(One of the benefits of my experience this week with the folks from Columbia University's Teacher College are some strategies to really dig deeper and figure out what writing selections are really about. When I posted the original, I was happy. The next day I added a new beginning. Do you think it works? Does it add more dimension to the piece?)
“My mother never…” my youngest daughter began to tell the hairdresser. I craned my ear in the direction of the conversation from the cushy corner seat of the small salon. “gives me money. I do work and I don’t get money.”
Leave the conversation right there and it sounds like child labor. What’s my hairdresser going to think of me? I thought. Suddenly, I am leaning forward, my hands on my knees so my daughter and I are eye to eye. The black cape covering her torso has little snippets of her curly brown hair. The hairdresser keeps cutting. “Wait,” I begin in a voice that is probably louder than I think it is, “I just gave you fifteen dollars this morning for the movies. We just went to TJ Maxx. I bought you an outfit. The sushi, what about the sushi?” I sucked in one breath so I could continue-I keep talking. “Would you rather get a weekly allowance or be able to get something special almost each time we shop? Or next time, you can pay. What would you rather?”
I only notice that the hairdresser had gone when she returns to separate the fullness of my daughter’s hair in sections with clips. “I was telling her that I have money, but I don’t get money. ” my daughter offered, seeming a little confused. Had I made a big deal out of nothing? Had the fact that my daughter was not where she promised she’d be AGAIN, necessitating a race from Trenton to Bar Harbor and then back to Ellsworth in 40 minutes to make the appointment on time-did that have anything with my stress level and my approach? I seemed to carry a slew of ‘mother rules’ with me. Good mothers don’t let stress get to them. I stepped back and felt like a big huge elephant stomping through the salon making mess of things, but there was no where to hide. I could hear the rushing pulse in my ears. My throat ached. Surely, I am not a good mother. I feel trapped in a tight space and I walk out of the salon and into a little foyer with a couch. Flopping down hard, I sit. I breathe. I need to get a grip, I thought.
I return. The hairdresser continues to work the flat iron through my daughter’s hair. The air feels heavy and I start to pace. I don’t really trust what is reality. Did I come on a little too strong with my daughter? Was I just a little impulsive in responding to the conversation that I was not part of initially? Would a good mother make such a big deal out of nothing? Good mothers don’t question themselves. They always do the right thing.
I pack all these doubts in a satchel that I drag home with me. I carry it through my dreams that night and it lingers as I first step toward the bathroom in the morning. The litany of what good mothers do plays over and over in my head. Where had I collected all my good mother rules? Maybe I simply needed a break.
“Come. Come for a few days,” my friend offered.
“I…I don’t know, “ I stammered. “I’m not sure I can leave.”
“See you soon,” and my friend added, “I love you.”
If they don’t blame me-I blame myself. I sat in the sun, closed my eyes and realized I was hidden behind the towering stand of sunflowers in the garden. I wasn’t there long. Muffling the sobs I moved to the large field-the grass tickling my bare skin, laying flat on my back, arms outstretched, squinting against the sun to watch the set of moving clouds evolving into the curving muscle arm of Cape Cod. This has always calmed and grounded me. My breath slowed, but then my throat tightened. Not working. Doubt persists. Am I a good mother? Into the house I went.
“Ma, you know you have been a grouch for the last month. You know you have.” my 18 year old hissed.
“That has nothing to do with the fact that your friend is polluting my air waves with bad language in front of your sister. He’s a guest in my house.” I yelled back, walking out the door that slammed behind me. I retreated to the porch. Alone.
Maybe I am a grouch. Everything gets turned around and it is always my fault. I thought. Suddenly, I felt that I needed to crawl into bed, alone. No one wants to be with me anyway.
Hours later, Facebook did not prove to be the usual distraction: This planet is inline with that planet so it has been a wonky week. How are you dealing with the wonky week?
Is there any relief? I mouthed softly.
My cell rang and hearing my friend’s voice let loose the tears from the tight spring that had held them back for hours. Her voice beckoned me to come join her for a dose of unconditional love. Wonkiness embraced.
Hanging up, I walked resolutely to the bedroom and stuffed a few essentials into a canvas bag and headed for the door. Leaving without a word. Minutes later I was in the car, barreling down the driveway, both wondering what the hell I was doing and at the same time feeling light and free. Convertible top down, my bangs blew from my face and my vision was clear, but just for a moment.
Good mothers don’t run away. I could just drive to camp, I thought. That’s not exactly running away. I hope they remember to let the chickens in at night. And we are using the last roll of toilet paper in the house. No one knows. That could be bad. Supper? Bet they will have lobster. They won’t miss me at all. The tears flowed. I drove right passed camp and headed north-the winding roads through thick forests and mountains-the views familiar, yet breathtaking. Blinking hard the tears stopped. I need this. I need this. I need a break. That’s what good mothers do.
My friend was sitting on her porch, waiting for me with hearty hugs. I left everything in the car, but agreed to a cool glass of water. As we sat around her table and talked, the laughter replaced the tears. Dinner came with stories and more laughter. Good mothers have friends. They have an adult life too.
Crawling into bed when it was barely dark, I was alone. Looking at the ceiling, I thought of my children. Restless, I moved from my back to either side trying to seek comfort. Was this borrowed bed facing the same way that my home bed faced? I wondered if that was why I couldn’t sleep and then I thought of my husband, my dog Rex and the extra emptiness in my bed at home that my absence provided. Shifting on my left side, I looked out the window and into the expansive star-filled sky. The quiet helped me gain a perspective with the space of time. I am loved and good mothers falter. All is well. Gratitude at that moment shifted my heart toward home and all that I had left behind. I knew that I would return in the morning for that is where I belong.