Sunday, June 04, 2006

Mother Guilt

Saturday morning, while we waited in line at the grocery store, Isaac tugged at my hand impatiently, trying to pull me around the cart toward the candy stacked up near the checkout. "You don't need any of that, dear," I sighed. "You already have plenty of candy at home."

The well-dressed, quiet, 40-something woman buying groceries in front of us turned away from the teenaged cashier's half-hearted attempts to engage her in a conversation to watch him as he moved on to the magazine rack, pointing at the photos.

"My son had red hair," the woman said, blinking fiercely, her voice curiously flat-- studiedly neutral. "Every time I see a little boy that age with red hair, it reminds me of him."

I looked up from my son to her face. She was staring at him unabashedly, her eyes alight with such fierce longing that without even thinking I snatched him up and wrapped him tightly in my arms.

For once, he didn't protest.

He flashed the woman a quick, flirtatious grin, then turned in my arms and started waving at his father, begging Daddy to let him hold the debit card.

The woman sighed, and as she turned away to finish paying for her groceries, wiped a tear from her cheek.


On the way home from the store, I read a book while my husband drove. It was a fantasy novel, about a village of women who were all natural sorceresses, drawing their power from a goddess of fertility. The most powerful witch in the village could not control her magic powers, because she was unable to bear children.


Saturday afternoon, after my husband went off to work an evening show, a package arrived in the mail for my son. It was a birthday package, three weeks late, from my mother.

Isaac was sleeping. I woke him from his nap, which had already been too long. "You have a package from Grandma Diana!" I said.

"Package?" He popped up from his bed, immediately wide awake.

"It's a birthday present! From Grandma Diana."

He jumped down off his bed and ran into the living room. He pointed at the box.


"Yes, baby. Presents!"

He paused thoughtfully.

"Grandma Lori?"

"No dear, from Grandma Diana. My Mommy. Your grandma who lives very far away."

"Grandma Tammie?"

"No, Isaac, Grandma Diana. Diana. You talk to her sometimes on the phone."

"Grandma Mary?"

"No, it's from--"

"Grandma Lori!" he declared, with confidence, and started to tear open the box.

"No! Stop! Don't open it yet. Come here first." I grabbed his hand and pulled him over to the end table, where I keep the family photo albums. I pulled out a set of photos from his first year, a set from his second, a set of wedding photos, an album of my husband's family. Isaac squirmed, looking at his unopened package of presents. Finally at the bottom of the pile I found my own old family photos.

"Look, here." I pointed to a photo of my mother at her wedding. "This is Grandma Diana." I turned the page and pointed to a picture of my mother holding me as a newborn. "This is Grandma Diana." My mother with my newborn sister. "This is Grandma Diana." My mother, thin and nervous, but strong, posing with my sister and me at her very first apartment after my parents' divorce. "This is Grandma Diana." My mother sending me off on my first day of school. "This is Grandma Diana." My mother boarding a Greyhound Bus on the way to Washington for an Equal Rights Amendment March. "This is Grandma Diana." My mother, my sister and me at the zoo. "This is Grandma Diana." My mother, pregnant with my brother. "This is Grandma Diana." My mother teaching. My mother reciting at a poetry reading. My mother dancing. My mother baking a birthday cake.

"This is Grandma Diana."

"Oh, Grandma Diana." He beamed.

"Yes, and after we open the package, we will call Grandma Diana right away and tell her thank you, won't we?"

"Yes! Call Grandma Diana!" he shouted with glee.

(We did).


Debbie said...

mmmmmm. your words simmer like a melange of exotic herbs tossed on a fire.

also, I'm often teary when I finish your posts. but in a good way. a very, very good way.

Peter said...

now i need to know what was in that box !!!

Andrea said...

Nicely written. I wonder about the story of the lady at the grocery store.

So how happy was Grandma Diana to hear from Isaac? Bet that put a smile on her face.

Andrea said...

And what is the title of that book? It sounds intriguing.

Jaelithe said...

I am still wondering about the lady at the grocery store. I had a difficult time putting into words the intensity of the moment, and I'm still not sure I succeeded. She looked as though she were trying to will Isaac into her arms just with the intensity of her gaze.

All sorts of scenarios ran through my head when she spoke to me, but I couldn't think of anything to say to her that wouldn't be intrusive.

Was she just really, really missing a time when her own child was that age? Is she estranged from her son now? Did she lose custody of him in a divorce? Is her son missing or dead? Did he die or disappear when he was just my son's size?

I must say, it was somewhat unsettling . . . and whatever the reason for her sadness, I felt very sorry for her . . .

Her Bad Mother said...

What lildb said.

Beautiful stories.

Lisa said...

I feel for that lady in the grocery store. I wonder how she's doing today... I wonder what she did when she got home that day.

The book does sound interesting...

BabyonBored said...

I feel sad for grocery lady too. Now her mystery is in my head and I want to know what happened. But you're right. You couldn't really ask. That would have been weird I'm sure.