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IT'S NOT YOU, IT'S ME

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IT'S NOT YOU, IT'S ME

Cindy Maddera

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Well, once again I have been turned down for an audition to the Kansas City LTYM. The rejection should sting more than it does, but I think I've learned something. The LTYM is just not my thing. It's not my writing niche. It's a club that I just don't fit in with and that's OK. It doesn't make my stories less valid. I will admit that the pieces I have submitted to this have never really been pieces that I am particularly proud of. They were good, but I always felt they lacked something. Emotion maybe. I just don't have things to say on motherhood even though I wiped a pretty gross butt over the weekend as well as ended up with someone else's boogers on my shirt. My stories on motherhood and moms just doesn't really fit inside a category and I think by forcing myself to write something that may fit into whatever category diminishes my story. Instead of writing for me like I usually do, I end up writing what I think they want to read. It's not a truly organic story. But I'll share that story with you any way. In Search of Bonus Mom

I never wanted children. That sentence is not to be confused with “I hate children”. I just never wanted a child of my own. Children are amazing and wonderful. I love spending time with my niece and nephews. I love my friends’ kids and make sure they get gifts on all the holidays. I just never had that biological urge that most women talk about. My inner baby clock ticked briefly in 1999, but graduate school made it impossible to take it seriously and then it just sort of wound down and stopped ticking. There are so many reasons I could give you for why I never wanted children of my own. I was never in a place where I felt financially stable. The population of the planet is already out of control. Is it really fair to bring another human being into this world? But, the main reason I avoided motherhood was that I never felt capable of raising a good human being. I felt inadequate to pass on the right kind of values to ensure that a child grows up to be kind, compassionate, responsible, and wise. Being a mother was a life that I had put out of my head as even thinking about wanting. But here I am, in this new relationship with a man that has a three year old we like to call the Cabbage. Every other weekend, I am helping pull clothes off or on to go potty or bed time. I am making sandwiches in the shapes of butterflies to entice the Cabbage to eat something other than cereal bars. I am wiping snot from a serious sneeze. My recently watched list on Netflix has gone from Mad Men and American Horror Story to My Little Pony and Super Why. I now find myself saying things like “please don’t touch the bottom of your shoe while you are eating” or “because I said so”.

There’s this place I like to go to for breakfast. It’s this little hole in the wall place that sits in the middle of an old neighborhood. It used to be the corner grocery and they still have some of the old grocery fixtures inside. Chris and I stumbled across it on accident one morning and it became the favorite right off the bat. It’s more than a restaurant. It is a community. Most of the patrons are people that just walked down from their house, usually carrying their own mug or still in pajamas. I didn't stop going there after Chris died. I would sit at one of the smallest tables and pretend to make a grocery list or look busy doing something “important” on my phone. Really, I’d be secretly observing the other tables, the groups of friends, the tables of young families, the laughter and the love. I watched it all as if I was standing on the outside looking in. As I look back on those moments now, I see that it seems very lonely and I guess I was a little bit lonely then. Maybe pretending that I wasn't. My second weekend with the Cabbage, we went to this place for breakfast. There we were, the three of us sitting at a table, Michael reading the paper while the Cabbage and I played a game on my phone. When our breakfast came out, I helped the Cabbage get situated with her breakfast and then I started in on mine. There I was sipping coffee, the Cabbage munching away on bacon and Michael eating while reading the day’s horoscope. Just like that I went from being the outsider to being that table of laughter and love. I was the one with a family and something in my brain said "Oh! This is what that feels like". It was not a feeling I had thought was missing from my life, but it was definitely a feeling that was comforting. It was a moment that I could get used to. It opened the door to visions of a slightly older Cabbage sitting at a breakfast bar in an open kitchen, coloring or doing homework while I cooked dinner or all of us sitting down to dinner together, laughing and talking about our day. Maybe we'd play a game or invent our own game of using the word of the day from a word-a-day-calendar in a sentence.

Then came Christmas, our first Christmas together, and it included work related Holiday parties. We were at a Christmas party for Michael’s work. I had found a ridiculously cute outfit on sale weeks ago for the Cabbage. The shirt was all calico ruffles with matching pants that had even more ruffles at the ankles. I dressed the Cabbage in her ruffles and I fixed her hair with the clips she’d picked out. This would be her first visit with Santa and she wanted to look good, sparkly boots and all. And then there he was. Santa. I wish I could have caught that moment when she realized Santa was standing next to her and saying hello. It was a look of sheer wonderment. Later, when it was finally her turn to sit on Santa’s lap, Santa looked out into the crowd and asked “Is the mother here? Where’ the Mom?”. Michael spoke up quickly with “Oh no, her mother’s not here”. Too quickly. I felt an unfamiliar pain, a kick in the gut as all the adult eyes in the room turned to me inquiringly. I felt an all too familiar flush of heat creep up my neck and into my cheeks as the tears prickled in the corners of my eyes. I swallowed those tears back and forced a smile, pretending that all of this was perfectly OK. Perfectly normal. Perfectly perfect. I mean, it was the truth. Her mother wasn't there and I am not her mother. Moments after, Michael whispered in my ear “I’m sorry. Did I handle that right? I feel like I didn't handle that right”. I brushed it off, said it was fine. Really, we hadn't prepared ourselves for what to say or do in these situations. I was more surprised by that kick in the gut feeling, that pain of realization that she wasn't mine.

My role of who I am in the Cabbage’s life is confusing. My mother while talking to the Cabbage referred to me as “your mom” and “your Aunt Cindy” in two different sentences. Michael asked once how would the Cabbage introduce us to people? “This is my daddy and this is my Cindy?” he asked. I shrugged and said “why not?” and we have heard her refer to me as “my Cindy”. Unfortunately “My Cindy” doesn't give me a label that most people in society need to define this relationship. I have a friend who has a Bonus Mom. In fact I've noticed this is a common term used around the internet world. But it would kind of be nice to have something of my own. I have looked up synonyms for bonus and extra. It seems kind of cruel to try to make a three year old say Honorarium Mom. Gravy Mom has a hipster ring to it. I’m really leaning towards Special Lady Mom only because it makes me laugh. From now on when someone asks if the Cabbage’s mother is here, we’ll just say “No, but her Special Lady Mom is here”. Bonus Mom….I should probably stick with Bonus Mom.