Motherhood and The Sign

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Do other women feel this way? Do men? How can she know? The adult world has put away such childish things and never speaks of them.

She hears the unceasing rebuke of the newspapers, radio, and television. Inflation is rising, storm warnings are in effect, people are starving, dying, being murdered, kidnapped, held hostage, wrongfully imprisoned, robbed, raped, beaten. How dare she brood over her trivialities?

Susan thinks of her level-headed friend Pat, a veteran of three teenagers’ emotional battles. He’ll get over it, Sue. Believe me, they quickly find something new to whine about. And husband William’s wry comment, “There are no guarantees, Suzie. Even if Annie did stay, who knows if they’d still be friends five years hence? Or look at it another way: do you really want him married at fifteen?” Her mother’s caustic common sense: “Another child may move in. You don’t know. Anyway, it’s not like David has leukemia, or you’re dying, or getting a divorce. Put it in perspective, girl!”

All true, and they might well have added, It’s not as if this is the worst-or best- life has in store for him. But how poignant the ever-present moment! No matter the degree of possible and future joy or pain, no matter the cold reality of urgent and pressing adult problems, it is no small thing to be a mother: to bear fruit, and never feel quite separate again. Now every squeeze of circumstance or adversity holds the power to wring her rind-side out, all her defences rushing to the surface, trying in vain to shield, protect, even stay; while all the time the vital juices stream away following the inexorable course of their destiny. 

One day the sign comes down as quietly and mysteriously as it appeared. Susan watches from the doorway as two small figures, giddy with happiness, celebrate their vanquishing of the hated enemy by racing around madly, enacting a primordial exorcism of the unhallowed and defiled ground. Inevitably, they fall out over some soon-to-be-forgotten toy, and just as quickly are friends again.

Like all life’s victories, it is only a reprieve, but they don’t know that. And because she does, Susan checks unbidden tears, and sallies forth with juice and cookies to join the festivities: a woman’s childlike soul behind a mother’s imperturbable face. And smiling. Of course, she is smiling.


Motherhood and The Sign

Sheila Scotchmer, late wife of Peter Scotchmer, died of cancer in 1992. She had been an English teacher like him, and was at that time a stay-at-home mom.
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