It’s half past dinnertime on a school night and instead of being in the kitchen or seated at the table, you’re at Target. Why? Because you can’t make dinner if you don’t have dinner and it’s your one night of “down” time and you’re putting it to full use in the form of panic shopping–getting in gear for the other 800 kid-and-sports things, all the meetings and calendar-filling T.H.I.N.G.S. that have you booked solid tomorrow and forever, until roughly 2027.
And you’re looking around and you’re tired and you wonder how many days in a row could you eat pizza before gaining some type of internet fame? Better break tradition and go for the Ramen. And then you tell yourself “Good thing.” Good thing these guys are good with turkey sandwiches. Good thing they don’t mind having to make the sandwiches themselves, and good thing they know how to clean up so the kitchen still looks decent.
Because tonight, you are tired-with-a-capital-T, and you’re looking around and everything is pink, heart-shaped, and wrapped in cellophane. Because duh, it’s the pre V-Day candy aisle, where Target keeps exactly nothing that you need but it’s where you happen to be standing when you realize that you’ve been parenting for almost ten whole years and-—
And ten years sounds like forever, a lifetime, when you became a mom at 18. But it also means nothing because you came to motherhood alone and unprepared. Somehow I still did it. I kissed the foreheads, changed the diapers, watched each of the Pixar movies at least a hundred times, and against-all-odds survived. Every. Single. Sleepless. Night.
Ten years done and ten more to go–all I have to do is grab the paper towels, granola bars, and then it’s just the simple matter of keeping them alive. And happy. And whole. And capable and kind and, and now my heart is pounding in my ears and my palms are sweaty as my grip on the shopping cart tightens.
My mouth goes dry and all of a sudden I need to confess: “Last night I accidentally ate all that was left of the chocolate orange you saved from Christmas and now it’s all gone and I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry but it also tasted so good.”
Squinting, through blinked back tears, I think I see it. There, in between the conversation hearts and pink M&Ms is the guilt and the shame I’ve been feeling over the mother I want to be and the one I actually am: divorced and in debt, late on rent, living on food stamps, a Sportsball Mom wannabe whose sideline vocabulary consists of three words only and two of those words mean the exact same thing.
I breathe. Nathan stares blankly. He’s 8 years old with sandy blonde hair and a cherub face. “It’s okay,” he tells me before he pats my cheek in a way that is sweet and also kind of condescending. “You must have needed that chocolate.”
Oh, my heart! I’m 28, exhausted and imperfect, but I know what love is and I found it in the Valentine’s candy aisle at the North Saint Paul Target. He’s smart, he’s kind, and, best of all, he’s mine. That’s when I realize–the kids are okay. I’m doing okay, and we are going to be okay.
Only he isn’t done. “Mom, they’re what? Three bucks? I’m good if you just give me the money.”
Big Brother Jason takes the cue and exhales loudly, just in case he’s been forgotten. “Sorry, but I get annoyed when I’m hungry. And I’m hungry.”
Of course he is. Because it’s half past dinnertime and we’re still at Target.