Here is a story I wrote earlier this year. Some parts are based on reality. Other parts are exactly as they happened. All of it is true.
Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.” - Mary Anne Radmacher
The shrilling alarm pierces through her. Dazed she fishes around on the bedside table until the stop button mercifully comes out of hiding. Lingering in the quiet a few moments, she knows the day must eventually be faced.
Bones creak and limbs ache as she makes her way to the refrigerator. Bending to retrieve the juice from the bottom shelf, something odd on the tile beneath catches her eye. At first glance it looks like a dirty mark. She makes a mental note that the floors are overdue for a mopping. Slowly the realisation dawns on her that most tiles bear the same peculiar little smudge. On closer inspection the spots are not dirt. They are, in fact, lead pencil.
The guilty party is stood trial and given a chance to explain. Because goodness knows she is baffled and requires an explanation. His rationale reveals the observation of small white flecks that do not belong in the chocolate brown. It was urgent that he remedy, what to him was, a grand issue. Thus the day begins, not with juice, but a lesson in scrubbing the floor – and why one must not draw on it.
The situation would almost be comical if it were a one off. But it is not. This is far from the first time such a lesson has needed to be taught. Most likely it will not be the last. She is weary of going through these motions day after day; trying desperately to get through to a child who does not understand. Not because he means to be difficult, but rather is ignorant of the fact that he is. To him these actions make perfect sense. The puzzle is hers.
With bladder demanding attention, she retreats to the serenity that is a small room with a locked door. Or rather it would be if the floor underneath were not victim to a large puddle. The growing aroma does little for relaxation either. Semi-resigned to the facts she takes a long strand of paper and begins the clean up. At floor level another test awaits. Scrunched up, peeking out from behind the toilet bowl, two pieces of soiled paper announce their presence. He cannot see the problem with this picture. Her composure is beginning to evaporate.
With breakfast over, the next challenge comes into view. Pushing down growing resentment, she arms herself with his toothpaste and brush. Left to him, the paste would soon be discarded down the plughole. Bristles and enamel would remain strangers. There is little satisfaction to be had in watching him squirm and cry out at pain the majority of folk would not even feel. Some things just need to be done whether appreciated or not. His yellow teeth are neither attractive nor healthy. This is no time to let emotions rule.
Grateful to be done with that exercise, she busies herself with the day’s tasks. Withdrawing to the bookshelf in the corner of the room, he is content to sit and take notes about his favourite vehicles. The book already has a contents page but not nearly as detailed as the one he is constructing. For now calm is back on the throne. Perhaps today will be better.
The illusion of peace is shattered upon stripping his bed. Hidden in the pillowcase is a conglomeration of all sorts; toy cars, strange messages scribbled to who knows who, bits of junk, and in the middle of it all a twenty dollar note. She wants to be sick. Her skin crawls to think that her own flesh and blood is capable of such sneaky theft. Every time something has gone missing lately - he has stolen it. Only two days ago he had vehemently denied knowing anything about the mystery of the missing money from her purse. She had pressed him and provided ample opportunity to confess. Though she suspected guilt, there was little choice but to offer the benefit of the doubt.
Fighting the urge to slap, she hands him a wooden rolling pin - to be held out, at arms length, for five minutes. Wailing and gnashing of teeth ensue. Two minutes later he is begging to be granted reprieve from the consequence. What is this for? His mind genuinely cannot fathom how the penalty will prevent a repeat offence. Weary from all the drama she reminds him that stealing is wrong, desperately hoping that maybe this time he will comprehend. He wants to argue and insist that she does not love him. He would be better off dead. Hope is at an all time low.
Emotions twisted like an unsolved Rubik’s cube she feeds him a sandwich and sends him outside to play. He stubs a toe on the door frame, crying out in angry pain. Rushing to help and offer sympathy, she is rewarded with a low growl. Shoved away to be the helpless witness of self injury and hurtful, degrading words turned inwards. The irony of how one so needing help can fail to see the love extended to him. A riddle she has no answers for.
Trapped in a cruel maze without an exit, will she ever be able to relate to this foreigner who is her own flesh and blood? The question grates at her very core. This does not belong in dreams of motherhood.
An hour passes. It is time to come in. The strong scent of urine enters the kitchen before he does. Surely not again!
Good emotions, like patience and love, are all but used up. She takes a deliberate breath, in and out, big and deep. Mustering up the strength to make what little is left last until bedtime. Putting it out there, it is spread incredibly thin - painfully full of holes and so very fragile.
The child is sent for a shower. A check up, ten minutes later, finds him naked, unwashed, and perched atop the bathroom basin.
Eyes wild, voice strained, the tension tumbles out at frightening speed. She knows she is saying these things; it is her voice doing the screaming. Able to hear it all but so powerless to make it stop. Eyes stinging with backed up moisture she runs away. Anywhere will do. Crouching down in the solitude with her back against the cool metal of the laundry tub, the salty torrent pushes through the dam wall around her heart. It comes so quickly, the intensity catches her off guard. She presses her face into her knees in a futile attempt to stifle the hacking sobs. At last she must come up for air or be suffocated by the sheer emotion.
Quieter now, breathing steady, the tears slow to a trickle as she offers heaven a desperate prayer. Finally able to admit out loud that she does not even like this child called her son; much less herself for her seeming inability to love him. Another wave hits hard…
Looking up a silent figure stands watching. How long has he been there?
“I love you Mum,” he says. “I don’t know what’s making you cry or why you’re so upset.”
The blank expression on his face confirms this fact. And then he is handing her a piece of roughly folded paper.
“To write what’s troubling you down. When you are finished you can give it to me and I’ll help you.”
In a rare moment he comes and snuggles in close. Offers his favourite cuddly friend; the keeper of his secrets with threadbare patches to prove it. It is the most loving gesture he knows. These moments are rare treasures. They are precious pearls to be tucked away in the heart for later - for the gaping of the in between.
Singed emotions melt. Hope sprouts in a bruised spirit. This mess called motherhood is worth the struggle after all. It matters little that she does not yet possess all the answers. Glory waits patiently for those wading through the mud. For now grace is enough. Tomorrow will bring a fresh sunrise. A chance to start over - to begin again. Taking each day moment by moment, if necessary, she will triumph. Just as the child deserves a hundred second chances, so does she.