The pride lit her sleepy face as she grabbed something from beneath her bed and placed it in my hands.
“Happy Mother’s Day!”
I removed the gift from the coloring pages she had wrapped it in. Just a plain white mug the day before, now read World’s Best Mom.
“Do you like it? I borrowed a sharpie, is that ok? “
I smiled and snuggled her onto my lap. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the gift, it’s just that this day always brings too many emotions. The award should feel like sweet reassurance but instead felt like a condemning whisper. You fraud. After all, you can’t be the World’s Best Mom, if you’re not a mom.
I put on a brave face for her, but I knew what the day would entail. It’d be filled with snuggles, forced smiles, and flashbacks. Typically I force the memory from my mind, but every year this day brings it storming back. It’s not that I feel sorry for what I did, not really. Guilt does not describe my feelings, no one word could.
We had breakfast and I battled the memory, trying to force it out. We spent hours at her craft table making cards for other mothers, and I battled. We snuggled on the couch watching her favorite movie, stirring only to dance to the music. Even then, I battled it.
It was the same every year. The same image that broke the dam in my mind and sent the events of that day swirling around inside. It was always her. Her sweet face was wrecked with tears and filth. I saw her reaching out for me as I approached, following the sound of her relentless cry.
There she sat in the July heat, reaching for me, for anyone that could bring her relief. It replayed in my mind, every detail as fresh as it was that day. I found her next to the bus stop, donning only a diaper and the pacifier in her hand. I scooped her up, frantically scanning the area for the person she belonged to.
“Shhh, it’s ok. It’s going to be ok.”
I tried to force a sense of comfort into my voice, but it came out panicked and unsure. I stood there holding her for over an hour, until it became clear that no one was looking for her. We walked down the street in the direction of the police station.
I explained the situation to the lady at the front desk. The older woman tried removing her from my arms, but she clung tight and became hysterical. The woman went to get an officer, and I ducked outside with her still cradled in my arms. I can’t remember what I was thinking in that moment, I only remember the urgent feeling to calm her. Her wailing had set off an internal alarm inside of me, I just wanted to fix her.
Was she hungry, overheated, scared? I decided I could do something about the first of those and stopped into the pharmacy around the corner. I wasn’t even sure what to feed a child her age. She looked to be around a year old, and with some scanning of the baby food aisle I was able to gather enough information from the labels. I quickly filled a basket and traveled the few blocks back to my hotel.
After filling her belly she fell asleep in my arms. Finally she was quiet, and I heard the breath I had been holding rush from my lips as I breathed a sigh of relief. It only took a moment to start processing my next move, what now? I decided to let her nap, and then I’d carry her back to the police station.
She woke up in a better mood, babbling and smiling. I remember thinking how strange it was that she was so calm. I took a washcloth from the bathroom and wetted it in the sink. I wiped the tear streaked dirt from her face and wondered how someone had let it get that way. I had fully intended to take her back to the station that day, but I always found a reason not to. She was hungry, or needed rocked, or was belly laughing at my stupid peek-a-boo face.
That day passed, along with four more after that. The whole time I half expected a knock on the door of my hotel room, someone coming to reclaim her. It never came. On the last day in that room I remember pacing back and forth, running through different scenarios in my mind. I imagined taking her to the station and having them rip her from my arms, slapping me in handcuffs. I imagined her growing up in the system, moving from one loveless home to the next. Then, I imagined her crawling alongside my senior dog, Rusty, laughing as he licked her face.
That’s how we ended up on the interstate, heading both away and into a life of uncertainty. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew she’d never be left frantically searching for a familiar face again. She’d never worry about when her next meal would come, not if I could help it.
The flood of these memories came to a halt as it slammed into our present. I was awakened from my daydream by the sound of her crayons hitting the coffee table.
“Let’s color mommy!“
We sat giggling and passing around our favorite colors, until she proudly held up her drawing to share with me. Two stick figures, one dawning her blonde pigtails and the other my long dark hair. Both wearing a smile, the two of them holding hands.
This brought about other memories, happy ones. Her first steps, her little hands clinging to Rusty’s fur as he guided her across the floor to me. Her first piece of art, still hanging proudly on the refrigerator. Her preschool graduation and bike rides in the park. Memories full of laughter and a home full of love. With this realization, I took the mug from the cabinet I had hidden it in and placed it on the mantel. World's Best may be subjective, but the last word was true.
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Nice story. Well written. Described the dilemma of main character well!
I love how you approached this prompt, with the world's best mom award! Your story covers such an important theme of how a mom is a mom regardless of whether or not they biologically had the child. I absolutely felt all the emotions running through the main character, triggered by a simple card! Amazingly done!
Thank you for the kind feedback! I'm so glad you were able to feel the emotion of my character!