courtesy of Jacqueline Guidry
Transitional labor is intense, contractions hard and fast, one toppling over another. This
physical pain is surely, I think, the most difficult part of being a mother.
Push...push...push...and I have a daughter: Alison with tiny hands, pearl-perfect fingernails,
brown eyes open even as she is being born.
Michael and I bring her home where her version of a normal infancy lasts about a week before
she develops colic and a sleep pattern defying all the babycare books we had diligently memorized.
She cries nearly constantly. When she isn’t crying, she’s usually awake, oblivious
to her parents’ need for sleep.
Two o’clock in the morning of an unknown day. A black and white movie flickers on
television. My daughter’s eyes close. I cautiously stand, ready to place her in the
crib, myself in bed. Her eyes open, then her mouth, but a wail doesn’t follow.
Instead, she watches, curious about what I’ll do next. I settle back into the rocking
chair, pull out a baby book and read her paragraphs describing a newborn’s typical
pattern, hours and hours of blissful sleep interspersed with minutes of wakefulness. “Hear
that?” I ask. “Get it?”
Alison stares at a Mexican wall hanging, neither interested nor impressed by anything Dr.
Spock and his colleagues might have to say.
It is week after week of sleep deprivation. Had I once been clear-headed, articulate? This
total exhaustion is surely, I think, the most difficult part of being a mother.
Alison outgrows colic, learns to walk, deigns to learn only a few words, having found grunting
and pointing to be satisfactory modes of communication.
One late afternoon, I am preparing dinner while Michael sees to one of the endless tasks
the house demands. Both the front and back doors stand open to invite a breeze. When my kitchen
work is done, I step into the dining room. “Where’s Alison?”
“I thought she was with you.”
We both stare at the open front door. I run through the house calling, “Alison, Alison!”
I check the bedrooms and bath upstairs while my husband hits the attic and basement. Nothing.
We bolt out the door, me to the left, him to the right. I run up the side street, frantically
calling her name. No response.
“Have you seen a little girl? Blue shirt with ducks.” Is that what she was wearing?
I can’t remember. “Red barrette?” Or maybe blue or yellow or green. “Brown
The man shakes his head, but seems to feel sorry for me.
“She doesn’t talk much. Mainly points and grunts.” I reach out a hand
as if to demonstrate.
He takes a step back. He has not seen her and wants to be left alone.
She’s been kidnapped, run over by a truck, mauled by a rabid dog. I have been derelict
in my duty, have not kept her safe.
“I found her!” my husband calls to me from the corner.
She is curled up on a pile of clean laundry I’d tossed on the bed in the spare room.
In my panicked flight through the house, I’d missed her, camouflaged as she was by
the bright colors and patterns of a toddler’s wardrobe. This realization of how easily
I could fail my child is surely, I think, the most difficult part of being a mother.
Alison is invited to an overnight party for a friend’s sixth birthday. She chooses
the nightgown she’ll wear, the stuffed animals she’ll take along. Then the friend
reneges, her mother having decided four girls are too many, the friend having decided Alison
was the expendable one.
Alison cries while I brood, consider calling the mother, begging an invitation or, if that
fails, screaming about the insensitivity of herself, her daughter, their entire family—immediate
and extended—pets too.
I take Alison for ice cream, read her favorite book seven times without complaint. But my
bribes do not coax disappointment from her face. Watching that face, etched with sadness
I am powerless to erase, is surely, I think, the most difficult part of being a mother.
Struggle to Keep Quiet
Now she is eight, a biking pro allowed to ride around two blocks alone. I sit on the steps
near the curb, watching her younger sister, Anne, pedal back and forth on the sidewalk, and
waiting for Alison to reappear. She brakes in front of me. “Those boys make me mad.”
She points to an apartment building a block away. “Every time I pass, they say, ‘There
goes your girlfriend, Mac.’” She screws up her face, having reached the age when
boys are more an object of ridicule than romance. “Other mean things.”
But that is not the part she wants to share. She recounts how she told them, “Your
mothers must not know what they’re doing because they’re sure raising rude boys.” One
arm akimbo, long braids jiggling, she waggles a finger at her imaginary foes. “Your
mamas must be ashamed of you.”
“What did those boys say then?”
“They laughed. They’re boys,” she says as if that explains all.
“How many were there?”
“Four or five.”
“How old?” I try to keep my voice low and calm, not easy for a woman who sees
danger under every leaf.
“Teenagers.” She throws a leg over the bike. “I told them, right, Mama?” She
is proud, pleased.
“You sure told them,” I say.
“I’m going around one more time.”
“Again?” is the only word I allow myself when what I want to say is: Stay
here, stay safe with me. But what would that tell her about her ability to keep herself
safe? Keeping quiet is surely, I think, the most difficult part of being a mother.
Life's Difficulties, Injustices
In fifth grade, she is kept indoors for recess, reprimanded along with the rest of her class
for some misdeed. But, she protests, she and Angela were in the hall when the trespass occurred.
Why should they receive the burden of punishment when they did not enjoy the sin of misbehavior?
Where was the justice in that? Trying to explain the world’s injustices to a 10-year-old
is surely, I think, the most difficult part of being a mother.
Soon comes middle school, then high school with the complications of adolescence, the pulling
away followed by the drawing closer, all of it going too quickly, our lives hurtling toward
She struggles, emotionally, physically and intellectually, as she labors toward adulthood.
Standing available but unable to help her bypass adolescent angst is surely, I think, the
most difficult part of being a mother.
to Let Go
Senior year brings college applications, acceptances, the need to choose. Reaching a decision
is difficult, but not impossible.
Here is what seems impossible: Emptying dear Alison’s bedroom. Seeing her walls bare.
Walking on uncluttered carpet shining brightly from years of protection afforded by clothes
strewn across the floor. Packing possessions, driving to New Haven, leaving her while we
return to Kansas City, half a continent away.
How can I be sure I have taught her all the lessons she will need for a full, happy life?
I needed more time, did not realize the days would speed by so swiftly. Surely, there are
instructions I have not given: Never mix your whites with your darks, no matter how desperate
you are for clean underwear. Know your mother and father and sister will always love and
treasure you. Eat your vegetables—even broccoli. Remember the earth is populated mostly
with good and kind people who want to do the right thing. Check your oil regularly and the
air pressure in your tires. Open yourself to the whole world and let your star shine brightly
across the universe. Get enough sleep. Strive for a balanced life—family and friends
who love you, work that challenges and inspires you, play that renews you.
I have loved you as best I could, taught you what I knew. Now I can only hope you have learned,
will learn from others what I could not teach.
Saying good-bye. That is the most difficult part of being a mother.
Jacqueline Guidry is a freelance author from Kansas City, Missouri. She has had numerous
articles published in various publications, including St. Anthony Messenger. Her novel The
Year the Colored Sisters Came to Town (published by Welcome Rain, now in paperback) received
the Thorpe Menn Award for literary excellence from the American Association of University