Loneliness.

All day I was busy, working, moving, and momming. The kids were bopping around, alternately playing and arguing, requesting snacks, audiobooks, help with something, and more water. Their father needed help disassembling the rusty metal shed in the backyard, so I helped with that, too. My fingernails are splitting and dry from the work and the clean up. I made dinner for everyone, by myself, as the three of them went on with their lives in the house. No one asked if I needed help. No one offered to help. They complained while I made the salad. But no one offered to help me, so yes, you’re eating green things, I said. 

One didn’t like the red sauce, and her pasta was too cold. It was probably cold because she let it sit for so long. The little one ate plain spaghetti while listing about three hundred new toys he wants for his birthday. We played a story telling game while we ate, which had them alternately laughing and arguing. I sat down with my plate last, as I usually do, and the loneliness hit me. 

It was as if I was two people in that moment. I was mama, reminding my daughter to eat her salad and taking part in the story game when it was my turn, and then I was just me, floating somewhere inside my body, vaguely feeling the food go in as I chewed and hearing the three of them talking at the table as if I was hearing them through water or glass, with a sort of distortion like I was inside a bubble. I was there, but not there. They didn’t notice I was lonely. They didn’t notice if I felt anything at all. As long as the food showed up on the table and their water cups were filled, everything was fine in their world. They didn’t mind complaining about the dinner, because the fact that I may have had feelings didn’t occur to them. And that’s okay. They’re kids. But I felt it from their father, too. I feel it often, that my work and my efforts go unseen and unacknowledged. I usually absorb the complaints and the whining without reacting, because mama reacting upsets everyone, and their father will come back at me with a what’s wrong with you? or why are you always like this?. 

They don’t know what it feels like to have no one consider your feelings on a daily basis. I am four out of four on the priority list. The three of them went to the fancy supermarket to order sandwiches and buy food for lunch. We’ll text you what the soups are, he said, because last time there was an Egyptian red lentil that looked so good. I waited, cleaning the kitchen, loading laundry, and picking up the counters, checking my phone every few minutes so I didn’t miss his text. A while later they came back, with special lunches for the three of them and a six-pack of fancy beer. I set up the kids at the table with their food, and as they sat down to eat, I thought I wouldn’t mention it. It wasn’t a big deal. I could let it go. And then for some reason I said fairly quietly as I looked into the empty paper grocery bag, Oh, I thought you were going to text me about the soups.

He forgot, he said. He would go back. 

No. It’s fine. It’s really fine. And the three of them sat down to eat, while I straightened the kitchen.      

After I got the kids to sleep I texted my mother, a message she likely won’t get until the morning. I’ve been feeling so alone. I miss being with you. I love you. 

Those other moms.

Those other moms. They are so impeccable. They park their shining Land Rovers outside the school and their stylish children tumble out laughing. They have trendy, cool haircuts and time to maintain them at the salon every four weeks. They wear good shoes and expensive coats. They wear blazers and interesting glasses. They walk on high heels through the playground holding fancy coffee and confidence.

They wear absolutely no makeup because it’s toxic and they can’t allow it in their house. Also, because they happen to have flawless skin. They have naturally shining, voluminous hair that looks fantastic in a pony tail. They volunteer every week and work on their knitting while they wait. They will eagerly share their Pinterest pages with you, and aren’t fazed a bit by the antics of the new puppy. He’s just perfect for their family! They are always early for school drop off and pickup, and their children will sit quietly with a book while they talk with a friend or with an iPad while they get a massage.

Of course they haven’t forgotten anything. They meal plan. They have a household binder. They wake up an hour before the children, to do yoga and have “me time”. They work out and drink smoothies for breakfast. A nice salad for dinner of kale and pomegranate jewels, with homemade vinaigrette, which they’ve taught their children to prepare. They have time to shop for fresh produce. They never crave a staggering amount of pasta and one hour away from their children.

They own real bras and remember to put one on in public. They often resemble a Patagonia ad and look fresh faced in the wind. They have so much to say about what they heard on NPR this morning or their political activism or the amazing concert or book reading or lecture they recently attended. These sentences come out of their mouths, articulate and complete. They have PhDs and law degrees and somehow own their own business on the side, while they cheerily take their children to cello lessons and skiing lessons and trapeze club. They, as well as their children, are always in bed early.

They have a back up sitter in case the nanny or the main sitter cancels. They would never miss a date night. Their husbands are fantastic, athletic, help with the laundry, and drink only the good whiskey. They get away on trips to the wine country with their best girlfriends and take pictures of the dozen of them getting a pedicure together. They are composed, dignified, and sure of themselves. They never say too much. They happily stay in their circle, and rarely make eye contact. Those other moms. They never talk to me.

She visits in grief.

I was so worried she hadn’t got on the plane. My mother has struggled ever since her husband died of a sudden heart attack almost one year ago. She has insisted on living alone, on staying in her house, the home that her husband provided for her, isolated in a country hamlet, a town with one blinking red light. It would be great if she had friends or a support network there, but she doesn’t. There are a handful of older widows in her small neighborhood, but house bound eighty-somethings are not going to keep her active and engaged.

My mother has stopped taking care of herself. She often doesn’t eat, or drinks only coffee or boxed chardonnay, after throwing the box away and keeping the enormous plastic bladder of wine in the bathroom clothes hamper under a pile of towels. I dumped two of those down the sink while she slept when I visited. I stabbed the bag with the scissors in several places and watched the pale golden liquid swirl down the drain. I inhaled and breathed in the scent, wishing for one frantic second that I had thought to drink it all myself. I understood. I know that need, that need to feel good and make it all go away. I know how the wine makes me feel a little bit warm and better inside, when everything is going to hell around me. Just enough to make my head sway and make reality swirl. I felt guilty for denying her that escape, but I needed her in my life. In my children’s lives. I needed her alive and would do whatever I needed to make sure she stayed that way.

When she came through the arrivals gate, my first response was to sigh and put my hand to my chest, because I am the worrisome parent now. Even her hair was frail, bleached into cotton candy wisps and twisted up, gently bobbing as she walked. The bright, pink Seattle Starbucks sweatshirt she bought just before our Alaskan cruise together five years prior hung loose and baggy on her frame. She looked thin and confused, her face creased with deep lines and shadows.

Or at least I thought they were merely shadows from far away, but as she drew nearer to me, I saw she actually had bruises on the side of her jaw, a full black eye, and a goose egg swelling in the center of her forehead. She attempted to cover the bump with her bangs, and pretended everything was fine when she gave me a shaky hug hello.