Bethany laid her head down on her desk. She felt the flame of tears seeping toward the corners of her eyes. “I can’t cry, I won’t cry,” her daily mantra marched through her head. “I’m doing the right thing.”
Just as she gained composure, Conner appeared before her, hauling his little red wagon.
“Conner! How many times have I told you not to bring that inside?” her tone raised in frustration, her voice cracked too, belying her near brush with tears. Muddy tread lined her white berber carpet from the garage to the school room where her desk was. One more menial job to add to her pathetic to-do list. No pay, no commendation, no recognition, just endless days of the same: muddy shoes, nightmares, temper tantrums, breakfast followed by lunch followed by dinner and a stack, make that stacks of dishes.
Yesterday, she had met the new neighbors on their tiny cul-de-sac of rental homes in suburban Virginia. “What do you do?” It was always the first thing anyone asked. They meant, “What is your employment?”
She imagined they were mentally comparing their paycheck to hers. “I work at home.”
“Oh? What is your business.” Bethany tried to be glib when she endured this conversation. “It doesn’t pay very well,” she would always smile. “I’m a stay at home mom.” She willed herself not to say, “I’m just a stay at home mom.”
“Oh.” No one ever knew where to go from there. Usually, she offered them a way out, returning the question and asking about their occupation. It never failed, “I’m a pediatrician,” “a teacher,” “a lawyer,” “an accountant.”
“Mom!” Conner was still parked at her feet, his wagon shedding clods of dirt. “Can you take me for a ride?” Bethany realized she was staring a hole into space as she replayed yesterday’s scenario.
“Take the wagon outside. Then come help me clean up the mess you’ve made. After that we’ll see about going for a ride.” Her throat squeezed even as she stretched a smile across her face for Conner’s sake.
It took a full half hour to remove the muddy tracks from the carpet. The whole time thoughts of how many more valuable, wage-worthy things she could be doing traipsed across her mind.
What do you do?
“Well, today I spent half an hour scrubbing the carpet.” She might not know law, or be a teacher, but she could tell you how to remove blood stains from white socks. She might not own a pair of pumps, but she could find the best generic deals anywhere.
Finally, Bethany bundled Connor against March’s chill. As she lifted his
dough-boy, four-year-old into the wagon, she felt the ache in her throat relax slightly. She held him to her chest of an extra second and let her chin rest on his straw colored curls.
Before she had gotten pregnant, Bethany could run a 3:45 marathon. She had been proud of her athletic ability. More than once, a complete stranger had touched her upper arm and marveled at her toned triceps. Short skirts had made her feel a little smug, knowing that few women had such shapely thighs.
Now? Tedious wagon walks were her most strenuous exercise. Rising early enough to have 30 minutes to herself before Connor woke was the only reason she was tired - no more long runs. Bethany locked the front door and picked up the wagon handle.
“I have to pee.”
Pants zipped, shoes re-tied and perched once again on his royal, red throne, Connor rode happily for three blocks.
Bethany knew better than to push her luck. Anything longer than 40 minutes and they ran up against hunger pains, multiple bathroom breaks or nap time. They rolled up to the front porch and parked the wagon, outside.
“Thanks, Mom,” Connor clambered over the side of the wagon, not waiting for help. “Wait out here, I’ll be right back!” Still roiling in her own thoughts, Bethany didn’t argue but sat down on the stoop.
She began to worry when Connor was gone for a full 10 minutes. Finally, she heard the screen door creak behind her.
“Here, Mom,” Connor stuffed $200 of wadded Monopoly money in her hand. “You’re a great wagon-puller!”
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