ You can find her musings on my blog ‘Mommyhooddiary.wordpress.com’
When our second child was born, my husband and I were unaware that we were entering a profoundly difficult decade. Once it finally receded, like a tornado blowing out of town, we found ourselves bruised but standing side by side, blinking in the sun.
The short-lived colic we had endured with our first baby was not even on the same planet as our second child’s. Our son was so often inconsolable in his first six months of life that, in photos of that period, our three year-old daughter is the only one who doesn’t look completely spent. Hollow-eyed, we desperately cycled through remedies. Holding, singing, swaddling, playing a white noise machine, winding a baby swing, and driving him to sleep were all remedies that worked but only briefly…it was as if we were outside the Garden of Eden without a key, staring through the gates at the happy families strolling around contentedly with cooing babies. Slowly we learned his triggers and how to better soothe him. A structured schedule was key, and nursing was a godsend I overused. By his 12-week checkup he was at 100% height and weight and I was fitting into my pre-pregnancy clothes.
In the ensuing years, it seemed our son had assessed the situation and was pissed off he had been assigned to go through childhood instead of somehow qualifying to be skipped directly to adulthood. The peaceful periods in his first decade often corresponded with him hitting developmental milestones. As he learned to sit, walk, talk, go to preschool, then to Kindergarten, and read and write, he would grow periodically calmer. During those times I would breathe more deeply and gather my strength for the next round.
Unlike his sister’s more even distribution of strengths and challenges, our son’s enigmatic personality highlighted greater gifts and deficits. At age three he had epic meltdowns as he struggled to moderate his emotions. In Kindergarten his teacher directed him to a speech specialist but noted his ability to negotiate. He was slow to learn to tie his shoes. But he was also highly verbal, and a born entrepreneur. By age nine he had read his way through all of Harry Potter. He was social and active, gravitating to ball sports and especially baseball, where his strength and intensity helped him to shine. Of my three children this child elicited both the most compliments and the most complaints—the complaints notably from parents who were affronted by the man-sized competitiveness that often radiated from his child-sized body. At home he argued incessantly, could be tough on his siblings, and was so stubborn I prayed for guidance and the grace to bear it. When my husband once confided he felt that our son was the cross I carried, I burst into tears. It was true.
In third grade we had him tested by a neuropsychologist, and she explained to us what we had long observed. The discrepancy between his under-developed processing speed and his gifted auditory linguistic skills was causing him to overlook the emotional component in any given situation. For me, the diagnosis was an indescribable relief that allowed me reframe his behavior. He applied his trademark spirit to his therapy sessions and his therapist taught us strategies to support him. Our family began to heal. By fifth grade, he was managing his intensity more gracefully and our home life had normalized.
Looking back, it’s easy to see how worn down I was before the diagnosis. I wish I could advise my younger self to worry less and laugh more. I wish I could hug her and whisper, “It’s going to be OK.” I wish I had been more patient. I still cringe remembering the time I grabbed my son viciously by the hair when he refused to listen for the umpteenth time. I still feel guilty about how my other two kids, without complaint, often put aside their own needs, while allowing me to give their brother extra focus and the time to seek answers to help this boy my heart knew was different.
At the same time, I learned from him. I learned with him. I learned to advocate for him even when my courage felt small. And ultimately, in order to cope, I pushed down my exhaustion and resentment, leaned in, and developed more grit. I cultivated gratitude and ignored the judgment of others. I loved him hard alongside my less challenging children. And when we finally found the answers we needed and things improved, I was quick to move on without looking back.
Now sixteen, my middle child is mature, bright, and ambitious. I love the boys he has chosen as friends. He is engaging, an excellent student, and a sought-after babysitter. For a teenager he talks to me a lot, and he can make me laugh like almost no one else. He’s still competitive as hell, and some people still take it personally. But he has learned to focus his intensity, and these days more often than not it works for him. Is he perfect? No. Will he stumble and fall in his life? Of course. But I believe in him and know he will pick himself up.
Lately, I’m allowing myself to remember. I’m realizing that somewhere along the way, that cross I carried became a blessing. Those hard, messy years provided my family opportunities to re-frame and persevere, and although some were fails, we learned resiliency and life tools that I can now see we’ve used to become more authentically ourselves. I believe we are closer and more supportive because of it. Our life isn’t the storybook version I pictured as a young mother. Instead, we have forged our own, real version. I learned the hard way that it is our grit that defines us. And ironically, it may be this model that ends up serving my children best.
Last month my son got his driver’s license. He was nervous, and asked me to drive to the DMV with him the day before so he could practice the route the driving teacher had shown him. He did it twice, directing me to watch him for mistakes. The next day, when he emerged from our car after the test and shot me the victory signal from behind the teacher’s back, my heart flipped. Another milestone.
These last weeks of school he’s been enjoying his independence, driving himself to school and baseball, hanging with friends on the weekends. I admit I’m relishing my freedom from being his designated driver. And I’ve noticed that in the absence of all the car opportunities we used to have, he’s taken to talking to me at the kitchen island while I cook or clean.
Today marks the official first day of summer, and he’s driving himself to camp to be a counselor for the week. I can tell I’m annoying him as I kiss him goodbye, remind him about sunscreen, and make him promise he’ll call when he gets there. He gives me a half-smile and a quick escape hug, and I stand on the front step as he throws his stuff into the back of our old Suburban. He backs out of the driveway. For a second, I see him at six, running down the hallway as fast as he can and launching himself upside down into our old green chair, his flushed face grinning up at me impishly. I recall a long-ago snippet from a Ralph Covert song, “Riding With No Hands.” Man, we must have listened to those Ralph’s World albums a thousand times when the kids were small: ‘Look at me, Ma, I’m riding with no hands…” I wave. The boy he was merges into the man he is becoming, and as he finds his balance, he lifts his hands from the handlebars, and the car rounds the corner out of sight.
Ariele Taylor has a B.A in Literature and Fine Art and has spent the last 15 years focusing on raising her family, restoring and remodeling houses and keeping her equilibrium by reading and writing. In her previous life, she had an art studio and ran an art gallery. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, kids, and dog and is planning on starting a blog as she embarks on the next chapter of her life.