“Who am I?” she questions as she sobs into her hands. “Is this really it? Is this all I am?”
From the living room, her son yells for more milk. Her body feels heavy from the weight of her worries and insecurities, but she slowly stands and opens the fridge, pulling out the gallon of milk for what feels like the 453rd time that day. She cradles the cup in her hand. It wasn’t too long ago that all they owned were bottles. Her oldest isn’t a baby anymore. “Which means he’s old enough to start getting his own damn milk,” she mumbles under her breath.
She delivers the milk like it’s a golden chalice, perhaps even the Holy Grail, itself. “Your milk, Your Highness,” she jokes, bowing down to her son seated on his throne-like couch. She doesn’t get a giggle. She doesn’t even get a thank you. But of course the farting cartoon character on the screen gets a hearty laugh. She rolls her eyes, but tears stream down her face as she goes back to the kitchen.
“I’m a bad mom,” she thinks. “Who just lets their kids watch TV all the time?” She tries to reassure herself. “He’s only four and is already starting to read. He knows his numbers to 100. He’s a good, kind human. He’s doing just fine. You’re doing just fine.” She’s momentarily satisfied, but then new thoughts flood her mind. “It doesn’t matter how much he knows. If someone comes in and sees that, well that’s all they will see—a useless mother with dirty dishes and a TV for a babysitter.”
Her hands shake as she cuts the fat off the chicken. “This can’t be it. I have a master’s degree, for crying out loud! I have an imaginative mind. I’ve written several novels…” Not that any of them will ever get published, says the familiar negative voice in her head.
Now it’s her daughter’s turn to yell for milk, even though she had said she didn’t want any before.
“You’re going to have to wait a minute. I’m getting supper ready!” she yells. A goblinlike screech resonates from the living room. “Great. Now she’s crying over milk. Not spilled milk…yet, anyways. That’ll be five minutes from now.”
She again serves the needy gremlins that had grown inside her body, a body she knows will never be quite the same. These particular gremlins never seem to be satiated. Again, she receives no “thank you.” She returns to the kitchen and sings to herself as she cooks, “Cinderelly, Cinderelly, night and day, it’s Cinderelly.”
“Mom! She spilled her milk!”
She sighs. It wasn’t even five minutes! She grabs the paper towels and forces her daughter to help her clean. She grows impatient. She knows it’s important to make her daughter help, but it would be so much easier just to do it all herself. Finally, the job is done.
“Not now. You can have milk when we have supper.”
The screeching begins again, not just a disappointed cry at being told “no,” but an ear-splitting, toe curling shriek. The sound grates on her nerves, and she takes some deep breaths. This time of day is always tough. They’re all starting to get cranky, herself included.
Once back in the kitchen, she hears the TV get unbearably loud. She races back to the living room to see her two oldest covering their ears and crying. The baby still has the stereo knob in his hand and is sporting a huge toothy grin at the reaction he has caused. She turns down the volume and brings the baby into the kitchen. She notices the smell of the burned chicken before she even looks in the pan.
She sits on the kitchen floor and continues crying. It never used to be this tough. Is she just getting old and crabby? Is it that the child-to-parent ratio is off even once Daddy comes home? Is it that this baby can’t sleep without getting up every two hours, even though he’s already 8 months old? What is it, and when will it get easier? Will it ever get easier?
“Is this it?” she whispers to the baby. “Is this what the rest of my life is going to be like?” Then she wonders to herself, “Am I just everybody’s slave? I am smart. I have several credentials. I could go back to work…but do I want to? Most days I love this job. Is it even a job? It sure feels like one. But if it’s a job, why am I not getting paid? I feel like this is where I’m supposed to be, but am I doing enough? Am I enough?”
She dries her eyes and rummages through the dried goods’ cabinet, searching for a backup plan to the failed meal attempt. She comes out with a can of soup. “It’ll have to do,” she sighs. She looks at the baby, who is happily chewing a toy. Here she is, an absolute mess with a house that matches how she feels. Tears pour down her face as she wonders how she can possibly juggle all her household responsibilities, how she can possibly excel at them all. Yet her baby doesn’t care. He doesn’t judge. Her joy begins to return. She knows what she does is important, but she also knows it’s tough, and on most days, she still struggles with her identity. She is strong, she is intelligent, she is capable. She can do whatever she sets her mind to…but her potential feels wasted changing diapers and packing her husband’s lunches. She should be moving mountains, not mountains of laundry. Is she even making an impact at all? “Who am I supposed to be?” she wonders.
“Mama!” the kids yell from the living room.
She looks at the baby, who coos and smiles at her. “Mama,” he says, for the very first time, echoing his siblings. In that moment, she knows she has her answer. She doesn’t need some wise, old guru to tell her who is she—she has her children. Looking at them in all their splendor, she knows she is where she’s supposed to be and doing what she’s supposed to be doing at this point in her life. She is “Mama,” and that is enough.