There will be no macaroni necklaces this year.
No misshapen cats made of clay, affixed to a cardboard backing: “You’re Purrfect, Mom” scrawled in crayoned lumbering letters. And there are no more tea parties in the pre-school classroom, your big rear end stuffed in a little plastic chair.
The teenager will remember (but only after she has rolled out of bed at 10:15) and mark the day with a kiss on your forehead, for she is taller, more self-aware, than you will ever be. The 11 year old will make breakfast and a gigantic mess, his face alight with pride as he carries up the burned toast, the glass of juice and an unwashed apple. His eyes are shining and his big toothed smile is a gift itself, really — -a bright, fantastic gift that you grew, impossibly, with your own body.
You will dress all the children yourself, fight with your teenager over her outfit, tell your husband to put on a tie. You will not have time for a shower, but rather fold your unwashed hair into a low ponytail and stuff yourself into a dress.
There will be brunch.
Your own mother sits at the head of the table and when the hostess comes around, beaming with pink carnations asking “Where are the moms here?” it will take you a moment to identify yourself as one.
Me? In the presence of your mother, this acknowledgment of your place will feel false, lacking. You wonder how many other mothers, sitting beside the woman who raised them and their own children, feel like an imposter at the grown-ups table.
You will cut pancakes, sop up milk spills, all the time whispering: “Eat something, stop fighting, where’s your shoe?” They will stop terrorizing each other long enough to give you great big hugs, tightly grasping your neck, touching your cheeks with syrupy hands.
You are so pretty, mama. You are my best mama.
She’s your only mama, stupid.
Don’t call your brother ‘stupid.’
You will kiss your mother goodbye. You will see her happiness and her pride and feel glad.
You will leave brunch tired and joyful, overtouched and underappreciated, hungry and all full up on togetherness.
At home your husband pushes you upstairs and you will take the longest, hottest shower of your adult life. No one will knock at the door, there will be no sound of the catastrophes brewing on the other side.
You will look down at your body, your sagging, hollowed, hallowed skin. You will slowly scrub at your feet, your thick thighs, your belly. You will feel the seeds of self-hatred growing, the first sparking words of disgust: This is not what I imagined at all.
Your husband knocks on the door. We have something for you downstairs when you’re finished, there’s no hurry, he says.
You rinse off and step out, wrap the towel tight around your middle. You look at yourself in the mirror.
You try to say nice words to your body.
I grew someone, who is growing up to be someone wonderful.
My shoulders, my back, my hips are so strong.
I’m beautiful, I’m beautiful.
Look at my strength, I’m beautiful.
Macaroni necklaces are stacked in boxes, in your closet and at your mother’s house, too. Teenagers wait downstairs, holding a scarf they bought with baby-sitting money. Little boys pencil their names proudly in the card they picked out just for you.
Your mother pulls out a photo album alone in the living room of your childhood and cries over the magic of what was once and what wonder you’ve become.
You are the child of all the mothers that came before and the mother of all the children left to be grown. You are square in the middle of mothering, and it is a space of welcoming relief, of alternating confidence and fear, of radical acceptance. Patience. Peace. You know things.
This is where the love grows wild, where the years are long and the days are short. You’ve finally found your legs, your stride, your voice. You’ve done so much, but there’s so much left to be done.
It’s good, though, right now, right here in the middle.
In the middle, mama, it’s a very good day.