His shrieks pierce the silence of the night. The rhythmic dance of inhales and exhales is disrupted. I can feel my mind slowly return to reality. My husband’s chest moves my hand slowly up and down. His breath continues its dance and he is oblivious to the cries shattering the night’s sleep. I force my eyes open and scan the dark room. My eyes stop on the clock, 3:42 a.m., its harsh fluorescent light mocks my loss of sleep.
I push away the covers and pull my hair up in a quick ponytail. I force myself to leave the warm haven of my bed and creep slowly to the adjourning room. He is crying hard, his breath catching in his throat before being forced out into the darkness. I open the door softly, and walk over to where he is sitting helplessly on the floor. I pick him up and look at his brother, still sleeping in his bed, undisturbed by his brother’s cries.
He lays his head on my shoulder and hiccups. I walk down the steps to the living room where I can rock him. As I rock him, I think about my life. The constant routine, the furious pace that leaves me exhausted, the never-ending cries that bombard my mind. I feel bitter. I am bitter because it was my sleep that was forfeited. I am rocking a toddler that is now asleep; however, one slight move, one break in the rhythmic rock and he will be awake and wailing.
Tomorrow is Tuesday. I have school. I dare look at the clock, the only light in the dark living room. 4:12 a.m....time is still mocking me. In less than three hours I need to be up and showered. I need to wake my daughter and get her ready for school. I need to wake up the boys, change them, get them dressed, and brush their hair and teeth. I need to feed them, make sure her backpack is in order, put socks and shoes on feet, push arms into coats and be out the door by eight. Drive to the bus stop, give a kiss good-bye, and drive to the babysitters, listening to “Crazy Car” three times on the way there. Pull in the driveway, unbuckle seat belts, put shoes back on wiggling toes, carry each boy on either side of my hips up the walkway, spill into the house, take off coats, smile as they run in screaming “Nana,” thanking God for the wonderful babysitter that I found. Kiss each one goodbye three times, and try to walk out the door while my youngest clings to my leg, not because he is upset but because he thinks the ride is fun.
Once I am finally out of the house I must drive back across town to school. I need to be at school by 9:30, and it is 9:12. I drive across town and for some reason “Crazy Car” is still playing…and being sung…I am in school all day until 3:15, and then I walk home. In the house by 3:25. My husband and boys are asleep, they will wake shortly. It is time to thaw dinner for my family. I must clean up the house, load the dish washer, and take out the trash, which should be deemed radioactive from the fumes being emitted from the diapers inside.
It is 3:40, time to get my daughter from the bus stop. She bounces off the bus, smiling. My heart swells at the sight of her smile. We walk home and she tells me that she needs my help with her math homework. We walk in the door and I can hear my sons awake and playing in their room. I close the front door and I hear, “Mommy, et me out my ooom, peezze.” I grab two diapers, wipes, and climb the stairs, open the door to two smiling beautiful faces. Pick them up, tickle them and change them one by one.
My husband wakes up and we all go downstairs. I make dinner; they play with toys that I must later pick up. We eat dinner, food is thrown on the floor despite my instructions to “Use your fork, eat pretty.” They once again play with my husband while I clean up the plates, cups, forks, and food scattered around the dining room.
The clock glares at me, I am racing against time, and it is 6:45. Time is competing with my children’s demands, and I am the one losing the battle. I gather PJ’s and draw the bath water, the boys get in the tub, my husband bathes them and I help my daughter with her homework. Their bath is over. I dress the boys for bed, get their sippy cups, read them a story and tuck them it. Three more kisses are given to each little boy, and to my delight I get six of my own.
I turn the bathwater back on and fill the tub for my daughter. She bathes, and gets dressed, and I tuck her in. She reads me a story and I kiss her, once, goodnight.
My husband is in bed. The clock on the nightstand mocks me still. It is 8:30. I kiss him goodnight, and he begins his dance with the night. I, on the other hand, go downstairs to clean up and tackle my homework.
I am frustrated, I am tired, and I am running on a constant cycle. I am a slave. A slave to time, a slave to professors, a slave to my husband, a slave to my work, a slave to the constant mess of toys and a slave to the gooey, sticky substance that is smudged between the pages of the book I am trying to read. But mostly, I am a slave to my children. I am a slave mother. As my mind leaves the day ahead and turns back to the rhythmic rocking and the sleeping two year old nestled in my arms, I wouldn’t want it any other way, even if it is 4:58 in the morning.
Author's NoteI chose to write a personal essay on “The Slave Mother.” This piece was extremely powerful to me and I believe that I reacted to in such a strong way because I couldn’t imagine losing a child despite the frustrations involved with motherhood. After thinking about the piece and reading it to myself at least a dozen times, and reading it to my husband twice, I knew that I wanted to write something related to this piece. I approached it a little differently because I can not relate to the exact emotions of having a child ripped away. I was unsure of what I wanted to write until my son woke up screaming the other night and I had to tend to him. I was frustrated because I wanted to sleep and as I rocked him I got more frustrated thinking about my life. Then I thought about the poem and knew that although I was in constant motion and was a “slave” to their needs, I couldn’t imagine losing one. I realize the time spent with them is a blessing no matter how tedious the task throughout the day is. I think the maternal instinct and emotional attachment in the poem is what connected me in such a strong way and enabled me to portray my own emotional attachment to my children in this piece.
LIT203 African-American Literature, Spring 2007
Published with permission