Thoughts on Motherhood: Runaway

Written by Mommy Mailbox contributing author Mallory Hanna


This summer my six-year-old daughter stepped on a baby. She must have thought the pink patterned blanket was a stray towel in the grass because she ran right through the circle of chatting mothers, stepped on the baby and didn't even know it. An anxious silence followed and then the baby wailed.  In a wave of disappointment I muttered her name and watched the gravity of that baby's wail seep into her heart and spread across her face, the same round fair face that cried through Cinderella, and whenever her little sister is sick, and when she learned the truth about hot dogs, who fosters the fragilest of hearts branded by an empathy unyieldingly pure and pliable.

When she saw the circle of shocked faces and realized what she had done she sobbed and fled full speed through the shaded pavilion, beneath the trees and into the neighbor's yard and as she neared the street I yelled her name with a fierceness that stopped her in her tracks.

The running haunts me; for it is not the first time she has fled from feelings seemingly to heavy to bear. Sometimes at night all I can see are her pigtails swaying as she grows smaller in the distance, her sobs echoing behind her. It stimulates the aching vulnerability embedded within her first breath in a small hospital room at summer's end; it has followed me through every fever and every nightmare, hovered above me for seven hours on her first day of kindergarten and haunts me while I sleep. And though there are a million times I've felt helpless and frightened and paralyzed this was the first time I felt torn between my daughter's fragility and the well being of another child. I felt my daughter's guilt like it was my own. And if that child were seriously hurt or worse; how could I console her? How could we face the family who lost a child because of mine? And how could I possibly ease the throbbing guilt that pushes my daughter to run?

After I yelled her name she shuffled back tear-stained and trembling. Explanations escaped in muddled sentences and I held her close for coming back. I told her I knew her heart, that I'd known it for six years and even before and let's go check on the baby. She found the baby in her mother's arms, having just nursed, and the tears returned as she wept an apology. The baby's mother looked her straight in the eyes and said, “I know it was an accident, I'm not mad at you, it's ok, I know, I know.” What I knew of grace and heroism was sitting in the shade of an oak tree, holding her baby and caring for mine, giving her permission to breathe; a goodness radiant and medicinal for all in its wake. Afterward my daughter carefully placed one hand at the baby's feet and one on her head and she kissed the baby's cheek.  She stepped away red-faced and puffy, a heaviness giving way, lightness accumulating, a baby cradled by her mother, a sprinkler sparkling in the grass, a bowl full of watermelon waiting at the picnic table.    



A Pantheon Of Mothers

Written by Mommy Mailbox contributing author Mallory Hanna

thoughts on motherhood

After the birth of my second daughter I started a slow but earnest search for mothers. I wanted to read their accounts in literature, I wanted to see their perspiration in a painting, I wanted to study thick-legged women cradling their babies in statues of marble. I took 6 humanities classes in college and not once did I see some ancient homage to motherhood, or read an epic poem about the phases of childbirth. I was a young mother with two daughters and still felt like I was reeling from the whole undertaking. My identity had transformed and it felt revelatory, destined even, but my brain was fuzzy, my definitions now hazy, my heart, with all its stretching and scarring, was on fire. Where were the mothers describing this muddle of emotion and weight? So often I'd found repose in words and pictures and suddenly it felt as though an entire canon of mothers was missing.  

There's not much written about the tunnel vision of early motherhood, you won't find famous labor stories in the history books, mostly because those experiencing it have little capacity to think beyond their duties. The time I spent with mothers was always fleeting, filled with unfinished sentences, interrupted thoughts, the untimely cry of a toddler tripping on the stairs. But I clung to those moments like a gift, clung to other women's wisdom and experience to help define my own. I saw women translated somehow. I had been surrounded by them my entire life and never knew the depths of their existence. Years earlier I was speechless the night my boss miscarried; six months pregnant and then nothing but an ache in her belly. I see her ashen-face and swollen eyes and me in her path with no words, trying to conjure the smallest understanding of her loss.  I watched a teenager hand her baby over for adoption, she sobbed against the shirt of her mother, her hands squeezing the fabric into worn, wet, wrinkles. I thought of my neighbors still changing diapers in their seventies, carrying their daughter like a baby from her wheelchair to bed, singing Blue Moon in her ear and kissing her cheeks.  Acquaintances became heroes, aunts became saints. I forgave my mother everything. I started seeing mothers everywhere. I saw them crying in the hallway after sending their last child to Kindergarten. I saw them humiliated in the grocery store. And when my daughter threw up all over me in a waiting room, they were there handing me wipes. I have seen great courage in checkout lines, on airplanes, in public swimming pools, at birthday parties. I've seen women lose themselves only to rise again new beings with unparalleled resilience and generous hearts. I've seen women boldly  declare “mother” before profession and nationality.

These became my stories, my statues, my epic poems, written in the faces of women and mothers, and grandmothers, aunts, and sisters, with goldfish flooding their purses and spit up on their blouses; the first to offer a diaper, a blanket, the extra peanut butter sandwich they packed just in case someone forgot.