The Many Personalities of A Mother

The Many Personalities of A Mother

By Aileen Santos


The Enraged Mother

“If I come downstairs, someone’s gonna be in trouble!” I slam the bannister and stomp my feet, standing on the landing of the basement. My heart pumps loudly, a throbbing sound in my ears. I just want to finish marking these damn essays. Why can’t these fucking kids stop fighting?

I hear whimpering then one quietly says to the other, “Ssshh. We’re gonna be in trouble. Stop crying. It’s okay, stop crying.” The whimpering stops then silence. A little while later, laughter. I trudge back up the three steps, back into my office.

I don’t know why I get like this, why my adrenaline makes me want to whip a stapler against the wall, punch a hole to show them I mean it. That was the way it was with my father and I hated him. Whenever I saw his face darken, lips tightened, eyes wide, brows furrowed in a upending arch, I cowered in his shadow, ducked for fists and arms for protection over my head. I said I wouldn’t do it to my own kids. At least I don’t hit them, just raise my voice so loudly it shatters the ground they stand on, an eruption in their world. I don’t know why I get like this. It just happens sometimes.

Sometimes I have no patience so I scream and yell. Usually, when their dad’s not around, because I can’t handle it, two kids, three and six years old. I’m scared for them to get older. What will I do then? When they tower over me, challenge me, defy me, rebel… what will I do, then?

The Perfect Mother

I cuddle them, having just awoken from our collective slumber, they jump in our bed. We tickle, kiss necks, praises of love and encouragement. Or around the dinner table—we pray together, share highlights of our day, safe and loved in our cocoon. Or watch movies on a Friday night, on our couch, snuggle bugs under blankets, the perfect looking family, perfect children to perfect parents in our perfect looking world.

Out in the world, the performance intensifies, in front of others, smiles and soft words. Going down to their level, patting them nicely on the head, others looking on, “You have such a beautiful family,” strangers tell us. Puffed out chests, pregnant with pride, we have a beautiful family, so blessed, we tell each other. The enraged mother stays away on these days, out in public, in front of others, in our perfectly posed world.

The Sorry Mother

“Stop laughing I said!” My daughter rages at my son. They sit side by side, watching TV on our bed. She shoves him hard as he falls back on the bed.

“Don’t tell your brother not to laugh!” I command, “And don’t push him! Do you want to be a bully?” I eat my words as I feel their sharpness. I look at her face, see familiar darkness on innocent eyes, agitation in small limbs.

“I’m just trying to listen and he’s being too loud!” She responds aggressively, then turns her back and hides her face in her knees, a curled up ball of fire. She looks up, searches the room to see if I’ve gone. I soften when I see her bottom lip quiver and she begins to cry. I hold my arms open and she sluggishly complies. I rub her back and hug her, not knowing what to say, not knowing what to do.

I need to change.

I see her anger model my frustration, mimicking my words. She’s only six but I see my traits bleed into hers, my eyes—her eyes, enraged, upset, hurt and afraid.

Apologetic, still holding her near, I kiss her neck, pat her hair and try to make her giggle.

“I’m sorry Mama,” She says.

“I’m sorry too,” I say too quickly.

The Un-mother

I pick up my pen and open my journal.

I close my eyes and remember, swaying hips, on top of tables, belly shirts, my form fitting figure, travelling freely from city to city, being in love and feeling sexy.

“Babe?” I hear a voice over my shoulder. I turn to face my children’s father.

A mother. A wife. A daughter.

Who am I, but the un-mother?

Uninterested in homework, cooking or baking, none of the roles I fit into easy. Red eyes from being rubbed too often, tiredness soaks into my skin.

“Yeah?” I ask, his arms wrap around me, enveloped in warmth, he kisses me sweetly.

A mother. A wife. A daughter. A lover.

A woman. Survivor. A fighter.

A pink line brushes the sky. Enraged mother slips away into the night. Perfect mother’s illusion is broken. Sorry mother’s voice remains, but eventually, it softens.

Aileen Santos is a high school teacher and mother to two adorable children. Her work can be read at literary zines and journals such as, Ginosko Literary and Words, Pauses, Noises. She has a novel forthcoming in 2015.

The Perfect Double Stroller and Gaining Perspective

The Perfect Double Stroller and Gaining Perspective

Double Stroller A w grayOne of the lowest points in my ability to keep a healthy perspective about parenting (and life) occurred in 2006 when I was pregnant with my second child. Instead of harnessing some wisdom about a child’s true needs that I ought to have gleaned from my first two years as a mom, I became shamefully obsessed with finding the perfect double stroller.

“Perfect” had a precise definition. I wanted a stroller that was smooth and sturdy for long walks, but light enough to carry in and out of the car without Herculean efforts. Ideally it would have a good cup holder, adjustable handles, an easy-to-use basket, quality wheels, and cost less than a week’s vacation in Fiji. I had not succumbed to the pricey Bugaboo with my first child, and I would not fall prey to “needing” the Mercedes of strollers as a second-time mom either. That much perspective I was able to maintain. At least.

The perfect double stroller didn’t exist, of course. I knew that to be true about single strollers, but chose to forget it. Most of my friends (and the people who write on online message boards) had regrets about the brands and models they owned. The basket was too flimsy. The wheels were good for walks, but too big to fit anything else in the trunk. The system for opening and collapsing the thing took a PhD in Engineering. Nevertheless, most people made do with their choices and moved on with their lives.

Despite that bit of logic and knowledge, I spent ungodly amounts of time reading online reviews of double strollers. It was a time-consuming, silly “hobby.” We ended up with two doubles anyway: a heavy, clunky one for walks, which we bought used from friends; and a light, cheap one to keep in the car. Both are fine and far from perfect just like the two single strollers we own for the same variety of purposes. Yes, that means we have four strollers, which would shame me except that we had two more kids after that, and they sufficiently wore out all four models.

Don’t worry. I have nothing left to say about strollers. I’ve long since deduced that this entire period of my life had nothing to do with strollers anyway.

As time passed, I saw that my hyper-focus on finding the right match was really about my desire to control the imminent change in our lives. We were going from one child to two, which was making me anxious.

But if I’m being absolutely honest, there was even more going on than that. I think I allowed myself to lose perspective because I was lonely and bored. I’d stopped teaching when my oldest was born, and I wasn’t writing yet. I didn’t have the full social and spiritual life that I have now, nor the confidence to know that my kids simply needed a good mom engaged in their lives and her own life. They didn’t need a seemingly flawless mom who was wrapped up in finding an equally flawless stroller, winter jacket, pair of rain boots, nursery paint color, big kid duvet cover, and more. I was worrying about all the wrong things as if finding the right stroller or the perfect anything else would affect our lives in a way that truly mattered. I had lost my mind over nonsense and never wanted to be that way again.

I have less of what I call “stroller moments” now, the shorthand my husband and I use for when I’ve crossed the line from reasonable decision-making, planning, and thinking to needless obsessing. (We have a few different code words for when he needs a dose of perspective.) I recommend the code word concept for forced, on the spot self-awareness. It’s a tool that gives me a path for escaping any new pit where my mind has fallen.

These days my stroller moments are more often about friendship and family issues, but the underlying problem is still a false sense of control. Why is so and so mad at me? Do I make more effort in our friendship than person X, Y, Z?

“Is this the double stroller all over again?” I might say to my husband. From the expression on his face I can always see that it is before I’ve even finished asking the question.

One day I’ll probably help my kids find their own code words. However, with their youth, and thank God, their health, they’ve earned their lack of perspective. I’m going to let them enjoy that innocence for now.

Illustration by Christine Juneau

Read Nina Badzin’s essay in This is Childhood, a book and journal on the first ten years of motherhood.