There she is, I think. And she's had another baby.
I'm standing in the church pew, mouthing the words to a hymn and watching a woman across the aisle from me. Her family is always sitting in the same place, her five boys lined up next to her like Matryoshka stacking dolls, one right after the other, hair brushed and shoes shining. Her husband is belting out the words to the hymn; he looks over at her and gives her a loving wink.
Her baby looks to be about two months old. We haven't been to church in a while, and I hadn't noticed that she was pregnant the last time we were here. Six kids, I think, feeling horror and awe simultaneously.
She rubs her baby's downy head, slowly rocking him back and forth as she sings. Something twists in my gut: jealousy? admiration? Somehow, it feels more like rage.
The hymn ends and her family all sits down in the pew, politely folding their hands in their laps.
I go to sit down and land on Finn, who is sprawled out in the pew, kicking his feet in the air. He lets out a squeal as I wrestle him upright.
How does she do it, I ponder, pretending to pray and peeking at her out of the corner of my eye. Her own eyes are closed, a beatific smile on her face.
I'm feeling snarly and scribbly, like a caricature of a middle aged mother, eyes wild, hair pointing out in all directions. Finn is picking his nose and asking for a donut.
I bet she doesn't close herself in the bathroom and sob while her baby cries in the next room and her boys fight over the Wii, I think uncharitably. There's probably no Wii in her house, just shelves and shelves of educational toys.
It's time for communion, and her husband plants a kiss on her cheek before he steps up to the altar. I mentally add Christian books to their perfect sun-splashed and Wii-free playroom.
Finn won't stop wiggling, whining every five minutes about whether he's being good enough to get a donut after church. I lean down and hiss a threat into his ear, my fingers roughly clutching his arm.
Her baby begins to fuss, and she gently hush-hushes him as she rocks him back and forth. One of her sons rummages in her diaper bag and pops a pacifier into the baby's mouth.
Six kids, I think again. As people shuffle up for communion I kneel in the pew and ponder having three times as many kids as I have now. Quiet rage rumbles in my belly; what is it about her that is making me so angry, I wonder. I watch them file back into the pew and all simultaneously kneel down to pray.
She looks so happy, I think. How can she be happy with that many kids? I can't even handle two.
And then I know. I know where the rage is coming from. She seems to wallow in motherhood.
I am not someone who wallows in motherhood. This truth hits me out of the blue, and I feel tears prick at the corners of my eyes.
I fold my hands and close my eyes, pretending to pray to keep tears from streaming down my cheeks. Images of the past week float through my head: angrily shushing Finn over and over as I try to participate in a conference call for a project I'm working on. Plying my children with bowls of ice cream and endless amounts of television and video games so I can finish work, talk on the phone to a friend who needs my help, answer emails.
Finn leans his head onto my shoulder and distractedly strokes my arm. Momma? he whispers tentatively, I love you.
I lean back in the pew and gather him into my lap, inhaling his salty-sweet boy smell.
I look over at the woman with six kids, and catch her watching me out of the corner of her eye. I bet she thinks I have a sun-splashed playroom full of educational toys. I bet she thinks I'm a wallow-er.
And then I catch myself. I don't know what she's thinking - perhaps she's remembering how she used to have two kids and more of a life? Perhaps she's picturing me getting into a car and escaping to a real job every day?
I give her a smile, and she smiles back.
I hope she's thinking what I'm thinking, finally: there is another mother, like me.