Big Hat Mama

Perhaps another mother, pulls out a storage box of her child’s preschool art and looks with affection at the figure-paint swirls, the hand-shaped turkey, and the foot shaped chick, the stick-figure drawings (obviously an aide helped guide his hand on that one) and tissue-paper leaf collage, and the last-remaining kidney bean or pasta shell glued to construction paper, and reminisces about the years that have flown by. But I see no difference between the art my son made in kindergarten and that which he makes now, at 10, much like there is little difference in him, his abilities.

Except that’s not true–at least back then, he made a novice’s noble effort at the figure-paint swirls, the hand-shaped turkey, and the foot-shaped chick, the stick-figure and tissue-paper leaf collage, and the last-remaining kidney bean or pasta shell glued to construction paper. Then, art was new, and not just one more thing that is hard to do. Some might say he regressed; I think he’s bored of his own limits, like I’m so often bored by them too. Now I’m lucky to get a markered line from top to bottom of a blank notesheet pad.

Though I do have a scribble drawing hung on my refrigerator, like any other mother would do. White paper with indecipherable swirls, a free-form Spyrograph. On it, my son’s teacher translated the circles. I would have never been able to tell, but she drew arrows, labeled them: Big. Hat. Mama. She says he told her what he had drawn, and who am I to argue. Though I know my son, and I know, sometimes, the words he says are not the words that are in his head. But it’s the only portrait I have from his hand, so I hung it up because it means that he was thinking of me when he was away, at school, making art, no matter his level. And maybe nothing else matters to me or to any other mother.

I am a Woman

If I were a man, maybe I’d be the kind of man who hits women, who snaps and shakes a baby, who drags his child by the arm across a parking lot. If I were a man, maybe I would have left my son by now. Dead-beat dad. No ties to bind. No evidence to cover up. No silvery stretched skin bearing the proof. Maybe I’d be the kind of man who leaves because staying means feeling, and feeling means staying.

My emotions come on too fast and strong. They gather in my chest like an itch. I feel a pillow over my face. A cover over my coffin. I feel the tingle of adrenaline in my hands and fingertips. I feel a punch in my fists. I want to lash out, just to slow everything down, quiet it all, perhaps shock myself into silence. I feel an urge in my thighs to stretch, expand, put miles between me and what I might have done if I’d stayed.

My love for Noah is combustible. Powder and strike. The intensity of my love threatens to stoke my gasoline-soaked heart into wild flames, and I want to beat it to the punch, fight and flight. But it’s no good. I am a woman. And I am his mother. Presence or absence could land the final blow, scrape against flint, phosphorus and sulfur smoke. I have no choice but to wrap my arms tightly around him, prevent the distance that allows for a leak of oxygen to snake in and fan my fears, and, against my better judgment, I stay.


Last fall, I visited a friend and we went to meet her lover. We found the woman squatting over her sidewalk like a clam, using her fingers like pincers to pull tiny weeds from between the slabs of concrete. She looked up with red, wet eyes as we approached, and she swiped at tears with a bent wrist, keeping her dirt-blackened fingers away from her damp and florid face.

“I miss my father,” she said to my friend, and since I didn’t know her, I pretended not to hear. During the visit, I pieced together that this day was an anniversary of his death, and that her father had died many more years ago than mine.

I have never been overcome by tears in the middle of the day while thinking about my father. In fact, I’ve never been overcome by tears at any time when thinking about my father since his death. Then and now I wonder what is wrong with me. I loved him. I had love for him.

My journal entry on the date of his death was this:

My father died.

I can’t be certain that I wrote down my weight early that morning and then learned of my father’s death later in the day. I can’t be certain I didn’t note that my father had died, and then sometime later that day, got onto the scale, and then entered the numbers at the top of the page like I did every day. I can’t be certain I wasn’t, as I always am, still thinking about my body’s weight, even under the weight of knowing, knowing my father was dead. I can’t be certain I didn’t grab a fold of skin and wish I could just trim it off like I might my bangs, or the fat off a roast. I can’t be certain that I didn’t just carry on after he was gone.

Last week I dreamed my father was a homeless man, strumming a guitar on the I-94 freeway leading out of Milwaukee, and I was afraid he would be killed.

Of course it was a dream because my father was dead, died of a bleeding colon. We donated his eyes to science. And he never lived in Milwaukee, nor did he ever play guitar, but I have spent the last six days since the dream wanting to rush out of my life and go looking for him, like a lost dog, like a missing limb.