“Are they all yours?” she asked, stopping to turn back and squint at us in the midday sun. Her graying hair was in a uniform halo of curls, peeking out from under a wide visor. A colorful tank top, elastic waist shorts, and blindingly white sneakers completed her look, perfect for an invigorating power walk through the neighborhood and past the lake where we had stopped. The sun wasn’t hot, the breeze was warm, and there were quite a few other people walking and enjoying Mother’s Day outside together. She was alone on her walk, holding up no one as she came a little closer to our small tribe on the path.
I was caught off guard, not being asked if they’re mine all that often, and mumbled out a quick yes. Clearly that was all the invitation needed and she fully turned to the kids as I finished putting my things on the front seat of the car.
“Oh, they’re just gorgeous. Look at them! Oh! Two redheads! Two girls and two boys! Oh! I was watching you all as they walked up the hill there and they are just so wonderful, so sweet how they were helping each other and holding hands and this big girl here with the baby! It was just so nice watching them all! And you, Mama, you’re doing alright, you’re raising them just right! It’s hard but you’re doing great!”
We all stood, half stopped from getting in the car, and listened. The girls smiled politely and glanced at me out of the corner of their eyes. I managed to get out a few nods of my head as she spoke, while wrestling Tater from reaching down to dig in the gravel of the parking spot. I wondered if she could see right through me, flinching over her last two affirmations. No. No, I’m not doing alright. I’m not doing great. I’m doing a terrible job and I’m failing them and holy hell yes, this is hard, but no.
No. I’m not.
“Now, you kids be sweet to your mama and make today real special for her! Show her lots of love and keep being so wonderful to each other! And Mama, you have a wonderful Mother’s Day! These are the best times and you have such a sweet little family. Oh! Cherish this time! So wonderful! You’re doing so great! Happy Mother’s Day!”
And with that, she was off. A quick turn and she power walked her way out of sight while we slowly loaded into the car . . .
***** earlier *****
“Hey! Guys! We’re all dressed up and the camera is in the car and it’s Mother’s Day. We’re going to stop and take a nice picture on the way home from church here now. Okay?”
*groaning, from three corners of the car*
“It’s MOTHER’S DAY. We’re TAKING A PICTURE.”
*slightly less groaning from three corners of the car*
We had lost nearly an entire week to being sick, one after another. Slowly, each of us was beginning to feel human again, and slowly, the house was beginning to not look like a site in need of a hazmat crew. Miraculously, we had left the house fed and properly dressed and made it in time for Sunday school. That small feat was the threshold back into regular life, and it just so happened to fall on Mother’s Day. Unfortunately, Mother’s Day this year meant the exact same thing as every other day, only now as I cleaned up ridiculous messes (entire box of spilled cereal tracked through the house) and broke up fights (over which radio station to listen to) I could mutter under my breath about how it was Mother’s Day, dammit. Which was only slightly helpful to the situations.
On our way home I held steady in my quest for a picture. Just one thing, JUST ONE THING, that my children could sacrifice and suffer and make their mother happy for. We pulled up to my favorite quick picture spot and started to climb out of the car. As I looked around, I saw that most of the background would now be filled with heavy machinery and dirt piles. Lovely.
Grumbling, we all buckled back in the car and went in search of a second spot. Nearly home, I pulled off the road near a lake in our neighborhood and crossed my fingers. Tater fell and scuffed his hands while walking down the hill and ZZ threw one long, committed tantrum over not being permitted to run headlong into the lake after the geese. Slowly we trouped to the first passable spot and they stood in a bedraggled mob as I set up the camera. Despite my worries about the sun being too bright or the setting not being pretty enough, I loved the test shots I took. This was going to be wonderful, getting a nice picture of all of us!
Over and over again I connected my fancy pants camera to my fancy pants phone and dashed back to where the kids stood to use the corresponding app to take the picture. Over and over again, just as I got everyone to face the camera and get ready, the signal would disconnect. No matter how far away I stood, how slowly or quickly I walked, or how many times I cursed at the whole contraption while facing away from the kids, It. Would. Not. Work.
We tried the timer a handful of times, always with me missing the shot to catch ZZ as he flailed wildly, wanting to run with me instead of be restrained on that horrible patch of path. I scrolled back through the pictures that had been taken as the girls begged to just go home and Tater found a muddy stick. I was in one. Half turned sideways, arms blurry from moving and mouth wide from talking. I snapped at the kids to just come on. To forget it and forget I even wanted anything. They trailed behind me up the hill as I stalked angrily to the car, deep in a mental temper tantrum, clenching the tripod tightly as I screamed inside about nothing ever going right, about something always having to be wrong, every time, every thing, some thing, wrong.
I yanked the car door open and roughly threw the tripod on the seat, turned around to get the kids, and heard a woman’s voice . . .