by Tamuira Reid
You say the words the same way you say I'm an alcoholic, but this time you aren't sitting in a church basement with a shitty assortment of store-bought cookies on your lap. You hear a small, unmistakable gasp on the other end of the line – “Mom, are you there?”
You weren't drunk when you got pregnant. Those days are over. You were lucid and clear-headed and saw a future in his face.
Then you saw two lines on a stick. Then you saw nothing except the darkness.
This is the thing; you were trying to get pregnant.
And it happened. And then he happened.
The baby. Eight pounds of flesh and bone and gumption.
Control is not your forte. Blame it on being from “Gypsy stock” on your mother's side. It's in your blood. Erratic behavior just comes with the territory. “Take it one day at a time”. Or “This too shall pass”. Funny how those annoying aphorisms apply more to this situation than they ever did to your drinking.
Now they will come out of the woodwork, flood your life like blood through a cracked artery. It's okay. You didn't notice how many Honda Accords were on the road until you owned a Honda Accord. This is like that. Now everything is babies. Their faces will peek out at you from billboards towering over Times Square, from the Gerber ads plastered to the side of an M16 bus, from Toys-R-Us coupon books rubbing up against the lit mags in your mailbox. Ignore them.
During your office hour, go onto Amazon and find a reputable Spanx dealer. Buy in bulk. And when a writing student walks in, hurriedly minimize the screen. Your face is red and sweaty. Say something about the weather. He thinks you're looking at porn and feels sorry for you. It must be hard to get laid when you're someone's mom.
Be social. Reach out. Go to the playground at Riverside Park. When you arrive, circle first. It's Saturday so all the moms will be there. The nannies have the day off and are home cooking for their own children who are beginning to forget what they look like.
Stand in line for the swings and act cool, even as your kid eats dirt and farts loudly. He inherited your irritable bowel but doesn't seem irritated by it yet.
The fanciest mom at the park will approach you. Every inch of her sparkles and she will smell phenomenal, like products with French names you cannot pronounce. “I'm Rhoda. And that's our Bronte.” She will say hello to your son who will stare at her blankly. “He doesn't talk.” “Is he autistic?” “He's one.” Rhoda will smile. “Don't worry, he'll come around I'm sure.” Bronte can count in Hebrew. His English is not so bad either and every now and then an exuberant “Merci!” escapes his chapped, pillowy lips. “His nanny is from Haiti” Rhoda explains. In addition to being mulitlingual, Bronte lives a gluten and diaper free life. “He's completely potty trained. We used Elimination Communication.” Don't worry that you don't know what this is. You can Google it later. For now, nod your head knowingly and pretend you don't see Bronte steal your son's juice box.
“Your guy, he's quite big.” At this point you are used to references to his weight. Tell her how his great grandfather was a prizefighter, an Irish boxer with a mean right hook and the quickest feet in Dublin. Leave out the part about the botched fight that left him blind in one eye, how afterwards his feet didn't do much more than hang from a barstool. Your son looks like him.
Rhoda is patting the non-existent wrinkles out of her dress. “Bronte got his mommy's genes. Long and lean.” Did he get your bitch gene too? you will want to ask but nod silently instead. “What preschool will he be attending?” “He's one?” You want to tell her how he recognizes the difference between a Yankee and a Met. How he sleeps like a champ on an airplane. How when you reach for his tiny hand, he gives it to you, freely. You want to say all of this but say nothing. You will sit there with your own hands twisted in your lap.
You're losing her. She looks over your head at the other moms positioned around the playground, adjusting the tennis bracelet on her skinny wrist and checking the time on her cell. Now. Play it now. The Writer Card. Sadly it works wonders with people like this, the people that remind you of the mean girls in high school, the ones you shouldn't give a shit about impressing but still do. “I have a pretty flexible schedule.” “That's great.” Still playing with the damn bracelet. “Yeah, I'm a Writer.” When you say this, slide one ankle casually over the other to hide the hole in your sock. You haven't had time to shop for new ones and besides, it makes a nice finger puppet.
Her fidgeting will stop. Her gaze returning to meet yours. A broad, perfect smile. YOU will be her new cool, bohemian artist friend. YOU are what she has been looking for. Don't tell her the part about how since the baby's been born, the words have died. How you've traded in hours of writing for hours of diapering, of feeding, of wondering how the hell you are going to pull this whole thing off. Pretend to have poetry coming out of your ass. Pretend like every line, every word you write is golden.
Make plans for the kids to have a play date. And when the big day arrives, remove all the glade plug-ins and take out the Williams Sonoma room spray, the one you've been saving for that special occasion. This is that occasion.
Display the good diapers, the expensive natural ones that are made of corn. You will look hip and eco-minded. Stuff the rite aid wipes deep into the bottom of the diaper bag and pray you will not need them, that your son's digestive tract will hold out until she leaves.
Dust your books. The rows of dog-eared novels and poetry volumes that now share space with Dr. Sears baby manifestos. With What To Expect When You're Expecting. With Ina Mae's midwifery tales and the Girlfriend's Guide to Pregnancy.
Pluck your nose hairs in the kitchen where the best light is. Use the marker from the grocery board to color over the bleach spot on your skirt. Examine yourself. Stop examining yourself.
Hide the tattoos. She isn't the type to have any although she'll say wow and how neat if she sees yours. She fails to mention the one fuck-me tattoo she got back in her sorority days, a monarch butterfly with wings spread across her tailbone. Her investment banker husband ran his tongue across it when they first dated but then paid to have it removed when she became his wife. Wives don't have fuck-me tattoos. Those are for whores, the kind he will pick up in hotel bars in the years when their marriage begins to crumble but neither one wants to face it.
Take a Valium. Okay, take two. It will take the edge off. It will remind you of the days when a glass of wine came handy in situations like this. Then you'll think of the time you drank those three bottles of Cabernet and woke up at the foot of the Statue of Liberty, Japanese tourists flashing their camera bulbs in your face. Or that Pinot Grigio afternoon a long time back when you forgot to take the gas pump out of the tank before pulling away. Put the Valium back and make some coffee.
Take His photo out of the drawer and put it on the fridge. It will look like you are lucky in love. It doesn't matter that you and your son's father don't even like each other half the time. That you live on separate coasts to see if your love looks better from a far. That His presence has been reduced to nothing more than a strained voice on the line. Some words in a text. A perfectly punctuated email, all business. The business of having a baby together.
Let it go. The things that mattered before do not carry the same weight. Everything is different. You have jumped through the portal and here you are.
Place the good cheese on the good tray with the good crackers, the Fairway ones that cost ten bucks a box and leave black sesames in your teeth for days. Crack a window, turn on the ceiling fan and light a candle. Blow out the candle. Light the candle again and move on.
It's four o'clock. You look down on the street and watch the neighborhood kids sail by on their razors and bicycles while their parents sip rum and coke on their front stoops, salsa blaring from a car stereo.
When Rhoda and her designer spawn don't show up, resist the urge to call or email or ask her what you did wrong. She is breaking-up with you. This is how it works. She thought she could get past the obvious shortcomings of your son but she can't. Right now she is hanging out with the other moms and they are telling her she did the right thing, “Besides, I don't go past 116. Imagine?” She will never call. Never write. It is a clean break and when you spot her in the playground a few days later, she will pretend not to see you, pulling the brim of her sunhat down low over her face. It's oversized and your son is oversized but it doesn't matter because when it comes down to it your kid could kick her kid's ass. And you kind of wish he would.
*A shorter version of this essay was previously published in Literary Mama Magazine.