The Average Mother

- 1972-

The average mother loses 700 hours of sleep in the first year of her child’s life; or, what that first year taught me about America.

 

Most of us favor one side when we walk. As we tire,
we lean into that side and stop moving in a straight line—
                        so it takes longer to get anywhere,
let alone home.

                        In wilderness conditions,
            where people don’t know the terrain,
a tired person might end up leaning so far into one side
            they’ll walk in a circle rather than straight ahead.

It can kill you, such leaning
                        —and it can get you killed.

                                               
                                                Rest helps.

                                                                        I told my husband,

I walked in a circle in my mind but you came out okay.

                        Initially, he asked me to clarify,
            but then he let it go.

Who wrote that first If You Lived Here You’d Be Home by Now sign? 

                        It seems I’m going to have to move.

            I am tired and also sick
of helping other people in lieu of helping myself.

                        Rest now.

It's really not that bad: we’re in the home stretch.

            That’s the mind of a parent.
Relentless optimism in the face of sheer panic
                                                                        and exhaustion.

There are these moments of permission

	Between raindrops, 


			space, certainly,


but we call it all rain.


          I hang in the undrenched intervals,


while Callie is sleeping,


	my old self necessary


and imperceptible as air.

Because it looked hotter that way

we let our hair down.  It wasn't so much that we 
worried about what people thought or about keeping it real 
but that we knew this was our moment. We knew we'd blow our cool
 
sooner or later.  Probably sooner.  Probably even before we 
got too far out of Westmont High and had kids of our own who left
home wearing clothes we didn't think belonged in school.

Like Mrs. C. whose nearly unrecognizably pretty senior photo we  
passed every day on the way to Gym, we'd get old.   Or like Mr. Lurk 
who told us all the time how it's never too late

to throw a Hail Mary like he did his junior year and how we
could win everything for the team and hear the band strike 
up a tune so the cheer squad could sing our name, too. Straight

out of a Hallmark movie, Mr. Lurk's hero turned teacher story.  We
had heard it a million times. Sometimes he'd ask us to sing
with him, T-O-N-Y-L-U-R-K Tony Tony Lurk Lurk Lurk. Sin

ironia, con sentimiento, por favor, and then we
would get back to our Spanish lessons, opening our thin
textbooks, until the bell rang and we went on to the cotton gin

in History. Really, this had nothing to do with being cool. We
only wanted to have a moment to ourselves, a moment before Jazz
Band and after Gym when we could look in the mirror and like it. June

and Tiffany and Janet all told me I looked pretty. We
took turns saying nice things, though we might just as likely say, Die
and go to hell.  Beauty or hell. No difference. The bell would ring soon.





With thanks to "We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks

Frequently Asked Questions: #9

Don’t you think you should have another child?

This girl I have is hardtack and dried lime
           and reminds me, every groggy morning,
what a miracle it must have been
           when outfitters learned to stock ship holds
with that one long lasting fruit. How the sailors’ tongues,
           landing on its bitter brilliance, must have cursed
the curse of joy, as I did that morning the burst
           of water brought my sweet girl into our lives.

But, already, she hates me sometimes.
           Like I have sometimes hated my mother and she
must have sometimes hated her own.

After weeks at sea, the limes would desiccate and the meal
           fill with worms. They would have eaten
anyway, the sailors, but taken no pleasure from anything.
           Or taken no pleasure from anything but
the fact of their sustained lives. Which is to say it is all
           I can do, most days, not to swallow
her up and curse her maker, I swear. Like I have not
           sworn since the morning she was born.

Related Poems

Knuckle Head

My son’s head is a fist
rapping against the door of the world.
For now, it’s dressers, kitchen islands,

dining room tables that coax his clumsy, creating
small molehills of hurt breaching
the surface. The ice pack,

a cold kiss to lessen the blow equals
a frigid intrusion, a boy cannot be a boy
with all this mothering getting in the way.

Sometimes the floor plays accomplice
snagging an ankle, elbow, top lip to swell.
Other times it’s a tantrum, when he spills his limbs

onto the hardwood, frenzied then limp with anger,
tongue clotted with frustration,
a splay of 2 year-old emotion voiced in one winding wail.

My son cannot continue this path.
Black boys can’t lose control at 21, 30, even 45.
They don’t get do-overs.
So I let him flail about now,
let him run headfirst into the wall
learn how unyielding perceptions can be.

Bear the bruising now,
before he grows, enters a world
too eager to spill his blood, too blind to how red it is.