By Meghan Wilson
The morning starts early, painfully so. I wake up feeling exhausted, sore everywhere, and overwhelmed. I don’t fall back asleep, however; I’m already too mentally keyed up for that. Instead, I briefly play out the fantasy of tonight. Tonight, when I will go to bed early, when I will rest. I know it’s not true, because every morning I have the fantasy, and every night, I fail to accomplish it. But I long for its false comfort, nonetheless.
Not yet out of bed, but yearning to return, I mentally review the steps: the morning routine, what I need to gather, what I need to bring, where I am going. I stiffly sneak out of bed to commence: washroom, put on makeup, make hair nice, gather clothing and creep downstairs in the early morning dark and stillness. I let dog out. Get dressed in the dark. Make coffee, turn on the light. Stare at my reflection in the patio door off our tiny kitchen. I notice that my eyes look like hollow orbs, and I stare for a few moments longer. I’ve noticed that same hollow orb inside of me for several years now, but it’s been getting more insistent, dammit, more….perceptible. I grab three pieces of blank computer printer paper and draw three pictures with Crayola markers, labeling each clearly with its letter and colour of love; green “A”, purple “C”, orange “R”. I scribble a quick note to J and throw my lunch in my bag, toast on a plate, coffee in travel mug. Time to go.
Then I hear it, and my stomach knots with the pain of love and dread. The hollowness expands and I feel it try to consume me. I push back, hard. Muscles tighten in a swift thrust of resistance. I come around the corner to the front hall, where the stairs cheerfully curve and emerge in full view of the front door. And there she is.
Warm fleece pajamas, top and bottom. Sit on one stair, bum scoot down one stair, sit on that stair, bum scoot down one more. Quietly, softly, sit-scoot-repeat. I look at her and smile broadly, “good morning, baby girl”. She stares at me silently with big, baleful, solemn eyes. Takes in my mug, my keys, my toast plate, my bag. I haven’t touched her, but I know she’s just-out-of-bed warm, soft and cozy. She sits still mid-staircase, as big brother flies past, age 4, says “Hi Mommy”, with all his morning exuberance and energy, leaping the last three steps. His smile is radiant, but he doesn’t make eye contact. He heads straight to the bookshelf to get out his 1001 facts book. He’s focused. J stirs and walks into the upstairs hallway, all warm and shaggy, offers me a half smile and a wave on his way to the bathroom. Baby boy not yet awake, but soon. Oh – he’s up now – J emerges from bathroom and gets him from the crib.
Daughter scoots down a few more stairs. Sit-scoot-repeat. She’s two steps from the bottom now. “Hi sweetie”, I say. J walks past her and baby boy flings himself dangerously toward me; I accept him in my arms while tears prick my guts; painful acupuncture from the inside. I hug him and kiss him and smile and say “hi mister man” over and over, while he smiles and snuggles, all warm baby love.
My heart is racing, but I try not to show it; I’m a resident, anxious about being late, getting in trouble. Again, the hollowness roars and I ache, strain, suppress it away, warring with my intestines while smiling and snuggling. “Come give Mommy a hug bye-bye” I call to big boy. Hand baby boy off to J. Baby boy starts to cry; J walks swiftly to the kitchen to distract him. “You’re leaving?” big boy asks. I nod, smile, keep that smile plastered to my face “Mommy’s off to work bud, Daddy’s here with you. I hope you have a greeeeeat day!”. We hug and kiss and say I love you; my heart momentarily lifts. I look at her. She’s on the bottom step now. She’s my girl, my daughter. “I love you sweetie” I say. I don’t want to rush her, I don’t want to pressure her. She’s woken up just to say goodbye, exactly like so many other days. Many days, she wakes to find me already gone. It isn’t fair. I know it isn’t.
She slides her bottom off the final step and stands. I take her in, her soft brown hair, fuzzy jammies, beautiful eyes, and big, open heart. Very deliberately, she walks by me into the living room. “Bye Mommy” she says as she passes. “See you never”.
Inhale big. Exhale slow. Poor girl. I don’t blame her; I’m not mad. She’s expressing her frustration and sadness and that’s OK, she’s allowed. She’s simply confirmed – unintentionally and without malice – what I tell myself every day. I’m a bad mother.
J walks out and looks at me sympathetically. Baby boy is happy in his highchair for a moment. I reattach the big smile. J hands me back my toast plate and mug, which I had hastily set on the shelf to receive baby boy. I’ve been holding my bag the entire time. I call to my daughter. “I love you very much sweetie” I say. Baby boy hears me and remembers me; starts to cry. J and I kiss, I shout bye to everyone one more time, and walk out the door.
I put the plate and mug on the cool, frosty car roof, open the door, start the engine. Retrieve my food. Sit in the driver’s seat in the driveway. I will the tears to come. I beg them. I plead with the hollow orb to suck me in, to consume me now, to let me feel the guilt, the shame, the fury, the frustration.
But nothing comes. Inhale big, exhale slow. Here we go again, I think. Put the car in reverse, let off the clutch, no gas required on the down-slanted driveway. As I back onto the street I look hopefully toward the front window. They’re all there – big boy, daughter, and baby boy in J’s arms. They all wave and blow kisses; I roll down my window and do the same, big smile on my face, sending love through the air and the glass.
First gear, let off the clutch, roll forward, waving until they are out of sight.
Let me hold this memory with gentle hands.
The author is a Family Physician and mother practicing in Kingston, Ontario.