My Name Is Mommy

My Name Is Mommy

From A 6th Bowl of Chicken Soup for the Soul

My Name Is Mommy

I’ve said it a thousand times and I’ll say it again: There is no job more important than that of being a parent.

Oprah Winfrey

It’s only been ten years. Yet, as I stand in the vestibule of the posh country club, staring at the picture, all I can think is where did the time go? The girl in the picture is smiling. A wide I’m-ready-to-take-on-the-world smile of an eighteen-year-old with her whole life ahead of her. I read the caption under the picture: “Cheerleading, Varsity Track, DECA, Choir.” And under that, the phrase “In Ten Years I Will Be . . .” The handwriting that completes the phrase is still the same. It says, “I will have a doctorate in marine biology and be living in either North Carolina or California.”

That’s it.

Nowhere does it say, “I will be pregnant with my sixth child and getting ready to celebrate my tenth wedding anniversary.” Yet, that’s what it ought to say because that is where I am ten years after high school graduation.

The girl in the picture is me. A hardly recognizable me. Over the years, I traded in the eighties “big” hair for a more easily maintained style. I exchanged the now outdated, but then trendy, clothes for never-go-out-of-style jeans and whichever-my-hand-grabs-first-out-of-the-drawer shirts. I somehow lost the fullness to my face and the tight skin around my eyes. As I creep toward twenty-nine, these things don’t bother me—the inevitable, the getting older. But the caption does bother me for some reason—“I will have a doctorate in marine biology. . . .”

What was I thinking? Did I really think I could accomplish such an extravagant goal? I guess I must have. Ten years ago. Funny, I remember loving science in high school—anatomy, chemistry, botany, the whole nine yards—but marine biology? I don’t even have pet fish!

I enter the main room, where the class of ’87 high school reunion is already in full swing. I am wary, uncomfortable in the outrageously expensive maternity outfit I bought especially for the occasion. I search the crowd of some two hundred people for a familiar face, but I moved six hundred miles away just after graduation, married and hadn’t seen these people for ten years. When I received the invitation, it hadn’t seemed so long ago. For some reason, now it feels like an eternity.

At first, faces look vaguely familiar, then names start popping in my mind like kernels of popcorn. A girl from my cheerleading squad, Debbie, yes Debbie! Gosh, she looks so chic! And . . . It’s all coming back to me now. Over there is Brett What’s-His-Name. He still looks the same, just older, just like the rest of us. Somewhere in this crowd are the girls I’d been best friends with, the girls I had once confided my deepest secrets to, my dreams, my desires. Here are the boys I once dated and fancied myself in love with for a few days or weeks.

Memories I didn’t know I remembered surface, one by one, dripping a name to match a face here, then trickling more there, then flooding me with snapshot memories of classes, football games in the rain, dates and dances, musicals and plays, lunches at McDonald’s on one dollar and ten cents, my first car, parties and friends. Suddenly, I don’t feel so out of place. I even see a few protruding bellies that rival mine.

I take a deep breath and smile at the first girl, or should I say woman, who catches my eye. I remember her. We never did get along well, but what the heck, it has been ten years. We are all grown up now, right?

I take a step closer and yell over the eighties music and chattering noise, “Hi, Kirsten!”

She searches my face, trying to place me in her own memories. Maybe I have changed that much. She finally gives up, and her eyes float down to my name tag, then snap right back to my face as her mouth drops open. “Oh, my gosh!”

I say, “How are you?” with a huge smile I practiced for just such an occasion as this.

“Oh, my gosh!” she repeats and calls me by my maiden name, a name I haven’t thought of as belonging to me for nearly ten years. “You look sooo different!” she exclaims, looking me over, the way a female will do only to another female. “Are you pregnant?” she asks.

I nod and say, “Six months.”

“Don’t you already have like a million kids?”

Do I detect a condescending note in her voice? “Just five,” I answer, my eyes dancing over the crowd for a more friendly reception. I spot a girl I’d known since grade school. “Nice seeing you again, Kirsten,” I call over my shoulder as I move away.

I start having fun, reminiscing with old friends I’d once shared everything with. Each conversation started with, “Oh, my gosh! You’ve changed sooo much, blah, blah, blah. You look fabulous!” And then, “What have you been doing?”

I listen as these once-great friends—now strangers— gush on and on about fun-filled college years, fantastic careers, outstanding salaries, dreams of corporate ladder climbing, travel, big-city life in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta. I am reacquainted with friends who have become doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, accountants, scientists, actors, etc.

And then they turn back to me and say, “What have you been doing? Where did you go to college?”

This is where my smile starts to feel forced. “I didn’t go to college,” I say. “I got married. We started a family right away.” They tell me how great they think it is that I am what they call a stay-at-home mom. How they can’t believe I have five kids, am expecting a sixth and still have my sanity. How I must really have my hands full and how busy I must be.

I smile and think, They have no idea what they are talking about. I smile through their caustic teasing about birth control and planned parenthood. I smile through their sly speculation of what a stud my husband must be. I smile and smile and smile. I feel myself sinking. I entered the room as a mom, but now I am nothing but a mom. I never thought of myself that way before.

I return to the vestibule and stare at the picture again. What happened to the girl I once was? Or better yet, where is the woman I almost was? The marine biologist, living on the ocean, sun-kissed face, salt-bleached hair?

At one time, I was filled with such dreams, such goals. I wanted to make a difference; I wanted to be successful; I wanted to be rich. . . . I wanted to have it all.

I think about this all the way back home on the plane to Maryland, where I now live, getting more of that awful sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, the kind that makes you want to cry in self-pity. Then I see something.

I see a woman holding a baby.

The baby is not yet a year. He’s wild-eyed, clutching his ear with one hand, the other hand wrapped around his mother’s neck in a white-knuckled grip. The mother is rocking gently back and forth in her seat, singing softly, patting lightly, face calm, soothing her baby. I watch. I can’t take my eyes off her. The baby’s eyes begin to droop, then close; his body relaxes.

It’s something I’ve done a hundred times, a thousand, maybe, rocking my baby, one of them, any of them, all of them. An earache, a stomachache, a nightmare, a boo-boo, a fight, something I could always fix with my rocking chair and my arms.

Suddenly, I realize I do still have dreams, just different ones. I dream of seeing the bottom of my laundry basket, an empty kitchen sink, a freezer that is always stocked, a toothpaste-free bathroom counter, a bathroom without a miniature potty right next to the big one, stairs that don’t have a gate at the top and bottom, every sock in my house reunited with its mate. And I know when I have accomplished these goals, I’ll sit down and cry.

It occurs to me that, over the years, I have gone through an unseen but tremendous transformation. I have learned to love construction paper; crayon-colored birthday cards; sun catchers made from wax paper; autumn-colored leaves; Christmas decorations of cotton balls, glitter and too much glue; Dixie cups full of dandelion tops and assorted weeds on my table; refrigerators covered in papers, and pictures with “I Lov U Momy” scrawled beneath.

I’ve learned to see swing sets as lawn ornaments, exclaim with genuine enthusiasm at the sight of a hot-air balloon or a helicopter flying low in the sky, offer up a cheek for a sticky-faced kiss and then beg for another.

I do make a difference—in the lives of my children. I have awesome responsibility—making major decisions that will shape the lives of five—almost six—individuals. I am rich—in love and family.

I do have it all. Or all I need to have.

The plane lands, and the passengers make their way down the gateway. I walk slowly, waddling really, lugging my carry-on, while my mind switches back into mommy mode, as my thoughts race through all I must do once I get home. The dishes and the laundry and the groceries and the . . .

“Excuse me, ma’am.” I turn toward the voice behind me, a gentleman, his hand outstretched. He asks, “Can I give you a hand with that bag?”

I smile broadly. “I’d rather you carry this baby. My back is killing me.”

He laughs. “Is this your first?”

We are coming through the gate now, and I spot my family waiting to meet me, five little faces lighting up at the sight of me, and my heart swells with love. “Not hardly,” I say and gesture with my free hand.

He says, “Your life must be pretty hectic.”

To this I respond, “It’s pretty wonderful.”

Stacey A. Granger

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