The lacey fabric was a belated birthday gift. The birthday he forgot until I reminded him through tears. The same month he changed his job of ten years and we brought our third baby into the world. He was working longer hours than ever. But I was the one pacing the floor every hour with the baby. Nursing around the clock. Then up – and dressed – at seven. Bus came at 7:40. No way was I going to be the source of any bus stop gossip. I also needed to prepare breakfast and pack lunches. Our girl liked turkey and cheese. The boy preferred tuna on wheat toast. The magazines talk of Mommy Brain, but there’s nothing wrong with me or my thinking. I make sure the baby is fed, the clothes are clean, the toys germ free, and the beds made. Blue and gray stripes on the boy’s bed. Red and gray on the girl’s. No more labor contractions, but ever more labor. Why isn’t he able to remember a single birthday?
I think my tears bothered him more than anything. He started quoting so-called experts. The same ones he used to mock. He sounded like a writer for Parents Magazine. Stuff about hormones and pregnancy. “I’m not pregnant anymore,” I reminded him as he shuffled uncomfortably. “Yeah, but Babe. Maybe you’ve got something else going on,” he countered.
I was having none of it. Me, a traditional Hanes girl. Sturdy. Dependable. Strong. Until he came home the next day with tears in his eyes. “I’m sorry, Babe. Really sorry.” He handed me a small black box. It was wrapped in smiley face paper, the kind with a glossy coating, and a giant red satin bow. First time I’d seen him excited about a gift. First time I felt excited in a long while.
I opened the package between feedings and melted. Silk panties – so unlike my typical cotton briefs – just like the ones we saw in a storefront window on our first date. Delicate black lace decorated with tiny mauve flowers. Daisies, I think. Years ago, I had paused on the sidewalk, drawn to sheer beauty of the fabric, and he noticed. “We’re gonna bloom, together. Like those flowers,” he told me a few months later. Nothing wrong with his memory, either. Why do I feel so fragile now?
I knew he was trying to make up for my missed birthday. I also knew we couldn’t afford the luxury. He knew, too. But neither of us said a word.
And now, only a day later, I couldn’t find them. I’ve looked in the laundry room. Washer. Dryer. Under the beds. The beds. Dresser drawers. Diaper bag. Toy box. The fridge. Everywhere.
Maybe he was right, after all.
But the bus was coming, and I needed to meet my boy. Carry on. Carry on.
Right on time, the yellow school bus rolled in, and out poured a sea of mayhem. High-pitched voices woke the baby, who started fussing almost right away. My boy hopped off, kissed the baby’s head, and kept on walking. All I could do was stand. Still. Perfectly still. As the bus pulled away, I watched the back of his navy fleece jacket disappear into the house and the cranberry red front door slam. Before the door shut, I caught sight of a dark fabric peeking out of his right-side pocket.
Almost immediately, my so-called Mommy Brain turned crystal clear. I had thrown them in the wash together. Trying to save some water. And my sanity. My boy likely went off to school with both his fleece jacket and a dark, delicate fabric clinging to its otherwise solid back.
Did he know? How could he not? Did others see? How could they not?
Back in the house, I saw the jacket in a tight ball on the stairs. I unfolded the knot of navy fleece and found my lost gift.
Would I ever get this right?
Tired of tears. Tired of Mommy Brain, I headed to the kitchen and whipped up his favorite dinner. Creamy mac and cheese with a hint of cayenne. Sweet corn sprinkled on top. A plate of sliced tomatoes and a wedge of rye bread on the side.
Sat and watched him eat. He looked right back. The baby fussed, but our gaze was locked.
I spoke first. My eyes welled, but I continued. Carry on. Carry on.
“I’m sorry, Baby.”
“I love you, Baby.”
“Love you too, Mama.”
And that was that.
Until my day’s final feeding. As the clock struck midnight, I ordered a set of mesh laundry sorters on Amazon. Another love-hate relationship that both complicates and eases my days. Looks like my lingerie drawer isn’t the only part of my routine getting an upgrade.
Jen Schneider is an educator, attorney, and writer. She lives, writes, and works in small spaces throughout Philadelphia. Her work appears in The Popular Culture Studies Journal, unstamatic, Zingara Poetry Review, 42 Stories Anthology (forthcoming), Voices on the Move (forthcoming), Chaleur Magazine, LSE Review of Books, and other literary and scholarly journals.