She tentatively taps the egg to the metal mixing bowl, a thin crack beneath her thumb. I take her hand, show her how it is done, and she laughs as the yolk slides into the bowl, the shell crumbling in her hand. “Let me try it myself”—her motto this year—and I stand back to watch her whack the egg down hard this time, and the yolk miss the bowl, sliding instead into the open mouth of that one kitchen drawer that can’t quite close. She looks back at me, scanning my face to see if this is ok, if I am angry, and I laugh, bitterly, that she, at six years old, would have instinctively looked for anger on my face, on her mother’s face, which should always radiate love.
As a mom of four daughters, ages 7 months to 6 years old, some days it seems all I know is failure. I missed that part of girlhood where you learn to braid in tight beautiful plaits. I missed the part where you learned to shop and coordinate outfits that other moms would approve of. I will never understand hairbows that are larger than a baby’s head, or shoes that cost more than mine, or why it is trendy to give a child a grandma name but not a mom name (like my girls: Susan, June, Wendy, Diana).
I do my best, but sometimes my best is not enough. I can’t sooth one because I’m feeding another; I lose my temper in the tempest of yelling, and add my voice to the chaos. I feed them corndogs instead of cauliflower. Some days I wonder why God gave us so many, so quickly—all two years apart, one year collapsing onto another, a heap of blessings, a torrent of rain on a dry field.
In The Awakening by Kate Chopin, Edna, the main character, an artist and repressed housewife, compares herself to the beautiful motherly Madame Ratignolle, all soft-corners and smiles, tenderness and light. Edna in contrast is artistic but daydreaming, here and not here, looking for herself over the tawny heads of her children. Not a “mother-woman”, she identifies, claiming some category of “other”, claiming a from-birth, created lack that cannot be rectified.
I hug my daughter close. “Not too much a mess to wipe clean,” I say, wiping a worn kitchen towel in the crevice, pulling out egg coated forks and knives. She smiles at me, begins mixing, already sneaking in tastes that are hopefully salmonella free. Not every moment will be flawless—the next time, I may groan at the thought of egg seeping into the jumble of dinnerware. I may take the bowl from her and finish up myself. But not today. Today I leave her hand free to create, as the Lord recreates a gentle spirit, a mothering spirit, in me.
Renee Emerson, the mother of four daughters, wife to a Presbyterian music minister, was born in Tennessee and resides in Arkansas. She has published poems in magazines such as Perspectives, Still, and Valley Voices, and currently teaches online courses for various universities. If you enjoy reading her poems, you might want to read her books: Keeping Me Still (Winter Goose Publishing 2014) and Threshing Floor (Jacar Press 2016).
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