Last Mother’s Day began in the usual way with my sweet ones letting me sleep in. And by “sleep in,” I mean two hours of clanging, sloshing, dish-breaking, arguing and repeated awakenings by one or the other of my good-intentioned spawn wishing to inform me of a) imminent explosion by spray oil (my nine year old son wanted to use the gas stove for the first time), b) my six year old’s improper “squelching” of mangos, c) my son not sharing his very sharp Nicaraguan dagger to cut peaches (!!!!), d) my son lazing while my daughter did “all the work” squelching mangos, e) a blender-yogurt mishap involving those nice towels from the pantry, but I shouldn’t worry because our puppy licked most of the “slime” off the cabinets.
Despite said interruptions, I doubled down on my vow to shirk all responsibility and somehow dozed off. I was awoken some time later to all manner of foods tottering in heart-formation atop my bed and to the gooey and beaming faces of my kids.
I lifted onto an elbow to survey this year’s assortment, careful not to knock anything over (a mistake I’d like to say I hadn’t made before). On plates, and in glasses and jars that had been scrounged from the far reaches of my cabinets like resurrected ghosts of dishware past, and perched atop my very new, very white duvet with the schematics of New York City, were an assortment of…were those normal looking foods? Like baked-in-the-oven cinnamon rolls, replete with icing, on a gooey plate beside my leg? A fruit smoothie? Pale pink yogurt with squished and bleeding strawberries? Sure, there was dry cereal flakes drizzled with, um, syrup. But, baked-in-the-oven cinnamon rolls!!! Normalish strawberries! To understand my puzzlement, you must know that past Mother’s Day breakfasts-in-bed have included such delights as “Dippers”––dry toast torn into strip-like shapes! Fruit salad with uncooked broccoli!!! Pineapples with almond extract and dashed with cayenne pepper because, you know, Mama likes spicy!!!!
“This is ridiculously great,” I said while they beamed.
“Rolls first, Mama,” said my six-year old, blond curls crusted with something. Dried mango? She squeezed beside me. The smoothie did one of those slow-mo plunges. I dove for its rescue, failed and watched it ooze onto my duvet.
The smoothie had a thick consistency that puddled over a portion of Brooklyn in the fabric.
“It’s fine!” my son said with a nod. He handed me a roll of paper towels. He and my daughter peeled off sheets and smeared the mango around and around until Brooklyn was a pale yellow.
“Rhmm. You were prepared,” I said.
My son smiled. “Remember last year when we spilled the coffee? It was, like, everywhere. Now, Mama, eat!” He gestured towards a still-warm cinnamon roll.
I bit in while my kids watched and nodded. Nothing crunchy. Nothing stashed inside. My kids watched every single bite.
“Super good!” I said. And it wasn’t lie. It was pretty freaking good.
“Now the smoothie,” my son said. He climbed onto the bed on the other side of me and gulped his smoothie, then rested his head on my shoulder. “I feel weird.”
The mango smoothie had an odd slimy texture that required a good deal of chewing. And did I mention that the maple syrup made the cereal flakes take on a soggy, gummy texture? And that my kids insisted I finish the entire bowl of yogurt, plus two giant cinnamon rolls, plus the smoothie, plus the cereal syrup? I felt weird too.
While I ate, my son lay down beside me. He read me a poem he’d written about why he loves me. It involved light sabers and a red-haired warrior woman who looked sort of like me, if I was made of Legos. My daughter showed off the rainbow she’d drawn, and the card she’d made and I tried to fight the tears pooling in the ducts of my eyes. How beautiful they are, my kids. How perfect. My life has been hard these last few years, harder than any I’ve known or hope to know again: betrayal, divorce, the sudden murder of an estranged brother, the cancer battle of a loved one, single parenthood, a repulsive stalker with prerequisite face and knuckle tattoos, the struggle to make things happen for my little family despite a work force not receptive to gaps from motherhood, the unfair judgments of people, all of which I had to learn to slide off me like a translucent casing of shed skin.
Yet, here they were, my little ones, offering so much brightness in the dark places of me. My son cuddled his head against my shoulder. I kissed my daughter’s warm cheek. I stroked my son’s hair, felt him shudder. Then he vomited. All over my lap. All over the duvet.
I didn’t even mind the puke in my lap or the smell of bile, cinnamon and maple syrup. The kid was feverish. Somehow, he had risen with his sister, cooked an elaborate feast for me, walked the dog, and assembled my meal in heart-formation, all while staving some flu bug.
“Uh, Mama,” my daughter said. “Gross.”
I grabbed the paper towels and tried to blot the chunks. Failing, I rolled the duvet up –– vomit, mango and all––and piled it by the door. “You guys,” I whispered.
Then my son let one rip: a big, stinky, “Bbbbbbrrrrrppppp.”
After showers and re-dressings, we made our way downstairs. My son wrapped himself in blankets and let me wedge him into the couch with a book and a puke bowl, while I rifled through the medicine cabinet. I tried to avert my eyes from the mango/icing/yogurt dripping down my counters and puddling along the floor, and the piles of mango peels and cracked eggshells (eggs mysteriously absent from breakfast) beside the blender.
I sent my daughter to gather carrots and kale, then go out to feed her bunny.
“You okay, kid?” I called to my son, while I weighed the pros and cons of an expired bottle of Pepto.
“Yeah,” he mumbled.
Then a scream.
I dropped the Pepto and ran outside. It was a cool morning. The sun shrouded by curls of dark clouds. My daughter sat on the rocks beside her bunny cage. She held her head in hands. Half moon fingernails full of dirt. Sobs convulsed her small frame.
Behind her was the bunny house. A dilapidated wooden structure that had been home to a failed backyard chicken experiment, then to Cutie “Fuzzy Cheeks” BunBun, a black Dwarf Netherland, and her first furry love. He was pinned beneath the small wooden box he liked to hide beneath, neck broken. I don’t know how long he’d been dead. An hour. A day. I don’t know how the box had fallen on his neck in the first place, or if he’d suffered. I covered him with a towel and tried not to cry.
“Why is he dead, Mama?”
“I don’t know. These things happen sometimes.”
My daughter climbed into my lap. She pushed her wet face into my neck, same as she had done when she was a toddler. She curled my hair into her fist.
“But I love him,” she whispered.
“Me, too, baby. He was so very loved.”
I thought of how she had squealed when first she saw him, so long ago now, a gift for her fourth birthday, all black fluff and white-rimmed almond eyes. Even full-grown he had been no bigger than a kitten. The criss-crossing of his ears had come to mean, “I love you,” in bunny-speak, according to my daughter. She would hold him in her lap and laugh when he’d tickled her face with his whiskers. She would cover him with blankets when it got cold, and when it didn’t. And during each of his many escapes she would cry and tell me that she could never love another bunny the way that she loved her bunny.
And so, I found myself on Mother’s Day digging a hole in my backyard to place his small body. It was task I would rather have forgone, but the precedent had been set two years before with the death of our beloved cat. My daughter argued that she needed to always be able to visit her BunBun, that she needed him here with her. How could I turn down this child who, just this morning, had curled dough with small, tired hands into cinnamon rolls, who’d cracked eggs and squelched smoothies and drawn me rainbows of her love?
I cried as I laid our bunny’s stiff body down in the hole I’d dug. I found myself thinking how much of life is this tenuous balance of joy and pain. It is loss that reminds us what we treasure. It is pain that lends joy meaning. And it is love that makes loss bearable. This skin we occupy is so temporary. How fortunate we are to be loved and to love.
Hosanna Patience is a writer, editor, and teacher. She is a graduate of The New School’s MFA program, a recipient of the AWP Writers’ Conferences & Centers scholarship for an emerging fiction writer, and the Pearl Sperling Evans Prize for most promise in fiction. She was a nominee for inclusion in Best New American Voices 2008. She lives in Northern California with two kids, a new bunny, a Siamese cat, and a rotund Corgi. She is currently completing her first novel, Fillmore. https://outschool.com/teachers/Hosanna