This has been a draining, exhausting weekend. I had a lump in my throat tonight when I was kissing the little ones, Tika half-asleep and Puck, who fell asleep with feet on floor and head on couch while I read the Ugly Duckling. Yoshi said he felt like the persecuted ugly duck that didn’t belong in our family. Then he held my hand and shuffled to his bed and climbed under his covers. He gave me an innocent kiss after a painful weekend of tension and heartache between us. And Ernie. An hour later he is still awake on top of his covers and unresponsive to me. He watches me pass each time outside his door.
Ernest came home on the school van on Friday afternoon quietly crying. A group presentation file had somehow not been saved to his thumbdrive, work would need to be redone. His face was a contortion of agony and embarrassment.
Yoshi had spent Friday with me, feverish on the couch, while I sat by him working at the table. The fever seemed to make him a hundred times more sensitive to sound and light. My sympathy for him changed to aggravation and anger as he whined, kicked, and then pummeled his little brother and sister when they burst through the door in the afternoon.
I didn’t take any pictures this weekend. We are in the void between photos, the part I don’t want to journal about, because I’d like it to disappear.
I have learned that the dirty-little-secret about mothering is shame. Shame at long, public wailing, snot running all over the face, every eye turned on the red-faced mother as if she ought to have an off-switch on her kid. Shame at the uncontrollable, remorseless, aggressive little beast—where did he come from?—that holds his baby brother below the water and beats smaller kids with his fists. Shame at her own broken will—something has snapped inside, and she is not even self-respecting enough to hold it together for the public eye.
And what about that eyeing public? They are an inconstant ally to the mother. She is all things good and apple-pie in those Kodak moments, but if she can’t keep that image up, she’d better run for cover. I’ve been barked-down over the airplane seat by even another mom, who, impatient on the tarmac, beat her cell phone over the back of my seat and suggested I get my then-two-year-old Puck to “shut the fuck up”. Between the seats her own pre-teen son gave me a cool, blank expression. I’ve been kicked from behind, this by an older woman in a suit, who said I have no respect. Puck was an infant and in my arms at the time. That was a pioneering (and never-to-be-repeated) outing to the Millenium Stage at the Kennedy Center, a free nightly performance intended to engage ordinary people in the arts. Just not people with kids. I was actually scrambling toward the exit with my other three in tow when she got me. I’ve been cut off by an ER nurse at Georgetown Hospital who asked me to please not answer questions for my son when I took him in with a cut on the back of his head. That was another low for me. Ernie had fallen while jumping on our bed. He was only 2. I’ve been out-rationalized by my therapist, who asked “Why do you think you had so many kids if it’s so hard raising them?” Why the hell was I paying that lady anyway?
Now that I’m up to my neck in motherhood, I see that the mom is no icon at all. No, she’s a washed-up beauty queen—pitiful but tolerated. We’d like to see her heel crack, her teeth break, and her lipstick smear. We snidely triumph in the revelation that her ideals and orderliness were all wrong, that her kids are miserable beasts. Why else Wife Swap? Why Super Nanny and Nanny 911? And it’s not just the old bitties or the childless café crowd who do this to the mother. No—it’s other moms!! Jesus Christ! Who will give the woman a break?!
In case you didn’t guess, this weekend didn’t go well. Yoshi’s hyper-sensitivity and aggression went from bad to worse, so that he repeatedly tried to drown his sister at the pool (was it lucky that his fever was gone on Sunday?), bit and scratched, bore his teeth at me during the peace at church (I nodded and gave a half-hearted smile—what else am I supposed to do?). Tika kept up a steady underscore of wailing, recovering, then jabbing him again. And over all, nothing tasted just right, juice was never the right juice, sandwiches were together that should be apart …You get the idea.
For times like this, I have learned to pull into a turtle shell with only my middle fingers jabbing out to the world. My face is hot with the public eyes I can already feel on me, and my trigger-tongue is ready for their anticipated interjections.
But there is a deeper fear that I am afraid to talk about and know almost nothing about. It’s the fear that my eleven-year-old son is so unhappy with himself. He pinches his arm to finish a math problem. He cries for missed assignments and mistakes on tests, correcting remarks from teachers and frustrated expressions from mom. Now I’m afraid to confront him and afraid to ignore. I need an ally, but I’m smart enough not to go asking around. If their reaction to ordinary screaming is any indication, most people are totally incapable of helping.
For now, I’m turning the lights out. On my last pass-by, his eyes were shut, so now, I guess, I can sleep.