24 March, 2006

Two Mothers

Why do I do this to myself? She fell back powerless against the seat while the little boy pressed his nose against the window saturated with greasy fingerprints. She closed her eyes - I don’t want to see it. If I see it I’ll have to tell him the glass is full of bacteria and that it could make him sick. I have no more energy for that. He doesn’t listen to me anyway. When did I actually give up? She felt a light kick and opened the eyes. Oh well, at least he took off the shoes before climbing onto the seat. All those lectures from last week, the week before, and the week before that did have some affect, left behind some kind of trace in that small, unimpressionable head.

I envy you! - she wanted to call to the mother with the lively child who sat in the seat across from her, but she said it only to herself. It was a joy to watch the curiosity with which the boy explored his surroundings, and even if he wasn’t traveling the first time with the subway, it was the first time in this wagon, on this seat, with these people. That was worth exploring up close… Bump! The boy jumped from the seat and fell into her lap, the hand of the mother immediately intercepting and pulling him back, while chiding the boy and apologizing to the woman.

I can’t look people in the eye anymore without seeing their accusations crashing in on me: “What a wild, misbehaved child!”, “He’s completely out of her control!” Somehow she slowly lost control as he began to walk and then to speak. Such a strong personality, such a bright mind - everyone was impressed, but she was the one who had to bear the daily struggles with him, listen to the complaints of the teachers at the nursery school. When had her proud eye for her child vanished in the depths of desperation? When had the hopes for the future turned to worries, and the worries to fear?

She must be rightly proud of her little boy, even if she does seem somewhat aggravated at the moment. That is the typical eye of the mother. How happy she would have been to trade her own worries and sadness with those of that mother. How happy she would have been to see her own daughter jumping and playing like that. But she not even smile… The little boy climbed onto the seat next to her and stared interested at her. As if he could read her thoughts he beamed suddenly at her, showing her all of his childlike charm. She beamed back at him, forgetting for one moment the gaze of her daughter staring into emptiness, into a world not open to her.

A loud and brief yell cut through the wagon. All heads turned, eyes searching for the cause, and found a pleased child who only wanted to see if the people sitting so uselessly and unmoving were real or just dolls. But his pleasure was tainted again by the hand of the mother reaching for him, and the boy sat again at the seat by the window.

I can’t go on, I just can’t go on. Maybe I’m a bad mother. Or maybe I’m just worrying too much. Aren’t all children like that? No, I don’t believe that. Why can’t I have a quiet child, a girl, sweet and friendly, uncomplicated, and not such a bundle of activity robbing me of my last spark of life-energy. She viewed the woman sitting across from her. That lucky woman, surely she has no children, no worries. She looks so at peace.

That was a wonderful yell, a pity that the mother doesn’t want to be happy about it. She thought of the quiet that ruled in her house, the picture pretty girl living there, but also somewhere else entirely, who hardly spoke and only occasionally, stepped slowly through the room, like an apparition, always returning to the same corner of her room. She could sit there for hours and look through books, slowly and regularly turning the pages, absent, almost ghostly.

It’s a shame I have to get off soon. I would have liked to get my fill of watching the boy, his joy of life, his energy and his curiosity, but most of all his smile, so real, so sincere - seeing one’s own child smile, that must be the meaning of life, and her daughter will probably never be able to smile. The invisible bubble that surrounds her allows no one near, wards off every attempt to get close to her, wards off every tender gesture, and not even the so often praised and idealized love of a mother is able to burst this bubble. The helplessness, that is what hurts the most.

Finally, we have to get off soon. I won’t have to blush at the stern looks of all those people. What am I doing wrong? Am I too strict or maybe too lenient? So many books, articles, and informational pamphlets read… And he’s still loud, almost always in motion, always as if in flight, as if he would only fly by this world and must at all costs see, experience and do everything… And not even their empathic, geared to children explanations, the untiring attempts to bring some peace into life, can stop this “flight.“ The helplessness, that is what disturbs the most.