Motherhood is more difficult than I thought it would be, a lot more difficult. The witching hour is no joke, and is why, I am certain, cocktail hour was invented.
“Please sit down or I’ll have to take your food away. Hold your milk in a normal way. Eat over your plate. That is not a napkin. Don’t eat your sister’s salad. We don’t spit in this family!” 99% of the time, dinner with my five-year old son Melese is completely exhausting. Several nights a week his plate is briskly put in the sink, and dinner is over before it even starts. I typically give him more than one chance, but my husband Steven simply removes his food after the first offense. Melese’s teachers at school say that he has impeccable lunch manners, so we know he is capable of eating properly. He is, I believe, just messing with us. I asked him to clean the floor the other night hoping that if he saw just how much food was wasted, and just how disgusting the floor was, he would somehow experience that eureka moment of, “Oh wow, I should eat properly at the table.” Instead he mashed the avocado with the child-sized broom, and dropped shredded cheese over the dustpan. Then he burst into song, his favorite Coldplay tune “I used to rule the world…” There he is, I thought, our 38-pound dictator, destroying dishes and soiling our kitchen without a care in the world. I, his minion, would have to rewash this floor later. “Your Liege,” I imagined saying, “Do you need me to procure your bedtime sleeping ensemble?”
He’s five, I try to remember, five, and he is tired, really tired. He probably isn’t even hungry. It’s probably my fault for giving him a snack at 3:30. At 7:00 pm though, my patience has completely run out. I pour myself a second glass of white wine and slump in the chair in the corner for a minute. He runs out of the kitchen as I scroll through all of mothering faults in my brain: Why can’t I be more patient? If I were a better cook, would he eat? I take a gulp, and then another and say to no one in particular “One day it will be pleasant, I am sure of it. We will sit together like humans and enjoy a more civilized Taco Tuesday.” I glance at the carnage that is my kitchen, breathe out, and utter an unfortunately audible “Fuck.” Melese, hearing me, runs back into the kitchen and sings, “Fuck, Fuck, Fuck, Fuckitty Fuuuuuhuck!” at the top of his lungs. “That’s it!” I squeal. “It’s BEDTIME FOR EVERYONE!”
I was thinking that maybe all of this is my fault. I was remembering how I never had much of a fondness for children when I was younger. I married my husband and something that I believe to be 100% hormonal happened to me, I wanted his baby. I needed to have his baby. “I love you so much, let’s make a baby!” I said. So we tried and tried. We had many, many issues. I had many, many miscarriages and then I had cancer. Our Sisyphean efforts at procreation, which spanned a decade, at last came to an end. We came to our senses and decided to adopt.
On May 27, 2009 we received two pictures in an e-mail, a three-year girl and her five-month-old brother. Three months later we met them in an orphanage in Addis Ababa. They were the most beautiful children I had ever seen. Everything they did was utterly adorable and charming. We never could have made children like this, I thought. Our biological kiddos would have had ears that were too small, a large nose and an affinity for melancholy.
Nearly five years later, I absolutely believe this to be true. We could have never produced children like this. I started out as a substitute for my children. Their first mother died and now here they were, stuck with me, their plan B. We muddled through a very rough first six months together, but somehow we became a family. They gave me a gift whose value I had grossly underestimated—the gift of mothering them.
A week later we are driving in the car and I ask Melese if he’d like to make a quick trip to Trader Joe’s with me before school. “Taco Tuesday!” I say, imploringly, trying not to think of the extreme messiness factor that will ensue with the first broken cornmeal shell. “Ok Mommy,” he says. We park the car and I unbuckle his car seat. I am helping him into a cart when a worker says to him, “Can you still fit in that seat big boy?” We recognize our favorite employee, Steven an affable 20-something that Melese is always happy to see, not just because they share a skin color and he shares his daddy’s name, but Steven always manages to engage him in a gentle, lovely way. Melese says, “I’m small enough. I still fit.” We make our way into the store.
As I am pushing the cart I say,
“Melese, I love you. Do you know how much I love you?”
He says, “Yep. A lot. So, so much.”
I said, “How do you know?”
He said, “Since you’ve been telling me before I even knew what love is.”
And there it is, that moment, that minute, that sentence which makes up for so many difficult moments and minutes. His words are a smooth eraser across my whiteboard lists of maternal failings. I remember just how very little he actually is, lanky legs and all, and how absolutely ridiculous it is for me to concern myself with small insignificant things like table manners. For a rare moment, I feel like I am an excellent mother and that I’ve got this motherhood thing down. He feels loved. I look in his eyes and marvel at their beauty. He smiles at me and I think that this is one of the best moments of my life, that after nearly five years of feeling scared, lost and displaced a lot of the time, my son finally feels safe. He knows I love him. He’s always known.
I know that in just a second I’ll have to reprimand him for grabbing the eggs or a wine bottle off the shelves inside the store, I know that he’ll probably whine when I tell him I won’t buy him juice, and that he may stick his tongue out at an undeserving shopper or sing his favorite “Penis, Poop, Penis, Poop” song at the top of his lungs, but I won’t care. I’m buoyed by his words; I practically skate through the aisles. We are shopping before school on a Tuesday and it feels like Christmas.
Melese reaches for a ripe avocado, “We are going to need this mommy.” “Yes,” I agree, “This one is perfect.” We gather the rest of our items, and give a quick high-five to our buddy Steven. I think about our impending messy and magnificent Taco Tuesday. Melese smiles at me. I take a deep breath, my hands grip the handle of the nearly too small for him cart, my pinkies touch his knees, I push him forward and the automatic doors open just for us—a boy and his mother.