Just a mom

“You look tired.”

Before I can respond, he continues. “How’s your week going? Do you want chicken or beef?” The quesadilla crafter’s questions shell-shock me into confused silence.

How can I look tired when I’ve got on roughly triple my normal amount of concealer? My week … uh, what day is it? It must be Wednesday because the kids are finally back in school for a full day and the first two days of the week they had delays because of the polar vortex. So technically it’s The Day After Tomorrow.

I snort-laugh.

“Ma’am? Chicken or beef?”

“Oh! Neither. Just cheese. Sorry, I’m kind of out of it.”

“I can tell. You look so tired.”

Please stop saying that. I look tired on the days when there is no effort. Today, I’ve got on mascara, dude. This. is. my. effort.

“Oh, well, you know, it’s been a long week already, what with school starting late the last couple of days. The kids have been crazy. They need to get back into a routine.”

“Yeah, they didn’t do this stuff about letting kids out of school just because it was cold back in the day. My mama put coats on us and we went.”

“I think there’s a concern about kids waiting at the bus stops in below freezing temperatures,” I said, pointing to cilantro and black olives.

“Well, at least there’s people like you trying to educate them,” he said, sliding my quesadilla onto the grill.


“I try, but I’ve only got two,” I said.

“Wait, I thought you were a teacher.”

“No,” I answered, looking down as he cut the quesadilla into neat sections. “No, I’m just a mom.”

Whoa. Where did that bit of self-belittlement come from? Just a mom. Is that really how you’re going to self-identify now? What will that teach the kids about women? Will they respect you and your role if you can’t even tell the guy making your lunch what you do without sounding ashamed?

I’m a mom.

Why do I want to qualify that with “just”? Perhaps because when I fill out insurance forms and list “occupation” as “stay-at-home-mom,” they come back to me reading “unemployed.”

No, the mothering gig doesn’t bring in millions, but what is more important than the work of a mother? Perhaps the most valuable commodity in our society is not oil or natural gas, but rather well-adjusted, educated, polite, kind, and generally good people.

You know, the kind that mothers toil to produce.

So many of us lose our identities to “mom,” and it’s easy to see how it happens. The minute you move from Labor and Delivery to the postpartum ward, all the nurses who walk in your room greet you with smile and a cheery, “Hi, Mom!”

Your de-personalization has begun.

Because who you are isn’t important anymore. It’s only about who you are in relation to someone else. Even now, nurses and assistants at my kids’ doctor’s offices call me “Mom.” How much trouble would it be to look down and see our children’s names and add a Ms. to the front?

There are as many different “mom” stereotypes as there are “woman” stereotypes, and perhaps some of us want to qualify our job descriptions rather than risk being lumped into one group or another. Of course, the idea that anyone could ever capture the essence of a woman, any woman, in a job description, in a box, is ludicrous. We’re multi-faceted, no matter what we choose to do.

So I’m a mom. On any given day I might be functioning as a teacher, cook, driver, medic, comforter, disciplinarian, advocate, mediator, hostage negotiator, storyteller, swim instructor, drill sergeant, or child psychologist. That kind of job needs no qualification.


The bells of St. Brigit’s are calling tonight

pealing, appealing,

across the sea.

I cannot go; I am not free

bound here in ministry.


Silence and sanctuary are calling tonight

softly, in stage whispers my soul cannot snub.

Slumbering amidst the restless din

I dream of holy hush and polished pews.


I yearn for my holy Father tonight

His presence palpable in the nave

I pine for Bibles with broken spines

spaces where I know God to be.


I rest, cradled in faith tonight

for the bells call but do not toll.

Grace covers; my debts are paid.

All is well with my soul.

This was a surprise prompt from Write on Edge:  Add 100 words of fiction (any genre) to the following first line:

“The bells of St. Brigit’s are calling tonight.”


Her steps echo on the slate walk.

She turns; searching, but cannot see the others;

the veritable ghost-army keeping pace.

A whisper of perfume

The familiar oak a skeleton in the yard.

Smells of the past and of a storm yet to come.


Memories hits with the open door

and she



a rabbit hole,

through the glass of the grandfather clock

its hands spinning backward.

She’s caught – captive in a sandstorm.

There is no shielding herself from the barrage:

– should’ve

– could’ve

– what if?

– why?


Flayed raw by the storm, old scars tear open.

She reaches for an anchor, but finds only the hard curves of an hourglass

nipping, shaping, crushing.

No! she thinks. Not here. I don’t fit here anymore!

The glass is strong, unyielding beneath her fists.


She weeps, trapped, until she remembers.

Let it go.

Her hands are clenched,

crushing sand to her raw palms.

Let it go.

Slowly, painfully, she uncurls each finger and lets the sand blow away.


Standing on the porch, she turns her back on the open door,

clatters down the stairs

suddenly clear;

lighter than when she came up the walk.

She’s remembered: the past is a foreign country:

she cannot live there.


Poetry inspired by the Write on Edge prompt: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” ~ L. P. Hartley: The Go-Between (1953).



Wrapping myself in a towel, I get out of the shower and listen. It’s the habit of a mother, the automatic check for voices, for sounds of play.

There is only silence.

This cannot be good.

I pad down the hall to her room, where I see no children, but I hear voices, murmurs. Giggling.

Treading softly, I circle the room until I see the lower half of my son sticking out from under the bed. He’s on his tummy, with his legs crossed up in the air behind him. Relaxed. Happy.

Under the bed?

Voices again, and I realize she’s completely under the bed, and they’re just having a chat. Under the bed.

For the I don’t know how many-ith time, I marvel at this relationship.

Come here, my other half, let’s chat in the dark. A hideout under the bed? Why not? It’s perfect! Now, I have so many things to tell you, so get comfortable….

I watch and try to make sense of their conversation until a water droplet slides down my neck and I realize I’ve been standing there in a towel for how long?

My daughter is still not visible; she’s all the way under the bed, obscured by a bedskirt and a pile of pink duvet. That’s her. Never one to go halfway on anything. My son is half under and half out, yet fully immersed in their private world. I am trespassing when I finally clear my throat and ask, “So how often do you two have important chats under the bed, exactly?”

After a pause and a giggle, two heads pop out from under the box-springs, photo negatives of each other. Light and dark. Boy and girl. Fireworks and calm.

“Not that often,” he answers, flashing his jack-o-lantern grin.

And just like that, they’re gone.

Back into their private world.