The afternoon sun looms in a murky sky, glints of pale light dance off the pavement as I toddle on aching feet and heavy ankles. The yellow leaves are crisp and delicate, dangling precariously on branches that look like black lace against the sky. Burning thighs as I trudge up the hill, smooth foreheads on the younger mums, coltish legs. I’m late of course, in my down parka, heavy arms, and grimaced brow.
Blonde heads dot the schoolyard. I see mine, wide searching eyes, their Jansports like shells on a turtle.
You’re late! The younger one with lips pressed thin, pink like a slice of bologna.
Smudged and mused, I pat his sun stained hair. The air is cold in my lungs. Squatting down on stodgy legs that never do squats, I meet my son’s angry stare-luminous pools of bright blue and white, full of anguish, want, and fervor.
I hurried, I did, from work, scooting out a few minutes earlier, holding my breath as I clocked out, wondering if my boss might notice. Huffing to the car as quickly as an unkempt middle-aged, tired woman can go, I prided myself on the fact that I scored an extra couple of minutes. Maybe I could just sit in the car, or read an article on contouring in Allure. But then I remembered the lack of lunch items in the house and estimated a quick jaunt to the grocery store was feasible. If I careened the car into a plumb parking spot at Shop-Rite, made a beeline to the deli department and used self-checkout, there was no reason I couldn’t make it to pick up on time.
Never being good at math, I miscalculated, forgetting to factor in the onslaught of desperate shoppers stumbling over each other wearing heavy frowns and carrying lean cuisines. The frozen food sale was an unforeseen event. One that could have been easily diverted if I ever attempted to actually look in the circular that is mailed out every week for your shopping convenience. But since I carry the title of ultimate slacker mom, the circular, any corresponding coupons, and a few dozen receipts to Wal-Mart, sit crumpled in the bottom of an oversized shoulder bag.
Every week I scroll through Pinterest, usually while sitting on the crapper, and find stunning looking recipes I vow to recreate. Gorgeous brown sugar coated hams with a side of spiced cherry compote, and apple crisp for dessert. You know what we usually end up having? Pizza bagel bites.
If I had to use one word to describe myself it would unequivocally be hapless. I feel like a train wreck in leggings. Each day is an exhausting effort to keep the kids from killing each other and keep crap off the floor. I’m yelling, I’m always yelling, or cleaning, or sighing, and sometimes I cry. I cry because I can’t get my shit together enough to make a lovely dinner, keep a lovely home, or raise kids that have mastered their inside voice. I cry because other mothers seem to do it so effortlessly. Other mothers do it better than me. They do it with tight abs, calm tones and in heels too.
Doesn’t it just seem like other parents have it together– cooking well-balanced meals, attending yoga, married to a great guy with a full beard and Brawny flannel? Meanwhile, I’m writing this after dropping a mattress down two flights of stairs because I don’t have a man to help me carry heavy shit. I’ve learned to navigate blown fuse boxes, snake out toilets, and have had “the talk” with my teen son all on my estrogen infused own. But it can get weary and I fall asleep every night next to a half eaten bag of Doritos and The Golden Girls on Hulu.
And now I stand in the cool air, late at the school, with an insolent youth who is demanding answers. Why are you late mommy?
I’m late because I’m stretched too thin. Haven’t you seen the sallow bags under my eyes? Don’t you hear it in my weary voice? Feel it in my abrupt touch when I help zipper your coat a bit too roughly?
The pavement sparkles underneath my shabby Uggs. As a child, I thought there were diamonds on the ground. There was magic hidden in the most ordinary objects– faces on acorns, voices in the whipping winter winds, oak leaves that looked like hands. Now, as an adult, things look a little less magical.
Bills pile up on chipped Formica counters, clothes litter the dresser, dust collects on once-used perfume bottles. And I’m lonely. There is no one to hold my hand, to tell me it’s going to be alright, that I’m doing a good job. Some days I’m so down, it looks as if the world is tinged in a gray hue, fogging my perspective, and making me feel like an overwhelmed loser.
Then the younger one presses his hand, warm and slight, into my palm. He uncurls his fingers and hooks them around mine. The wind winds strands of his hair in his fluttery eyelashes, the heat of his hand warming my cold, chapped fingers. He smells like school cafeteria. The 3 o’clock sun highlights the prominent smattering of freckles on the slope of his nose. I look at his face. Not just look, but actually see. I see full, soft cheeks flushed with pink. I see wide, burning eyes, full of questioning awe. I see a face so perfect it both lifts and breaks my heart at the same time.
Suddenly, I see magic.
He loves me, this boy, and he missed me. He felt my absence in the few moments I was late, and yearned to see my face, hear my voice, tell me that he remembered not to puff out his cheeks playing saxophone in music. There was much to share. He had a hot dog for lunch, and it was awful. The new kid, Vincent, told him they were best friends, and an eighth grader accidentally left out his diagram of male genitalia from sex education class.
The unremarkable, routine-filled days of adulthood sometimes blur together like the background of an old photograph. Harried breakfasts, long division on the sticky dining room table, spot treating ketchup stains, stretching a paltry paycheck– they can dim the lights on that childhood magic that was once so abundant. But within the mundane hides real enchantment. I may not think the sidewalks sparkle with diamonds anymore, but when my son tilts his face upwards, gapes at me with irreproachable eyes, suddenly the word hapless doesn’t define me anymore. Loser doesn’t work either.
See, there’s this boy that grew out of my body, a boy I helped create, and when he looks at me he doesn’t see a disheveled, bone tired woman with cheese doodle stained fingertips in desperate need of a massage and dye job. He sees a mom he missed and wants to share the precious details of his day with.
And the details are precious. It’s easy to forget this when you’re rushing through the hectic days of motherhood, feeling lost, and flat, and simply not good enough. The world can seem like a lonely, dark place. Leave it to a child to remind you that it’s not. Leave it to a child to suddenly show you that magic still exists.
When my child looks towards me, it’s not the under eye bags, weary expression, and jiggly body that he sees. He doesn’t see a hapless soul, trying to navigate the minefields of single motherhood. He doesn’t care that I’m flawed. He doesn’t care that I usually burn dinner. What he does think is that I’m good enough.
And that, my friend, is magical.
About the Author
Claudia Caramiello is a freelance writer who’s work has appeared in Bluntmoms, Her View From Home, and Elephant Journal. She survives single motherhood on caffeine, humor, and Nutella out of the jar. Find her on Facebook at Espresso and Adderall, and at wordblush.com