A Mother Who Loves You Would Understand

Submitted into Contest #166 in response to: Start your story with someone saying “I quit!” ... view prompt


Contemporary Fiction Drama

“I quit!” the mother yelled, slamming her bedroom door shut and pressing her back against it. She sobbed a moment, covering her face. There was no one in the room to hide from, but maybe her reflection. The mirrors were facing the other way, but still – she couldn’t risk it. Mothers must keep this part of themselves hidden, even from themselves.

Anger, frustration, irritation, guilt, shame… what was the name for all of these emotions wrapped into one? No birthing class or doula meeting prepared her for this. Giving birth was easy. Breastfeeding, while not easy, was doable.

This, she managed to think through the high-pitched yelping on the other side of the door, is hard.

How was she supposed to teach self-regulation, coping skills, emotional complexity, being human, to small tiny people when she could not even name this god-forsaken feeling?

She wanted to have the tantrum. For once, could it be her turn? Slam the door, yell out irrationalities about the wrong-colored cup, (more likely, the unfinished mug of coffee that was now too cold, sitting misplaced and forgotten), throw her things around the room, and most importantly, wipe her snot-covered fingers on someone else’s shirt.

She grabbed her phone from the sleeve pocket of her leggings, and texted her husband: "I can’t fucking do this anymore." She threw her phone onto their bed across the room.

It was a cry for help. But she knew it would be received differently. It might frighten him. It might annoy him. She chose to stay home with the kids. She shouldn’t be complaining. Or quitting, for that matter.

The thought alone made her even angrier. More frustrated. You can quit any other job in the world. You can call in sick. You can pretend to call in sick. You can sue employers for maltreatment. You can take a lunch break, and go smoke, or sit quietly somewhere and listen to any kind of music you want (not Baby Shark or Cocomelon, or children arguing over which one of those awful brain-washing tunes they want). You get paid time-off. You get paid!

Every job in the world, you can complain about without being judged.

How have mothers been doing this for eternity and no one tells anyone it feels like this?, the mother thought.

Sliding down the door, the mother folded her knees into her chest and rested her cheek on them. The weight of her movement made the door tap the edge of the door frame, to which the small tiny humans she’d created responded by banging their tiny fists against it.

“Mommy!! Mommy!! Mommy!! Mommy!! Mommy!!” they shrieked.

The mother covered her ears, tightened her eyes, her torso vibrating with their rhythmic pounding. “Stop!!! STOP IT!” she screamed back.

The children, having rarely, if ever, heard their mother raise her voice like that, immediately fell silent. Their fists stopped pounding. The door stopped shaking.

The first quiet moment of this mother’s day shook her into convulsions. Weeping softly into the tops of her knees, she whispered, “Stop it. I can’t do this anymore. I can’t be a mother. I quit…” The last words were a surrender, a confession, a defeated wish.

They broke her.

As the mother sobbed, she searched her mind for the piece of her that had desperately wanted this life for herself. Surely, this woman still had to be there. Right? The pregnant woman who had traced fingers in the shape of a heart around her belly button, and sang lullabies to a breathless heartbeat beneath her skin. The same woman who daydreamed about quitting her job to spend every wakeful moment and sleepless night with this angel, whom she envisioned would always feel as angelic to her. The same woman who told herself, even the hard parts would be easy, because, love.

The mother hated herself for the tiny whisper in her mind that offered its unsolicited comment: Love isn’t always enough.

That obviously wasn’t the woman she was looking for.

The mother wanted to let out a curse word, or at the very least another scream, something to release this ugly, skin-crawling feeling (it really did feel like something wriggling beneath her skin, trying to break through, and it was maddening). But, she didn’t want to risk bringing back the attention of her children, who were strangely still quiet after 3 minutes. This was easily their longest record time of The Quiet Game they’ve ever played.

Purposefully and intentionally, the mother engaged her core – she didn’t do all those Jillian Michaels videos for nothing – and slowly shifted her bodyweight into her feet. She managed to lift herself up and away from the door without making a peep, like a feather freeing itself from a bird in flight. The mother tip-toed her way over to her closet door made of mirrors, and stood there, assessing herself.

Her reflection offered: a half buttoned-up flannel t-shirt (her husband’s), black worn-out leggings (with toothpaste stains on them—don’t ask – and those fuzzy little thread balls that form when an item has been laundered too many times), a sport’s bra (that could only be identified as such if one more button on the flannel were undone), a messy slept-in bun that held her greasy, frizzy brown hair out of her face, and dark bags under her un-mascaraed eyes (that tempted anyone she saw to ask, “Shit, are you OK?”, but no one ever did, because, rude, and also, the two things that caused said-dark bags were somewhere clenched tightly on her body, yelling their demands in her face, thus offering a full explanation).

Letting out a sigh that was more stress than carbon dioxide, the mother whispered, “Who even are you?”

An image of Ben Stiller’s reflection offering “I don’t know” to Derek Zoolander made the mother laugh. The noise startled her, both because it broke the silence so starkly and because she almost didn’t recognize the sound at all. She slapped her hand over her mouth, praying her children didn’t hear.

With a direct view of those exhausted and sorrow-filled eyes, the mother swiped a hand across her blemished cheek, drying the skin that had just been moist with tears. Pulling down on her face, she tried to remember the last time she put on mascara. Flashes wisped through her mind, like more detached feathers: her first date with her husband, and all the others; leaving the house to go to work (how she missed this in a way she never fathomed possible); the morning of her wedding; moments after her water broke during her first pregnancy, as she prepared to head to the hospital, thinking she would never look like one of those tired, unkempt moms who lost themselves in motherhood…

Tears threatened to unleash again when something in the mirror behind her caught her attention, detouring the advancing waterfall: a stack of books next to the mother’s bed. The very sight of them took her breath away, and she gasped.

She'd slept so close to them every night, passing them every day, yet she couldn't recall the last time she’d picked up a book to read.

Or write, her unsolicited persona added.

Dreams of becoming an established poet felt like a lifetime ago. So long ago, beyond an identity shift and five convoluted years of marital arguments, pregnancy hormones, in-law’s inputs, and gruesome diaper changes, she could barely remember the person who used to spend her early mornings doodling out silky sentences that seemed to appear like her own kind of magic. Sliding through her mind, those honey sickled-secrets were as much a part of her as her own heartbeat; they were her heartbeat. And what had started as a hobby, had matured and blossomed into a potential career. She remembered her professor sitting her down, telling her she’d planned to submit her writing to win the college’s annual poetry award, and the money, the scholarship, she could receive.

Then, she remembered the same professor’s face when she told her she couldn’t finish the program, that she was pregnant, and was going to get married, start a family.

The mother had convinced herself that becoming a mother could never take this pertinent, breathing part of her soul away from her. Convinced herself there would always be time, when they napped, after bedtime, while they played…

It didn’t occur to her that she would be too exhausted, too touched-out, too frustrated, and too stressed out to even pick up a pen.

It didn’t occur to her that being a mother could ever feel so…unmagical.

Guilt gutted the mother again, but this time she was unsure of where the guilt was directed: the guilt of feeling like a horrible, unloving mother, or the guilt of abandoning who she truly was.

That one, the same voice whispered, feeling like a tiny kick of an unborn child in her belly. Something clicked then, and the mother realized the voice offering those unsolicited comments was that of the little girl the mother used to be. Call it her “inner child” or her “intuition” or her “subconscious,” whatever it was, it was very opinionated, and seemed to point out what the mother was too afraid to admit to herself.

The mother took an intentional moment to listen for her children. They were still quiet, but she could hear them moving around, and no one seemed to be screaming bloody murder, so she trusted they were being safe. That, or coloring on the walls again.

She crept over to her bedside, and found the journal she had used last. Touching it brought her back to the moment she had stacked her books next to her bed when they first moved in, resolving to herself that she would make use of them that year—she didn’t.

She opened the journal to its first blank page to find her lucky writing pen waiting for her. It was comforting to be reunited with it, but also embarrassing, like meeting up with a friend after having ignored many of their attempts to contact you.

Then, there was the blank page, glaring at her as if she didn’t deserve this stand-off, as if she’d lost all and any merit that allowed her to transform this white into something colorful.

The mother took a deep breath, releasing all her self-expectations.

Just write, anything, the little girl encouraged.

With the pen, the mother scribbled something other than a grocery list, and wrote:

My lips were sewn shut

at one time or another,

by him or her, or my mother

or my father, or myself,

who knows – it doesn’t matter.

I couldn’t hold a pen, but now I

must not put one down, so desperate

to undo these stitches,

so desperate to sing this damn song,

because if I don’t get this out of my body

what will it become?

Words cannot stay behind bars;

we were wrong about them:

words can hurt you, but only

if you never let them go.

A pen is like a medical device,

like a ventilator, or a surgery;

a pen is celery blended into a green juice

that might kill that cancer;

a pen is a hope,

a maybe, a map or a guide;

an instruction manual,

all of the details

of how you came to be


Writing is like reading the journal

of the small person you once were,

who wrote down everything,

so that when you got older

you would remember.

Sometimes, she is silent;

sometimes she babbles;

but sometimes, she will tell you


When the mother stopped writing, she reread what she wrote, and she cried. But through her cries, she smiled at the release within her.

Then she wrote one more thing:

I want something old

Something ancient

Something wild

I am still there

In the tall grass and the wildflowers

Watching wildfires like magic

And storm clouds like the gods

I want rain floods

Or too much sunshine

To be the bullet in my head

And maybe, just maybe,

This is it.

With that, the mother put her pen down, and shut her journal. From her bed, she caught her reflection in the mirror and smiled.

“Thank you,” she spoke aloud.

She was wiping the newest bout of tears from her eyes, when she heard the door of her bedroom crack open. Small cheeks squeezed themselves between the door and its frame, and a nervous smile peeked through.

“Mommy?” her son squeaked.

“Let me see her, move!!” squealed his younger sister, who pushed him through the door, opening it wider.

The mother laughed at their innocent and characteristic entrance. “Yes, loves, you can come in.”

The tiny humans tip-toed in, gaining speed as their steps quickly became a race. They jumped onto the bed, eager to tackle their mother with the same enthusiasm one would have if they had been separated for a long time.

“Mommy, Mommy! We made you something!” the son waved a sheet of paper in the air.

“I want to give it to her!” the daughter pouted, reaching for the object that was much too high for her.

They bickered for a moment, before they concluded that they could both give it to the mother if both their hands were on it during the exchange. The mother gently took the hand drawn picture from her children, who quickly positioned themselves on either side of her, creating a “mommy sandwich.”

The picture was of just that: Mommy in the middle, with each child on one side of her. There was an orange and yellow sun drawn above them, and her son’s signature butterfly (something he had just mastered, and was very proud of). In large, barely legible words (also done by her son, as her daughter had yet to master legible letters), it read: “GIT WELL MOMMY.”

For the millionth time today, the mother drew tears, and squeezed her little ones in her arms. “How beautiful! Thank you, my sweeties. How did I get so lucky to have such loving kiddos like you guys?”

The children giggled a ticklish giggle, and squirmed in her armpits, ready to turn the sweet moment into a game of chase. But before she lost complete hold of them, the mother said, “I’m so sorry I slammed the door and yelled at you like that. Sometimes Mommy has big emotions, too.” She kissed the tops of both of their heads.

The two thought the idea of their mom having any kind of emotion was hysterical, and laughed even more. “It’s OK, Mommy. Now, chase us!!” They leapt off the bed and out of the bedroom squealing like little piggies. The mother tucked the drawing into her journal, and set it aside, with the promise of never going that long without writing again.

The mother playfully took flight off her bed, exclaiming, “I’m coming to get you!”

She played with her kids for over an hour, before a toddler meltdown interrupted the game, and it was time to make lunch. While her kid’s threw pasta at one another, the mother searched for her phone, only to find if where she left it, on the bed. Picking it up, she realized that her husband had replied just moments after she’d texted him, with this:

"I’m sorry, honey. When I come home, I’ll take the kids out so you can have a break. I love you."

To which the mother replied:

"I love all of you."

With that, she clicked her phone off and tossed it back onto the bed. Then the mother went back out into the dining room where her children were loudly enjoying their lunch, knowing there would be many more sticky fingers and faces to wipe off today, pasta to sweep from the floor, and an uncountable amount of minutes before bedtime.

October 07, 2022 21:53

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Amanda Lieser
19:10 Oct 23, 2022

Hi Anne Marie, Ok, first, I just have to extend a hearty thank you for writing such a raw piece. I imagine it took a lot. I appreciate that. Now, I want to tell you all I loved in this piece. I loved the poem and read it multiple times. I also loved the way you juxtaposed the world of the MC before motherhood and after. My favorite line was: Mothers must keep this part of themselves hidden, even from themselves. Nice job!


AnneMarie Miles
20:57 Oct 23, 2022

Thanks, Amanda. I definitely ran with the ole cliche: " write what you know." And while it is raw, its easier for me to write from a familiar place than an unfamiliar one, like my most recent story. I'm glad you enjoyed the poem. I have more experience with poetry than short stories so I was excited to find a way to include it in this story. Thanks for reading, dear!


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Rebecca Miles
18:15 Oct 12, 2022

I think it was a good idea to anonymise the mother; the erasure of even her name highlights how stripped of personal identity she feels. I wonder if the story would have delivered your message even more powerfully if she was named after her self-rediscovery on writing the poem? Perhaps she could have signed the poem and this also helps to affirm herself, beyond her role. There's some fine writing in here; I particularly enjoyed the mirror scene as you maintained a tongue in cheek tone which cut through the bleakness of the situation. Thanks ...


AnneMarie Miles
18:31 Oct 12, 2022

Oh, I really appreciate your suggestion to name her after the poetry, maybe even in the text from her husband. That definitely would have strengthened this piece. I will consider revising, thank you for your comments and for reading! :)


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Michał Przywara
23:20 Oct 10, 2022

A nice emotional journey :) She was overwhelmed by her kids, by the situation, and as she noted herself, melted down similarly to how the toddlers did. But then she was able to reconnect with her earlier life and ambitions, to touch again something that once meant so much to her, and in so doing, she recovered her composure and perspective. So, the very thing she tries to teach her kids - but of course, that's not so easy. The story reminds me of air planes, when the attendants demonstrate the oxygen masks. The rule is always "first help y...


AnneMarie Miles
02:31 Oct 11, 2022

Thanks for your thoughtful response (as always) to my story, Michal. :) The airplane oxygen mask metaphor is a common one for parents, for sure. But it is not always easy to put into practice. And you're definitely right about the lack of reciprocity in parenthood, but, of course, it couldn't be any other way, right? I also wanted to make a connection between the unsolicited voice of her "inner child" and the poem, because I feel like a lot of your own childhood stuff comes up once you become a parent. I'm glad the mood shifts worked we...


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