i married my husband when i was twenty-two and ten twelfths. our plan was to wait two years before having kids. Two: such a nice, round number. a very nice, safe, round number. Two would keep the old people from calling us Kids and prevent them from asking when we were going to start having Kids.
eight months in, i was pregnant. at eight months and three weeks, i was not pregnant. the cramps were terrible and the medical instruments were cold and my womb was tipped back and the nurses were kind. i sobbed onto white sheets and heard the 23rd Psalm from a red Bible.
the miscarriage was nearly as shocking as the pregnancy, and one month went by before i felt the full weight of it upon my hormones and my emotions: the excited congratulations of acquaintances, directed at another girl, not me, because she was still pregnant, i wasn’t. how come she could do it and i couldn’t? we were both back at Bible school for a reunion; why did she score the perfect scenario and i didn’t? i sobbed onto the colourful quilt upon my sister’s lap and let her stroke my hair.
the doctor said to wait four months before trying again.
those four months were free: i was free to be young and cute and smart and childless.
without doctor’s orders binding me to childlessness, i wasn’t feeling so free anymore.
it was the morning of september eleventh. i remember the date because i would look back on photos taken later that day and wonder if my friends could tell i’d been shagged. wonder if mourners would be appalled i’d been shagged. wonder if people were allowed to shag on 9-11.
it was the morning of september eleventh, a great day for morning sex. as i opened the condom package my husband said, “it’s been six months. shouldn’t we stop using protection?” those words. shouldn’t we. they shriveled me. i’d been coasting along on Submission, and as long as he didn’t speak those words, i didn’t have to submit to them. but then, there they were.
they held Pregnancy. they held Motherhood. they held eighteen years of losing my life. i didn’t want them.
the first pregnancy hadn’t been planned. it had come way ahead of the Two Years timeframe we’d pulled out of the air. it still hadn’t been Two Years; how had it become Four Months?
i sobbed onto my chocolate-brown duvet and heard the words.
i steadied myself, opened myself and lost myself. i sank my nails into my childless husband and let him change our lives with one deep breath. out and in.
i was still a little girl. i still didn’t know I was beautiful. i wasn’t done clamoring for attention, rating myself against other little girls, trying to outdo the world in a contest of cute/smart/spiritual. my dad had never wanted the world to see my beauty, never listened, never understood me. i didn’t understand myself, couldn’t make myself heard, couldn’t feel beautiful. all I knew was Jesus was listening, Jesus would come for me someday, Jesus would make me beautiful and Jesus understood. some guy named Paul said he knew Jesus, and Paul said to submit to my husband just like he was Jesus. just like i’d been submitting to my dad who never understood me. so when my husband said shouldn’t we, that meant we should.
two months before our second anniversary, a son was born.
he came early, and the doctors said they had to cut me open, so i let them. when my husband went back to work four days later, i sobbed onto the colourful quilt upon my sister’s lap and listened to her prayers for the Young Mother.
seventeen months later, a son was born. it had been forty hours of back-breaking contractions without a change to the cervix, so it wasn’t “labour”. the doctor told me i was allowed to ask for a caesarian, so i did. my uterus was still pretty thin in spots and my mom had to get back to work. plus i was tired. looking after two babies was going to be hard enough without a uterine rupture to recover from.
the next year was so hard i broke out in a body rash. ‘nuff said.
the following year, Mom Bethany remembered what Young Cute Bethany had said about having three kids, and then it happened before she let herself really think about it. twenty-five months later came a son, and then there were three.
and then there was a tubal, because Mom Bethany had done all she could and Young Cute Bethany was surely satisfied, and the old people were surely impressed.
it’s the middle of the night, four years later. the sons are eight, six and four, and Bethany is Young And Cute For A Mom. she just stepped down from the rooftop she was sitting on with her oldest son, who had earlier been telling her to jump off the roof and die because she asked him to get ready for bed.
see how i disengage myself from that? talking about myself in the third person, as if it wasn’t me who let the house get too messy, the boys stay up too late, the routine get too messed up and the Mom get too bossy.
fact is, sitting on that roof, all i wanted was to be a teenager again, laughing with Virginia and trying to figure out whether i was beautiful.
that’s what i’m really good at. and i know the answer now.
all the old people are gone. sure, they still meet every sunday morning in the building next door, but i don’t. because they told Young Cute Bethany they needed her, and they let her teach VBS and Sunday School and paint free posters and co-ordinate the nursery program and lead the ladies’ prayer group, but when Mom Bethany needed them they didn’t know it.
how could they not know it?
i’m beautiful and i know it, and i’m a poor mom and i know that too, and i’m a damn good mom for sure. not because i know how to submit to my husband, or be cute or smart or spiritual, or even because i know how to get my three boys to bed on time (i don’t). it’s because i don’t know what i’m doing, and my kids know it, and it’s okay. they don’t submit to me as their authority, no matter how much i want them to, because to them, i’m not an authority figure. to them, i’m just Mom.
Mom on the roof.
and that’s beautiful.