I awoke to the sound of the percolating coffeepot chugging away on top of the kitchen stove. The smell of the brewing beverage wrinkled my nose. It was then--now, and always will be--a disturbing aroma to me. In hindsight, I realize it was not just my sense of smell that was offended, but an emotional reaction to my mother leaving for work each day.
I readied myself for school, the continuing sounds from the kitchen registering in back of my mind much like the backdrops on the stage of a high school play. They all needed to be there to compliment the story, though, so I allowed them to gradually seep into my consciousness.
Rustling paperwork was being shuffled into Mother’s briefcase, a steaming cup of coffee ever ready at her elbow. Next came the annoying clinking of the stirring spoon against the sides of her mug as she added sugar and creamer to her brew.
I exited the house’s only bathroom just in time for her to enter. She clicked on the flickery fluorescent lights on each side of the medicine cabinet mirror for her make-up routine, closely followed by hair roller pics clattering into the sink as she groomed her hairdo.
Downing a bowl of cereal while I packed a school lunch, I tried not to get close to those obnoxious coffee grounds in the sink.
“Ugh! The one good thing is that I’ll never be tempted to taste coffee!”
Mother was back at the kitchen table, rushing as usual, and pouring yet another cup of ‘pick-me-up’. She drummed her carefully manicured red-polished nails on the Formica surface, a nervous habit I wouldn’t be surprised had developed from caffeine overdose.
A beautiful woman was my mother. Everyone said so, and I felt like the proverbial ugly duckling sitting beside her. She never said anything to support this, but I felt that way, regardless. With my adolescent awkwardness and geeky appearance, this should not have been surprising.
I felt abandoned oftentimes, even though there was always a stand-in babysitter-housekeeper watching over us. Other moms joined the PTA and volunteered for field trips and attended school concerts while my mother worked. Dad said she didn’t have to, that we could get along fine on his salary, which just reinforced my feeling that we, my brothers and I, were not enough for her and that if she truly loved us, she would stay home. She acted embarrassed by our limited lifestyle, always wanting more and so having the extra spending money was fulfilling. And it didn’t hurt that she got a lot of attention from her looks and her job performance.
My breakfast over, my dark thoughts were interrupted by the distant ringing of the first school bell. My elementary school was conveniently just down the street, so I was accustomed to waiting until the last minute to depart.
“Mom, I wanted to show you my science project before, but you weren’t home from work yet. Could you look at it now?”
“Oh, honey, I’m sorry. We’re both going to be late. I’ll look at it tonight. I promise.”
“But I have to turn it in today, so I won’t have it,” my words trailing off in the empty room as the final school bell rang.
I skipped out the door, Mother’s fancy high heels clicking down the sidewalk to her car echoing behind me. Her retreating back and those clicks played over and over again in my brooding heart throughout the day . . .
Years later, I realize that my mother had chosen to work outside our home to stabilize her fragile sanity. Emotionally, she could not tolerate the day to day challenges of family life with its many unexpected twists and turns. She could control her activities on the job, but was unable to cope with being a mother twenty-four-seven. In the long run, our family was better off, the outlet of another job helping her unstable emotional state so that her breakdowns and temper flares were fewer than they would have been.
I don my high heels and pick up my Bible and purse as I and my husband and three young children go out the door to Sunday School, stepping lightly and click-less down the driveway to the car.
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