Baby boosts herself up to stand using couch. Can now steal Big Girl’s puzzle. Big Girl brings down board over Baby’s head. To keep from screaming, Mommy recites the script she memorized from @tamemommiessquad:
“Move your body away, Big Girl. Hitting is not ok. What can we do instead? We can play with something else, we can find an adult or—”
Big Girl: “I don’t want you.”
Mommy: “I don’t want me either.”
Big Girl strips naked. Pees in corner of playroom. It’s Mommy’s turn for drop-off at The Mallard School that’s so close they could walk but instead they drive listening to the Croods 2 soundtrack, arguing about the Welch’s wrappers littering the floor.
When they stumble into class, late for Circle Time, Big Girl shouts,
“I don’t want to go to school!”
Crying, Big Girl washes her hands at the small sink. Teacher drags over a chair.
Everyone straightens up, including Mommy.
“I didn’t want to come to work today either, Big Girl, but I’m here. It’s Friday! Today will go by fast and then it’s the weekend. You can stay home with Mommy allll day.”
Big Girl looks at Mommy, seems worried. Mommy’s worried about the long weekend too, wonders if Teacher is trolling her. Mommy thanks Teacher with her eyes for doing what she cannot but also feels like Teacher maybe hates her because of the virtual conference call last week, when she told Teacher:
“You help me be a better parent.”
Which sounded more meaningful in her head and not like a botched line from As Good as It Gets, remembering now, how Teacher’s silence swelled in the receiver.
The Teachers and Miss Patty at the front desk love Daddy. Because he bakes them cookies. Has the bluest eyes known to man. Can make the charmingest small talk. Smiles at everyone. Every time Mommy does drop-off she hopes Big Girl and Baby will grow up to be like Daddy. That her low self-worth isn’t tattooed on their little souls; that Big Girl will be welcomed everywhere with a smile instead of a trail of uneasy good mornings because like Mommy there are some people who carry with them a blankness that others tip-toe around like a pit trying not to fall in.
Pilates Mom is built like micromachine and is hard for Mommy to read. Every Tuesday morning they meet at the park. Mommy can’t remember how this ritual began but knows neither one of them came up with the idea. Something to do with their gregarious husbands, a text thread, kids around the same age, their house proximity.
Mommy wonders if Pilates Mom takes pride in her mysteriousness, knows she looks French, or worse, she has no idea and is just that cool.
To fill long silences Mommy is inclined to oversharing, notices Pilates Mom gets even quieter when she does, asks less of Mommy when she drops awkward truth bombs about the trials of parenting Big Girl, about her postpartum gushing menstrual flow.
Today, out of sheer frustration, Mommy tries something different, offering no words, just watches some hawks disembowel a rabbit in the meadow, just holds Plum Organic fruit pack up to Baby in the carrier, squeezes out some mashed pears but misses Baby’s mouth, and now smoothie is fucking everywhere.
Deidre, Daughter of Pilates Mom, who wears Boden everything and takes deep breaths to calm herself when she’s overstimulated, stands by the swings and throws pine cones at their bench, laughing. From one of her secret, ergonomic pockets Pilates Mom hands Mommy a wet wipe, belly breathes:
“It makes me so angry,” her voice a whispering brook of calm, “when she doesn’t listen.”
Mommy gets excited.
“I get it. It’s like you want to fucking kill them.”
And Pilates Mom twitches as if her neck has been pierced by a hornet.
“No, not like that at all.”
Mommy: How was your shift?
Video game: [bullets]
Daddy: Tachycardic patient at midnight. Had to catch up on notes—
Mommy: I’m sorry. That must’ve been hard.
Video game: [screaming robot dinosaurs]
Mommy: The squirrels are back on the screened in porch. Must be because of the pear tree.
Daddy: [gets up from couch and checks the monitor] Thought I heard her—
Video game: [humping elves]
Half-eaten pears on the porch.
Daddy: Gonna sleep [kisses on the head, leaves room]
Big Girl is thirsty.
Big Girl wants to be alone.
Big Girl wants kombucha.
Big Girl’s tummy hurts.
Big Girl’s elbow hurts.
Big Girl’s pee-hole hurts.
Encourage child to use anatomical words.
“Where? Your urethra?”
Big Girl wants to go to the hospital to see Daddy.
She’s sure she’s died.
Instead offer medicine.
Give them choices.
Grape, bubblegum, Paw Patrol. Gummy vitamins. Electrolyte popsicles.
Think placebo effect. Think about pushing through. Deep. Breaths. Think about the finish line. Think eight o’clock. But no, Mommy can’t.
“The playroom is a fu—friggin’ mess.”
Mommy goes for the plastic dinosaurs which are her wire hangers, their spiked plates like razor blades on the arches of her feet. The force of Mommy’s anger-cleaning knocks Baby off balance from her couch pull-ups, scares Big Girl.
“Stop throwing things!” Big Girl says.
“I’m not throwing I’m cleaning.”
“I’m not yelling! I’m talking sternly!”
“You’re mad at me.”
Name the feeling.
“I’m not mad. I’m—frustrated.”
Big Girl curls up in the corner of the green couch. Cries.
Get down on their level.
Mommy stomps over to Big Girl, crouches like an animal.
Approach child with empathy.
“You’re scared of Mommy and—that’s okay.”
Let them know they are loved unconditionally.
Through gritted teeth:
“—I love you no matter what.”
“You are mad. You don’t love me. You’re yelling.”
Recalls a post on @tamemommiessquad: 7 Signs You Were Gaslit as a Child
But Mommy doesn’t need to know the signs. She suspects she was, by her stepfather, about practically everything, could have been anything: what an old building used to be but wasn’t, exactly, what he said. How he was, maybe, greeted by a gas station attendant, the words exchanged, twisted to make him seem important, shocked the way a scene of nothing special could be replayed, cut, and spliced like she wasn’t standing right there in line with him, waiting to pay, having heard it all.
Now looking at Big Girl there frozen on the couch while Mommy gathers these damn dinosaurs in the hammock of her stained t-shirt she thinks about how many times she swore she’d never make her child second guess what’s true but is.
Therapist: I want you to think about what you really want.
Mommy: Is it wrong to say I don’t know?
Therapist: I think it’s a good exercise for you to sit with the thought.
Mommy: If I’m being honest, death sounds…wow, like such a break, but I’m afraid I’d miss out on the girls—
Therapist: These are thoughts not plans.
Mommy: No, it’s like, I have too much FOMO to kill myself. I’m not planning anything. Like, I don’t even have the energy to take a shower, you know?
After Big Girl calls Mommy back to her room six times—to talk about her plans for a rainbow wedding, for water in a soft cup, for a poop, a long-sleeved shirt, to strip naked, to talk about air bubbles in her back—Mommy can finally watch her shows. She turns on her favorite, the one where women dress up for dinner and fight. This is the fourth episode where Crystal insinuates that Sutton is a racist but doesn’t outright say it. The women are frustrated.
“Do not assassinate my character,” Sutton warns her across a lavish dinner table.
“Yes. You. Are.”
“You said it.”
“What did I say!”
Mommy looks up Sutton’s panther ring on the internet. It is $70,000. She books a hair appointment for the next day, does mental math about the cost with tip, cancels. Orders more paper towels than they need from Amazon.
“Promise not to do it again,” Sutton demands.
Crystal stammers, “I-I can promise that.”
“You promise what?”
“I promise not to assassinate your character.”
Mommy: Should we—?
Daddy: Wait, you’re not tired?
Mommy: No, I’m so tired.
Daddy: Go back to sleep.
Rolls over. Can’t sleep. Texts best friend from childhood who responds to almost everything with Yay! and her shrugging Memoji. Reads news about war in Ukraine. Reads news about teenagers owning semiautomatic weapons and using them on children. Reads about children dying everywhere. Cries to self. Thinks about her luck, how she is the luckiest.
To have two healthy babies. To not have to worry about feeding her children or about a bomb shattering their windows and killing her or them while she’s boiling bunny-shaped pasta. Feels bottomless guilt for ever complaining, for even daring to be depressed. Tomorrow she’ll start fresh, anew. Fills Amazon cart with leggings, dumbbells, resistance bands, vitamin gummies for fingernails and hair and collagen peptide powder. Empties cart. Scrolls pics of Kim Kardashian and all her sisters and their children. Worries about Scott Disick who has no parents— and now that Kourtney has married Travis Barker—nowhere to go for Thanksgiving. Counts all the models at Scott’s imaginary Friendsgiving. Pictures Kris meeting him at another diner on the outskirts of Calabasas for his birthday. Wonders how much Talentless, his luxury athleisure company, is worth. Thinks she could start her own brand, be her own boss instead of getting another corporate job as a glorified secretary under the direction of another narcissist who, rightly so, thinks she doesn’t give a shit about her job. Checks email. Another one:
Thank you for your interest—we decided to move forward with [not you]—Please feel free—in the future—Best of luck.
Mommy to Big Girl:
“You could at least help me clean up the playroom. You never do.”
@tamemommiesquad: 10 Signs Your Parents Shamed You As a Child
“I want to leave here.”
“Me too! But I can’t!”
Big Girl drops her book on the floor, gives Mommy the longest hug ever recorded.
@tamemommiessquad: 5 Warning Signs You Had to Manage Your Parents’ Emotions as a Kid
FaceTime call from Step-Grandpa.
“Big Girl: You look beautiful this morning! And Baby, not a scratch on that face!”
Big Girl hides her face.
Step-Grandpa,“Oh c’mon, smile for me! You look so pretty when you smile!”
Mommy: “She doesn’t have to smile. She can do what she wants with her face.”
StepGrandpa: “Everything’s better with a smile.”
Explain agency to child.
“Look at me,” takes Big Girl’s chin in hand,
“You don’t ever have to smile if you don’t want to. Same goes for hugging, kissing, and touching. Only you control your body. No one else.”
Big Girl nods, scream-sings Let it Go.
“Shhhh! Daddy’s sleeping. Get your ass off the couch. Dad, I gotta go.”
Thank you for applying for the—position at—we regret to inform—you —don’t—fit— Sincerely.
Mommy registers for virtual @tamemommiessquad seminar.
“How to Be a Cycle-Breaker, Kill Your Inner Perfectionist, and Be the Parent You Wish You Had!”
Makes list of goals to accomplish within the next month:
Lose 20 lbs
No white sugar, ever again, not even a little bit
Start using eye cream
Finally put away laundry
Shower every single day
Learn how to do eyeliner
Buy hoop earrings
Mommy breastfeeds Baby at IKEA by the metal box of twine. A rainbow flickers at her feet. Baby drinks with her eyes shut while Mommy listens to a podcast about women fighting on TV at themed dinners and on tropical vacations. On the most recent episode there had been a police chase. A reality star, indicted for fraud. The FBI had searched her home with machine guns, marched her young sons outside with their hands on their heads.
Mommy tucks away her boob and pushes the rest of Big Girl’s bedroom set in and out of her SUV like the most important game of Jenga and drives away. On the way home she asks her phone which off-highway route is the fastest, taps lightly on the brakes to not disturb the precariously stacked boxes. So one does not slide forward, suddenly, and crush Baby’s skull.
It is eighty degrees in December. Mommy pulls up to the house, adds Frozen bedding to her Amazon cart, selects Overnight Delivery. Big Girl will be so surprised when she returns from grandma’s house. Daddy meets Mommy outside to unload the bed frame, the headboard, the curled ladder of wooden slats. Mommy places Baby’s car-seat on the sidewalk where she gnaws her thumb. Mommy and Daddy talk about going for a walk and decide instead, to catch up on their shows. They carry all the things into the house discussing what more they can do to smoothen Big Girl’s transition from crib to big kid bed. Mommy unclips Baby’s mushy body, places her on the floor. Mommy and Daddy turn on the TV and look at their phones, adding more things to their carts: a waterproof mattress cover, bunny rabbit nightlight, a step-stool painted white. After a few moments, Baby starts to fuss at their feet. They find her on her side under the couch. Mommy scoops her up, holds her to her breast where she drinks deeply, her fist curled into a fleshy rosette, the mound of her glowing blue under the TV.
Baby sleeps soundly through patisserie week and the women fighting over who gets the room with a view in Turks and Caicos. She sleeps through five elimination ceremonies, a mass murdering of debtors, a son overthrowing his media mogul father for control of the company.
When it is Baby’s bedtime Mommy and Daddy zip her into a sack, lay her in a robot crib and gently shut the nursery door. Ten minutes later, Baby wakes up screaming. Frantic, Mommy and Daddy cover the cracks shining through the door frame, brush their fingers down the bridge of her nose like her aunt said to do because it always did the trick with her baby boy. Nothing works. No one sleeps.
Mommy makes appointment for spin class. Cancels it. Eats one hundred thousand peanut butter filled pretzels. Pinches belly fat under weighted blanket.
“I think you’re a liar,” Stassi says to Jax. His hot face is flummoxed even though he knows he is such a liar.
Why is Jax still so goddamn lovable?
In the park, Pilates Mom asks how’s preschool going.
Mommy: She’s adjusting. I wish the school wasn’t so traditional, like the teachers, they tell her it’s not okay to cry, that she needs to be a big girl.
Pilates Mom: Well, what do you expect when they’re so underpaid?
“Well, they barely make minimum wage?” Mommy isn’t sure if
Pilates Mom is:
- Putting her in her place
- An ignorant ho
- All of the above
“You’re right,” says Mommy, squirts strawberry date paste into Baby’s face hole, feeling like an ignorant ho.
Mommy can’t log into @tamemommiessquad virtual seminar. DMs Amanda, @tamemommiessquad account creator. Rereads her message. It’s aggressive, but she doesn’t unsend. Amanda responds quickly, politely, suggests Mommy tries her password again. Mommy closes computer in a huff, relogs into seminar with a different password. It works. Mommy listens to @tamemommiessquad Amanda talk for five minutes in a voice so fucking gentle it makes Mommy want to bend her laptop in half and smash it on the floor until it’s so flat and broken it becomes part of the floor. She wants to bury Amanda under where Baby likes to push her Fisher Price walker, where her sweet disembodied voice will be muffled by the heart of pine, but always there, like the beating heart from that story everyone reads in middle school, reminding her that she is the Queen of dysregulated mothers and not remembering her passwords which are all biggirl123, sometimes with a 4 or a capitalized “B” or an exclamation point.
She closes the computer again and thinks about showering. Checks baby monitor. Eats whole avocado. Eats whole cucumber. Eats whole bag of Target granola.
Therapist: You need to learn to bend.
Therapist: Bend like a pipe-cleaner.
Mommy: A pipe-cleaner?
Therapist: So things won’t feel so hard for you all the time.
Mommy: I feel like I bend.
Therapist: Bend deeper.
Today, Pilates Mom is smiling. She and Daughter have returned from two weeks in Mauritius where they swam in an underground stream, caught and grilled marlin on a secluded beach with powder soft sand, the clearest waters Pilates Mom had ever seen.
Pilates Mom: I just feel so at home there.
Mommy: Sounds like a dream. (smells herself)
Pilates Mom: Have you thought about a vacation?
Mommy: It’s just hard with the kids… his schedule—
Pilates Mom: You could go alone.
Mommy: I could go alone.
Pilates Mom: You totally could.
Mommy thinks it’s time to get outta town! Just the girls while Daddy finishes a string of overnights. Frenzied, Mommy makes various lists:
Ear infection meds.
Zofran for dolphin tour.
Portable blackout curtains.
Surf lessons (for three year old…and baby?)
Mommy’s feeling good. Adds to cart:
toddler bathing-suits with rash guard.
Buys now. Reserves Airbnb on beach four hours away. When they arrive after a car-ride from hell where no one sleeps, Mommy sees the house does not have a bathroom, just an outhouse near the dunes and judging by the rat poop on the kitchen counters, has rats, probably because there are no door sweeps and the bedroom window doesn’t shut.
Mommy doesn’t attempt to hide her rage, calls Randall, the host, a motherfucker in earshot of Big Girl who has emptied a one thousand piece puzzle on the carpet next to baby who is gnawing a corner piece and crying but also laughing because she hasn’t slept and is totally delirious.
Mommy pulls up Sesame Street on the iPad, tells Big Girl to sit. Sets up Pack ‘n’ Play in closet and puts Baby down.
It’s been a while since Mommy and Big Girl have been alone. It used to always be just them before she started preschool. While Daddy worked they’d go on adventures almost every day to feed the goats and bunnies, to the Children’s Museum, the aquarium. One thing Mommy did was keep her active, at least she can say that.
It’s calm now with Baby asleep. Mommy looks at Big Girl whose face is Cookie Monster Blue then Big Bird Yellow. She lifts one of Big Girl’s head phones:
“Wanna sneak out?”
Big Girl smiles:
“Let’s sneak like foxes.”
She puts down the iPad, grabs her sandals, needs Mommy’s help with the straps. Mommy closes the ties over Big Girl’s peanut toes, over her Daddy’s square feet. At sunset, they run to the dunes. They watch some teenagers dig a hole so deep in the sand that seawater pools in the middle. Big Girl runs around the hole so many times she throws up all the Pirate’s Booty she buzzed through in the car. They climb in the hole together, watch translucent crabs burrow and reappear in the grey sand mud until the sun is almost gone and the hole is dark except for the baby monitor’s white light and Big Girl says,
“Look, Mama, the sky is pink!”
Mommy nods, puts her mouth on Big Girl’s head. “Did you make it pink for me?”
And the fact that Big Girl believes she could even do something like that, like changing the sky, makes her throat so tight she coughs, then laughs, can’t stop laughing, actually, just imagining, my God, how wonderful it would be to believe like that again.
Carly Alaimo is a writer from Augusta, GA. She received her MFA in Fiction from Georgia State University. Her work has been published in Split Lip Magazine, Maudlin House, Hobart, Barely South Review, and is forthcoming in The Offing, phoebe and Fractured Literary. She was a finalist in Peatsmoke Journal’s Summer 2023 Fiction Contest and in Fractured Literary‘s OPEN Flash Fiction Contest. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children, and reads for Split Lip Magazine. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @carlyalaimo.
Artwork: “Strutting” by Susan Dashiell