Look at Me

Look at Me

From Chicken Soup for Every Mom's Soul

Look at Me

“Look at me, Mum.”

Jason’s shrill voice skimmed across the water. Jen grunted and went on dipping out leaves, jabbing angrily at the water. She had had enough.

It wasn’t Jason’s fault. Of course he had lots of energy— he was a boy. She just wished he wasn’t so constantly demanding. It had been Jen’s idea to work from home— she’d done it when Callista was tiny. They just couldn’t afford for her not to work at all.

“Look, Mum.”

“I’m looking,” Jen growled, regretting it instantly. She hunched over, feeling guilty, glaring at the water.

“You’re not watching, Mum.”

“Okay.”

She smiled at him, wiping her hands on her long cotton sundress. He was kneeling up on his little inflatable boat. He couldn’t swim properly but he had floaties on his arms, and Jen made sure he stayed at the shallow end where he could stand. The boat was cute—it had a funnel and ropes around it. He could hang on to it and float all round the pool if she was with him.

“Whee!!” Jason leapt and splashed into the water. He paddled around, whooping breathlessly, until he could grab hold of the boat.

“Good, darling. Really good.”

Jen went back to scooping. It was partly her husband, Andrew’s, fault. He had promised that if they had another he would stay home. Why should it be her? Why should she have to give up all her chances? There had been the big promotion opportunity—his, of course—and the pay raise they couldn’t afford to miss. She would never have agreed to another child if she’d known.

Jen had enjoyed Callista’s company so much that she almost missed her when she slept. For three blissful years, from the time Callista learned to walk until the time she went to kindergarten, they did everything together. While Jen worked, Callista would look at books or draw pictures or help in her own way with the housework; they would shop together with endless discussions about what to buy. Callista would tell her when the postman had come, remind her to buy food for the cat, give her a hug when she felt a little low—somehow Callista always knew, even when she tried to hide it.

“Look, Mum! I’m gonna do it again.”

“I’m busy.”

Jason couldn’t have been more different. She couldn’t talk to anyone anymore; she couldn’t read a book. He was there, constantly demanding her attention, testing her. Nothing seemed to keep him occupied more than a few minutes, and then he was at her again. Why couldn’t he entertain himself? Why couldn’t he invent something to do? Her attempts at work were an agony, and in the end she always had to do it at night when Andrew was there and she wanted to relax. It just wasn’t fair, and the worst of it was that Andrew hated her mentioning it. Jason was always half-asleep by the time he came home. Sometimes she just wanted to go away and leave them all to it. Go away and never come back.

It was the silence that made her look up.

The first thing she saw was the boat. For a moment she thought it was empty, then she realized that Jason’s feet were still in it, tucked under the rope. The rest of him was in the water, upside-down. The floaties were stopping his weight from tipping the boat but his head was under.

With a cry, Jen flung herself into the pool. She was a terrible swimmer and hated the water, but in a flash she was tearing toward the boat, not even feeling her long dress around her ankles. As she reached the boat she ducked under. She could see his little face through the water, with his arms waving helplessly. She grabbed him and hauled him free of the boat. She could stand easily here so she picked him up and carried him, coughing and spluttering, to the edge.

She sat clutching him tightly, her mind an utter blank, so scared she couldn’t think at all. He was clamped to her and seemed stunned by what had happened, but she could feel that he was breathing normally. With the shock, though, Jen was frozen.

“Mum?” His voice sounded a little strange. “Mum, you’re hurting me.”

Suddenly she realized she was holding him so tight he could hardly get a breath. Tears rushed down her cheeks at the thought of what had nearly happened. She looked at his bewildered face and suddenly, in a moment, she understood that this little life was the most precious thing she had ever held in her hands.

“Mum,” Jason said, frowning slightly. “Why are you crying?”

She smiled at him through her tears.

“Because . . .” she sobbed. “Because you did your biggest trick of the afternoon and . . . I nearly missed it.”

He put his arms around her wet dress and gave her a strong hug.

“Don’t worry, Mum,” he said. “You can look at me again tomorrow.”

Jaie Ouens

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