Bring Down the Little Birds

On Mothering, Art, Work, and Everything Else
Carmen Giménez Smith

I daydream I'm thirteen sitting in an attic in my mother's wedding dress when I discover a notebook and in it the evidence of my mother's secret life. I write notes from her book into mine, which is, years later, discovered by my son.

From my mother's imaginary notebook: sketch of dancer, sketch of cabaret singer. I engage in gluttony and wild behavior.

I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet.

From my notebook: A secret is a curse. I was picked from the throngs with nothing to show.

I wonder if my children will know I have a secret life. Will they read the notebooks in my study? Will they care?

Because I cared little for my mother's interior, it didn't exist. My mother couldn't be a mystery; I required too much of her. She was only a mystery when I needed one for the story I made of my life.

From her notebook, the one I've imagined. I would have liked to have been a dancer. I would have liked to have been a singer. So many verbs away from herself. I would have liked to have known her better, but I was too occupied pulling her out of herself. Now the tables are turned. It's a brand new table. From mine: The bud of a baby inside me.

My mother says that motherhood is never using the bathroom alone again.

Two weeks ago she had tests that revealed the beginning of an explanation about how her memory is leaking out of her, the weakness in her hands.

In her big empty house in California, she holds her hands up to the light to see how living has deformed her. She had always been young and then, quite suddenly, she became old. Aging motherhoods you. She hates her job selling vacuum cleaners six days a week and commuting three hours a day. Ah, she says to herself, but that's the way it is.

Mother: matter, wood, the source.

The word mother, where it came from. How the word mama exists in many languages. Or is it all languages? Mother, roots that fix me to the earth. Umbilical tethers. Matrices, which evokes cicatriz, Spanish for scar. Motherhood = scar. The stretch marks on the skin over my hips, the cradle they make. Matrices like the pith of an orange, ragged and juicy.

Saying the word mother and feeling mealy-mouthed because it's derogatory.

I watch my son's gestures and wonder what part he's acting out: my husband's or mine. Our children as lineage.

The percentages.

I walk out of the English Department office like my mother: hurried, distracted, glasses half-falling off.

In the morning, I said goodbye to my son so hastily. Regret takes over in the car. Just the day before I so wished to have a day away from him.

Children have everything of someone else's and the chore that is for the rest of their lives.

I live in the desert, a house nestled low in a New Mexican valley. I walk the dog early, like all my neighbors and look at the faces of my neighbors for their mothers' proficiencies in their faces. Some of them mothers themselves, some someday mothers, some disdaining motherhood, now and some for good.

I feel not noticed, invisible cloak of mother. I want the sexual gaze but the small lump of this second pregnancy precludes it.

To have a son, to have a daughter. Two different roads. If I have a daughter, then she joins me for good. If I have a daughter I will never say I am fat. I will tell her I had lots of good healthy sex when I was old enough and in love. It doesn't matter with a son. He's not watching me in this way. Or he is and in this way, I ruin him a little.

The lives of my students and their mothers' parts in them. Parties and lazily reading magazines in their lovers' beds. They know what's fashionable these days, jeans that expose unrazed bellies. Complicated sweaters that would belie breastfeeding.

What do their mothers know of their lives?

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