Free Stories

What's a Mother For

Mother and Child

I do not know what he ever saw in her. Even from the beginning, it was apparent they were not in the same class. Oh, I'll admit she was cute in a skinny, youthful sort of way. Not a refined pretty, but a passing thing that withers early, and he so attractive too. He could have had anyone he chose. I saw past the superficial, of course, but he wouldn't listen. What did I know, I was only his mother. Birthed him, nearly died doing it, sacrificed all my dreams to raise him and be there for him. And for what! Just to see him saddled with this ignorant girl. What foolishness! 

He changed before my very eyes. The subtle, insidious transformations she inspired in him went unnoticed by others, even his father.  Only I saw what was happening. It was difficult to stand silently by and watch the slow drain of spirited perfection that had taken years to develop. 

Well, I simply could stand it no longer. What mother could? I felt I must tell it like it is. Like it or not, she would be confronted with the truth, if for the first time in her life. 

But I was discreet in my teaching. I took her under my wing. I called her daughter, advised and guided her. She seemed so willing that I suppose I underestimated her.

Sneaky, that's what she was. She'd say things to him like, "Honey, can you come dump the trash." Oh, sure, she said it sweetly, but then I was standing right there. In spite of her sugary tone, I can tell you I was utterly appalled at the audacity of the girl. Had she no pride? Why the poor boy had worked hard all day.  What had she done except to take care of those two tiny children?  How difficult could that be I ask? I ought to know. I raised a child myself. Did I ask for help?  No! I knew my duty.

I used this opportunity to say, "No, I'll do it. Davey has worked hard all day.  Why should he be burdened with such trivialities?"  

However, my hint to the unenlightened, selfish girl was in vain when he innocently blocked me by saying, "Here Mom, let me get that," and he trundled the garbage bag outside. What a sweet boy.

She expects too much. And the money she spends, the waste, it's all inexcusable. They eat out when what is wanting is a decent home-cooked meal.  You wouldn't believe the extravagant conveniences she uses to ease her already indolent lifestyle. Why, I ask you, would anyone waste money on those throwaway diapers when good old cloth ones would be healthier and far more economical? Even the discussion of such matters as savings, ecology, and obligation would fail to educate her, so why bother.

I, on the other hand, used to boil his cloth diapers, scrubbing them in bleach water until my knuckles bled. It was in the dead of winter, but I insisted on fresh air and sunshine to kill those germs, and I walked down six flights of stairs with that heavy wet laundry, every day. Those sparkling white diapers would be board stiff when I brought them in on those east coast winter days and had to thaw them in front of the radiator before I could even fold them up. That's the kind of dedication that children deserve. Never once, not even for a minute, did his little bottom have so much as a red rash. But I can tell you; my grandchildren won't be so lucky.

When she was expecting the third one, she insisted that those poor little girls begin doing her chores. How could she expect those babies, only five years old, to pick up their own rooms? It's just sheer laziness from my vantage point. I can tell you no child of mine would have been put to such. She says it's to teach them responsibility. It's too bad no one ever taught her any is what I say.

Soon he was no better. I know I raised him smarter than that. It's not his fault, she has beguiled him, just like Eve did Adam. I've even witnessed him waiting on her hand and foot. He cooks, he cleans, all while working full-time and providing her with a roof over her head. I can tell you no husband of mine would have stood for such nonsense. I stopped by once to find him vacuuming while she sat there at her leisure nursing that baby (if you can call a year old child a baby).  "Could you bring me a glass of water when you come back?" she said as he walked into the kitchen. "I get so thirsty when I'm nursing."

What bunk! Slothful excuses is what I say. I boiled his little bottles every day, measured and prepared his formula day and night. Nowadays they have these fancy prepared formulas that even an idiot can stumble into the kitchen at 2:00 a.m. and pour into a plastic bag and prop against a crib side. She took an easier step than even that and sits there like a queen, ordering him about.  The child was a year old, and she was still using the excuse that she needed to nurse it to sleep. Probably traumatized the unfortunate thing for life. If she had started those babies on cereal at six weeks like I told her . . . but no, she wouldn't listen to me.

I've tried to help out when I could. I bathe those babies every time they come for a visit, the minute they walk in the door I whisk them off to the bathtub.  I was only trying to help out, but she rewarded my efforts with that tight-lipped, tense look of hers that's so irritating. She also insists on their riding in those cumbersome, restraining car seats whenever they ride in the car. They hate it, I can tell you. Well, their father never rode in one, and he turned out just fine. My, what a fuss she made when I refused to force them into those awkward things.  Like I'm not capable of taking care of my own grandbabies.  

I've forewarned the rest of the family that she was a disappointment, just so they'd know what to expect. I didn't want them to act shocked and inadvertently hurt her feelings. After all, it's not entirely her fault. It's all in the raising. But the family has been very sympathetic to my predicament, very supportive of my awkward and precarious position. What a mother must endure!

You should have seen her face, puffy red eyes, splotched cheeks. If it weren't so pathetic, I would have laughed. Such ugly things she said; inventions of a mind crazed by too many pregnancies and not enough education. She was venomous. I knew all along what she was capable of, but until this, no one believed me. Now they'll listen. 

"I've taken all I can take," I knew she was nervous by the way she practically yelled this at me and, although I hate to admit it, it made me glad to see her so shaken.

"What can't you take?"

"You, the way you always talk about me behind my back. To anyone who will listen, your mother, your sister and her family, to your friends. People who don't know me are critical of me, because of the things you've told them based solely upon your prejudices. I'm sick of it. But now you've crossed over the line. I will not allow you to turn my children against me."

"What are you talking about?"

"You know exactly what I am talking about. Pamela told me what you said.  How could you even think about turning a five-year-old child against her own mother?"

"Well, I was just telling it like it is."

"No, you tell it like you think it is. I have tried to please you; all these years I've tried. It's no use. Nothing I do will ever be good enough." By now she was crying and squeaking and waving her arms around, hysterical. "Do you understand? I want you to stop interfering in our lives."

"Oh, I understand all right, more than you know," I said this to her retreating back for she had turned on her heels and was gone. There was plenty I wanted to say, I can tell you, but she didn't give me the chance.

Well, you can imagine how angry I was at the impertinence of this senseless and ridiculous outburst. There was no point in confronting her while she was in this state. She was pregnant, and I've read about how some women, the unstable ones, are affected by pregnancy. Of course, I was entirely justified in response to her allegations of unwelcome interference. So, I wrote her a letter. It was a long one because I had a lot to say. Let me tell you I said it all. I let my pen fly, and I must admit, it felt good to get it all off my chest.

I told her what the rest of the family really thought of her. I told her how difficult she was making my son's life. I knew he would never tell her, the kind-hearted soul that he is, so I did it. I told her what kind of mother I thought she was, which is undoubtedly my right as their grandmother. It was not an easy task.  Being so brutally honest came hard to me, but I knew someday my son would be grateful for my selfless sacrifice. But then, what are mothers for if not to help out.

He told me she packed up the kids and left at the end of the week. He came home, no doubt to a sink of dirty dishes and no dinner, only to find my letter on the kitchen table and a note from her which he won't even let me read.

He said that she wrote to him and told him she is doing fine without "all of us." I had thought she might come to her senses after that baby was born, but she hasn't. I always said she was from unstable stock. Davey says the baby was another girl. It figures. She couldn't even do that right. 

He informed me today that she has filed for divorce. I told him it was all for the best. She wasn't any good for him anyway. He stormed out of the house in a huff, slamming the door behind him. He almost acted like somehow I was to blame for all this, can you imagine? But I know he's just upset and not thinking very clearly right now. In time he'll see that I'm right. 

But, as always, I'll be there to help him through this. After all, what’s a mother for if not to be there for her children?

by B.L. Golden

Previously published in the Timber Creek Review

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