Fraught

One more poem, from several years ago.

Fraught

In two hours outside today,
three strangers wished me a happy
mother’s day; I thanked them,
casually enough. I am actually a mother
this year, and for the past seven,
though not for many grey and grieving
years before.

They could not know my situation,
but I look old enough that here
in this leafy suburb, they assume.
Most women here are mothers.
Not necessarily good ones.

My daughter gave me a book
this morning; pre-printed cover
claimed: “My mom is the best!!”
I try. After so many years of trying
to have them, I try hard. Even so,
so many days I fail to live up
to my own standards of good
mothering. That bar is set so high.

I yelled at them just now. The day
was long and hot; I thought a bath
before bed would do them good,
bring them deeper sleep. They fought,
crabby from the heat, until I yelled
and yelled again. And then, exasperated,
came over with arms upraised
to take them out. They went to bed
quiet, a little sad. Mostly exhausted;
I should have known better.

I do well enough. It was overall
a good day for them, for me. This day
must be terrible for those who
failed their children, hurt them
badly enough that they walked
away. Or were taken. Terrible
too for those whose mothers
failed them. When the best choice
you can make is to walk away,
everyone loses, inevitably.

And there are those who
lost their mothers, those who are
still trying to be mothers, still
hoping, those who have given
up hope. There are those who
never wanted to be mothers but
who are pricked a thousand times
by the casual, insistent assumption.
Why do we do this to ourselves?

But today I spent some time
with old photographs, remembering
my mother as she was; she is
different now. There is no one
in the world who remembers
the way she looked, mini-skirted,
waving goodbye as I walked
to the bus stop. And today
my son brought me three glasses
of water, desperate to do something
nice for mommy’s day.

There is no way to balance
these scales, to claim that one
goodness outweighs, justifies,
those little pangs and deep miseries.
They coexist, and so do we,
joy and grief intertwined.

Be gentle, be mindful, be kind;
we are in this boat together.

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