will include a red spot on your infant’s cheek. Smaller than a penny, smaller than a dime, smaller than the smallest toenail, but you will see it. It will be shaped like a gun turned one way, the V of a lazily drawn bird the other way.
The doctor will ask if he has had a fever.
No, he has not.
She will ask if his lymph nodes have seemed swollen and red.
No, they have not.
She will ask Then why do you think he has cat scratch fever? You don’t know. You point at the gun-shaped spot, but by now it is smaller than the smallest toenail of a pigeon.
She will tell you he is fine.
She will tell you his spot will go away.
She will tell you to stop nursing him at night, because he is a big baby, and he does not need to nurse at night. He could run into dental problems if he keeps nursing at night.
Aha! You will say. There WAS something!
Renee Beauregard Lute is a graduate of the MFA program at Hamline University in St. Paul, and her work has been published in a number of literary journals and magazines, including Bellevue Literary Review, Mamalode, and Literary Mama.
The clothes pile around me. The dishes pile up in the sink, and I’m pulling bits of malt-o-meal from my braids. The only other person I see all day is the mailman who turns from the window while he quickly fills the slot. Perhaps he is afraid to see a star of flesh when the baby looses the nipple from her cat-like mouth. I long to see his face, to see him curious as to who lives in this blue house with the gingerbread trim, but in this storybook town, gingerbread houses decorate the hillsides like Christmas bulbs in December.
Awake most of the night, near sleep much of the day, I have become a zombie. I am dazed and numb, not quite craving flesh for food, though my body has become food. My daughter nurses around the clock. She takes cat-naps through out the day and even then I am afraid to relinquish my hold on her tiny body. What if I leave the room and she wakes alone and frightened or is stolen away by the Goblin King? I hold her in the rocking chair all day, holding my bladder for hours.
When I hear the heavy clunk of my husband’s boots on the porch, I don’t know whether I want to run toward him or run away, so I sit still and hold the baby. I pretend not to hear when he asks about my day. What can I say that he can understand when mine is the language of gurgles and coos? So I let him rock the baby, while I sleepwalk into the kitchen to open cans of beans and probably burn the vegetables.
Sleep has become the Holy Grail. I wish for it, long for it, pray for it, imagine it, almost find it, and still it eludes me. When sleep finally comes, there is no rest, only shards of REM swirling like a kaleidoscope. Dreams are a B horror film reeling with black and white flickers on the walls of my mind, disconnected images of drowning babies, missing children, and burning buildings. Dreams are the mirrors and hallways of a Fun House at a midnight carnival with bins overflowing with button-eyed dolls that pretend to be my baby. I wake exhausted, covered in sweat and sticky milk, surprised to find her in the bed beside me sleeping like an angel. I lean my head close to her chest and listen for her breath. I almost rise to find a mirror for her to fog, when a jerk of her arm reassures me, for the moment.
My mind tries to convince my body that she is a separate being, but I am hungry, cold, and tired. I cry when she cries. When I reach for her across the darkness of the bed, she burrows against me, belly to belly and I can almost feel the ghost of her umbilical cord pulse. I encircle her in my arms, the rib cage protecting the heart, the dragon hoarding her treasure, sleeping with one eye open.
Bethany Fitzpatrick has a MA from the University of Arkansas where she studied English literature, creative writing, and ecofeminism. She has had poems published in Exposure, Babel fruit,Cliterature, and Apeiron Review. She has published nonfiction online for Mothering magazine. She lives in northwest Arkansas where she teaches English Composition and raises two lovely, spirited children with her husband.
I hear them, but pretend not to. They are shameless with their incessant demands. I’m hungry! Wipe me! I’m bored! Where’s my bunny?
Small feet race by the door, thumping like a stampede of elephants. I wait it out, hoping they’ll give up.
But they never do. They just get louder.
Mommy! Where ARE you?
I’m hiding, of course. Usually in the bathroom, but I’ve been known to stand in front of a sink full of dirty dishes, or lean against the washing machine, checking email and scrolling through Facebook.
I know my solitary moment is fleeting, but I steal it anyway because even a minute is a reprieve. Soon their footsteps grow louder. They’re onto me, like little bomb sniffing dogs.
When I finally appear, or am discovered, I try to sound pleasant. But sometimes the effort is too great and I snap at them. What? The sound of my voice makes me cringe, but I can’t help it. I can’t hide the fact that sometimes I’m dismayed to be needed. Again.
Take the other day, for example. I had to run errands with my two kids. After much cajoling and some bribery, I buckled them in, threw some snacks in the backseat, and started the car.
Then my three-year-old son began to scream, a blood curling sound that felt like someone was stabbing me in the ear with a knitting needle. I turned around thinking he was being strangled by his car seat strap, but he was red in the face crying because his shirt had ridden up in the back.
I unbuckled, contorting my body, and fixed it. With a sigh, I placed the car in reverse and it happened again. More screaming. This time because he dropped his water. Seconds after I buckled myself in for a third time, he called for me again. WHAT? I screamed, turning toward him, my face quivering with rage.
He froze, tears glazing his eyes. “I have to pee?”
It was his small voice that reminded me who I was talking to – or rather, who I was yelling at: a three year old, my last baby, who experiences bunched up shirts and fallen water bottles as emergencies. I’m the adult, the one who is supposed to soothe, calm, and reassure. To teach him what a real emergency is.
I stared at his stricken face and immediately apologized. Sometimes the lesson is for me.
Parenting is a humbling task.
It’s also fleeting. One day, not so far from now, I will strain my ears for my name and hear only silence.
This is important to remember, not just to maintain my sanity, but so I can strive to be better. I don’t want to look back on these early years with (too much) regret. I don’t want to realize, belatedly, that my snapping responses outweighed my kind ones.
I’m in the thick of it with a rambunctious preschooler and a headstrong yet sensitive seven-year-old, who reminds me, too much, of myself.
You’d think this would make me tread more carefully, and sometimes it does, but her tenderness also bruises my heart. Some days I wish she were different, tougher, a little more resilient. A little less like me.
My three-year-old son is easier in some ways, but he’s also a boundary pusher, limit tester, and on occasion, head butter.
But these are my children. It’s my job to accept them for who they are and help them become their best. To fill their hearts and minds and bodies with my love. Enough to last a lifetime.
On holidays and birthdays, I dash off my signature on their cards, Love Mommy. Several times a week I affix my name on homework folders, permission slips, and absence notes. Even after seven years, the title I hold, the name I am called, fills me with awe and wonder. I can’t believe that I am a mother, their mother.
My children still climb all over me. I am a mountain to be scaled, a soft place to land.
The push and pull of motherhood is tidal. I sneak away, I hide, but ultimately I want to be found.
Dana Schwartz lives in New Hope, Pennsylvania with her husband and two children. She has published short stories in several literary journals, was a contributor to The HerStories Project on female friendship, and will be in the forthcoming anthology, Mothering Through the Darkness (November 2015). She also writes about motherhood and the creative process on her blog, Writing at the Table.