Today I set aside the tower of imposing high school essays I should be grading and lean over to inspect myself in the antique makeup mirror perched on the bathroom vanity. Shockingly, the bulbs still work – sort of. They buzz and flash like paparazzi capturing the blue veins beneath my eyes. In this moment when my fingers are smeared with red ink and my mind is foggy, I turn my teacher eye inward and decide to grade something different for a change. I decide to grade myself – on being a mother.
Morning Preparation – My son fishes a twenty out of my purse after he’s asked for lunch money, and I brandish the royalty wave which translates to find cash wherever you can. His sister squirms on my lap insisting the boots I jam onto her feet do not match her dress. She’s right; it’s a fashion travesty. In the kitchen, somehow I manifest ¾ of a soy butter sandwich, a bag of blueberries, and pineapple yogurt tucked into a butterfly lunchbox. As we head out the front door, my son’s backpack is unzipped and French 2 hangs precariously over his sister’s head. I catch it, teetering on my own three-inch heels, impressed with my balance. (B-)
Appointments – My son needs a physical before spring tennis. My daughter needs a pre-op physical before minor dental surgery. The dog needs a haircut before he loses his sight to the white cloud of fur hanging from his forehead. I daydream most of my lunch away, thinking of the summer excursion to Italy I’ve been hungering for since the sky turned grey. I remember that my children will be with their father for two weeks in June, and the house’s chaos will be replaced with a much more intimidating silence. Suddenly there are only eleven minutes left before my next class arrives. I’m on both the landline and my cell phone trying to navigate two doctor’s offices and the groomer. The dog loses. (C)
Homework – My son furrows his brow because reading is, to him, something akin to Chinese water torture, and I have no idea how to help despite the fact that I am an English teacher. I love reading, so teaching him feels like trying to teach someone how to breathe. I am utterly powerless. Meanwhile my daughter, refusing to put her homework away, drives her brother insane. She sings the alphabet for the twentieth time in five minutes. My typically stoic teen wipe tears from the corners of his eyes. I return my own grading back to my knapsack and play negotiator. She wants to help him. He wants to throw her out the window. In the end, we all agree to put the books away because as usual, we’re already late. (D+)
Extracurriculars – We missed ballet because it was too cold, and my daughter has learned the art of hiding necessities like tights to avoid going on days she’d rather stay home and watch her favorite movies. At heart, the three of us are homebodies. Instead of braving the weather we dance like lunatics to Demi Lovato while a hot pizza hurtles through the night to our house. That counts as dance and cardio, right? (C-)
Intentions – At bedtime I face-plant onto my memory foam pillow, sinking slowly deeper with each sigh. I recite my wishes for the day like prayers. A bizarre confessional. I meant to craft a perfect bento box for each child’s lunch, to make all appointments before 9 a.m., to whisk children to the dance studio and tennis court instead of ignoring all of the online parenting advice to shun electronics an hour before bed. (F)
Incidentals – My daughter runs away from a nightmare and flings herself into my bed, cultivating the spot between my arm and the comforter. She’s not actually awake, but instead she’s riding the wave of vague consciousness. Her voice is heavy and low – a preview of what she will sound like when she’s an adult. “I need you, mommy. You make the house safe.”
Beating yourself up is never a fair fight. (A)