The kids are fighting again: “She keeps goin’ in my room!” “He hitted me!” “She push-ted me first!” “Mama!” “Mama!” I wipe a Clorox-coated rag across the blue paint-splattered pattern of my kitchen counters and wonder for the thousandth time what kind of person would choose this design. The rag turns from white to murky.
“Mama, yesterday I wanted plums in my lunchbox,” Rory tells me. She is completely naked again, despite my pleas to keep her clothes on. She’s three and doesn’t understand time yet. This probably means today; could mean last week. Most likely she just thought of it. I squat in front of her and look into her eyes. “I didn’t know you wanted plums,” I apologize. The dark circles under her eyes mirror mine. “Would you like me to get some this weekend?” She nods and touches my face, and then runs out of the room. I follow her into the living room, picking up my black vinyl-covered notebook covered with purple Batgirl drawings. Its yellow-lined pages are decorated with jotted-down phrases and appealing words, and brief sketches of plots and characters. I have been working on a short story about a woman who runs a covert raw milk business. I write in stolen moments, trying to craft a perfect form, bit by bit. It needs some work. A lot of work.
I settle down on the red velvet couch, greeted by my son and the math word problems of Cyberchase, PBS’ response to the nonsense of Nickelodeon. Today we are learning fractions and decimals, and thwarting the evil Hacker with algebra. It is a dumb cartoon, and it gives me a headache, but he loves it. He holds up the sheet of paper and pen I gave him a few minutes ago. “Will you write words for me?” he asks. “Write the names of everyone in my class, so I can have a party.”
“Not right now, baby,” I say. “It’s Mama’s turn to write. You write your own paper.” I scribble a line of dialog.
He sits down on the floor in front of me in a huff. Rory climbs on the arm of the couch, bumping my pen across the page. “When I was a little kid,” she says, “I was going to write words, but I was too busy.” She nestles next to me.
Waves of mama guilt wash over me. I put Renn’s paper on top of my notebook and begin writing the names of his classmates at his request. While we do this, Rory tells us a story about heads falling off people and doctors replacing them (She recently saw a display of Halloween decorations, hence the morbid tale). I hand Renn his page and go back to working on my own, scribbling words as fast as I can. “If you’re not going to watch the show, please turn off the TV,” I say, working out how my raw milk renegade circumvents the health department.
Rory runs off to her bedroom and returns with a pair of giant laminated butterfly wings from last Halloween. She throws them over my head and says it’s a tent, and I have a breakthrough — I know how the story will end, how she will market the illicit milk and succeed against the oppressive milk laws! My pen flies across the page as I try to capture the thought before I forget it.
Renn taps on the wings. “Why do you have butterflies on your head?” he asks.
I don’t look at him. I continue to write. “Rory did it.”
Rory huddles under the wings with me and my notebook. “Isn’t this fun, Mommy? We’re having a tea party!” I have no idea why she thinks this since neither of us has any tea party paraphernalia, but I go along with it. “Mmm, this is good tea,” I say, not really looking at her, trying not to write a butterfly tea party into my story.
“Mama, when are you going to be done?” Renn asks. Involuntary marks form across my pages at random intervals as Rory pushes and pulls at my arm.
“Please let Mama write,” I say, pulling my arm away from her, the wings still draped over my head, desperately composing in their shade. My body tenses with desire for peace, for a moment alone, for the chance to finish the writing.
Rory crawls out from under the wings and snatches Renn’s paper. He grabs it back, and they both yell that the other is ripping it. Rory smacks Renn hard on the top of his head, and he howls.
“We don’t hit!” I yell, uncocooning myself from the wings. “Get in time out!” I slap my notebook against my lap for emphasis.
“No!” she yells back at me.
Not the response I was looking for, I sigh loudly, set my notebook aside, and pick her up. She thrashes in my arms as I carry her to time out, put her down, and return to my story. I have lost my train of thought. The words jumble and twitch in front of me. I stare at the text, lost.
“Mama, when can I get out?” she yells from the hallway.
“When you can tell Renn you are sorry!” I close the notebook and rub my eyes.
She throws her body to the floor, bangs her feet against the wall in protest, and spits a “sorry” in Renn’s direction as he runs past on the way to the potty. I have a few stolen seconds to figure out where the story was going, but I’ve got nothing. They begin a new argument in the kitchen over who is going to feed the cat, despite the fact that the cat’s bowl is full. A plate pulled off the counter shatters on the floor. I toss my notebook on the coffee table and rush to intervene.
Rory watches me pick up the blue shards. “You done with your words now, Mama?”
“Yes, honey. I’m done.”