Six-month old Millie Fisher's getting the hang of life on the run--her Mommy's busy with her new job, and Daddy's busy with the pretty lady who talks about work and makes Mommy frown. Then there's Grandma (who also makes Mommy frown), Auntie Jen (who makes Mommy laugh), and Mr. Ramirez (who makes Mommy pull out her wallet every time he comes to fix another accident around the house). It's almost too much for a baby to keep up with, but Millie's determined to grab some attention for herself--even if it's in the most dramatic of ways.
I close the car door and feel the shame engulf me, as it always does the moment I drop Millie off at daycare and drive towards campus. It’s relief—relief from the responsibility, the worry, the exhaustion. Relief to be alone--just me, and my thoughts, and the tinny drone of the car stereo in the background.
It only lasts a moment—no longer than it takes to hit the entrance ramp to the freeway—and is quickly replaced with a sweet longing to see her smile, squeeze her chubby feet, run my finger over her velvety cheek. But it still crushes me with guilt, my fleeting delight at being released from motherly duties, if only for a few hours every Tuesday and Thursday morning.
I’ve arranged a part-time teaching schedule at Houston Lutheran College, which was no small feat, considering I was only hired six months ago. But I worked out a twelve-month modified workload before accepting the position, and the department chair, Evelyn King, has been nothing but supportive.
My cell phone rings as I circle the parking lot in front of the general academic building.
“Hey, hey, hey,” says my husband Will through the Bluetooth speakers in the dashboard. He’s become obsessed with “What’s Happenin’” on Nick at Night.
“Hey, White Rerun.”
“How was the monkey drop?” Will always calls to ask how Millie and I handled the daycare drop-off. I’ll admit that the first few weeks were full of tears and anxiety, but now I can’t help but wonder if he calls just to make sure I haven’t forgotten her in the back seat.
“Smooth as silk. What’s on your agenda for today? Are you and Dwayne gonna hang out at Rog’s house after school?”
“Nah, we thought we’d go to the Regal Beagle and pick up chicks.”
“That’s ‘Three’s Company,’ you dork.”
“Not anymore. I’m staging a crossover show in my head. It’ll either be called ‘What’s Company?’ or ‘Three’s Happenin’.”
“Well, it sounds promising, honey. Which will it have, the Ropers, or Mr. Furley?”
“The Ropers, of course. I’m not a fan of the Furley ascot.”
“So few are,” I tut sympathetically.
“Don’t be cheeky. Remember I’ve got that meeting with the new post-doc at four, so why don’t I pick up some burgers on the way home?”
“Just a chicken sandwich for me. Last time I had a burger, Millie was up all night.” I spot a parking space and swerve in jerkily, ignoring the death glare I receive from the driver of an oncoming Subaru Forester.
“It was the onions, not the burger,” Will says wearily. We’ve had this discussion more times than I care to count, but he’s crazy if he thinks I’m giving up my onions for the sake of breastfeeding.
“Whatever. I’m gonna be late for class—I’ll see you tonight.”
“I love you, Mama.” He says this to make me gag, and as always, he succeeds.
“I love you too, freak-boy,” I say before handing up and dragging my slightly saggy mommy-ass into the office.
Millie and I are home by two o’clock, and after I feed her and get her down for her afternoon nap, I grab a box of Mint Milanos from the pantry and plop myself on the couch with my cell phone. As I scan my contact list for my best friend Jen’s number, I’m startled by an incoming call. And it’s far from a pleasant surprise.
“Hi Linda,” I answer, my voice dripping with fake enthusiasm. Will’s mother has always been nice, if a bit distant, but since Millie was born, she’s taken every opportunity to let me know how lacking I am in the mothering department.
“Lucy, hello! How’s my baby?” I’m never sure if she’s talking about the real baby or Will, but to keep from being creeped out, I assume she’s asking after Millie.
“Gorgeous, brilliant…loud,” I laugh, hoping she’ll join in.
“Sweetheart, I told you, you’ve got to swaddle her if you want her to sleep through the night.”
“She’s only four months old, Linda—I’m not sure she’s ready to sleep through the night without a feeding.”
“Nonsense! Tracey and Will both slept through the night at eight weeks.”
I stick my tongue out at the phone, then put her on speaker so I can stuff a cookie in my mouth.
“Listen,” Linda continues, undeterred by my silence. “I picked up a few outfits at the mall and thought I’d drop them over this evening. I haven’t squeezed those cheeks in over a week, I think I’m having withdrawals.” Once again, I’m praying that she’s talking about Millie here.
“Sure, sounds great.” No, it doesn’t. “Will probably won’t be home until seven, and I usually put Millie down by eight, so--”
“I’ll just come early, say around five?” I guess I grunt in assent, because she continues on. “Wonderful, see you then. Did you need me to bring some of that hypoallergenic laundry detergent? Millie’s skin seemed a bit dry last time I saw her.”
“No, Linda, she’s fine. We’re use the baby detergent that the pediatrician recommended, and it seems to be working out. Thank you, though.” I add as an afterthought.
“Well, honey, you just let me know if you need anything. I can’t imagine trying to work when my little ones were infants. I don’t think I would’ve had the time to care for them properly.”
Aaand, she goes for the kill. Wow, it took less than two minutes this time--a personal best for Linda Fisher, folks!
“Times have changed,” I say wearily. She tisks a bit in response, and I hoover another cookie. I hear Millie begin to wail. It’s going to be a long evening.
By the time I get the baby settled and check the mail, I’ve forgotten about calling Jen, so I’m happy to see her name flash on my caller id as I settle on the floor for a little tummy time with Millie.
“You awake?” She asks by way of greeting. She knows how sleep-deprived I am, and always makes sure I’m fully conscious before she begins a conversation.
“Yep. Millie and I are waiting for Mother Fisher to get here with her broom and barbed comments.”
“Oooh, have you been feeding the kid pixie sticks again? I told you mother-in-laws frown on that crap.”
“Yes. And I’ve been torturing her with non-hypoallergenic laundry detergent. I’m sure Linda’s alerting the authorities as we speak.” I try to keep the resentment out of my voice, but I’m the first to admit that I’m doing a sucky job at it.
“Get Will to put that bitch in her place,” commands Jen. I love Jen to death, but she’s not exactly one to mince words.
“Yeah, because he’s just dying to get in the middle of a pissing match between his wife and his mother.”
“Whatever. How did Dax’s birthday surprise turn out?” Jen’s boyfriend’s birthday was last Friday, and her plan was to meet him at the door of their apartment dressed as a Kardashian (I can’t remember which one). I’m still not sure why, since Jen is prettier than any of the Kardashians, but I think she was just using it as an excuse to meet him at the door dressed as a skank.
“Oh, not so great at first. He thought I was Morticia from ‘The Addams Family’. But then I just went with it, and told him he had to be Gomez, and…let’s just say it worked out well in the end.”
“It’s so retro kinky,” I giggle, trying to imagine Dax kissing a trail up Jen’s arm while murmuring to her in French.
“So let’s swim tomorrow morning,” Jen says, quick to change the subject. As brash and in-your-face as Jenny can be, she’s always been surprisingly close-mouthed about the intimacies of her relationship with Dax.
“Can’t. Millie has Gymboree.”
“What the hell is Gymboree?”
“Some kind of infant exercise class,” I mutter reluctantly, because I know what’s coming next.
“Are you serious? She’s four months old! Her exercise consists of crying and farting.”
“I know, I know, but Linda bought her all these sessions, and I’d feel like crap if I didn’t take her.” Jen’s silence speaks volumes. I forge ahead, determined to put a positive spin on things. “Plus, I get to meet other moms, so it’s not all bad.”
“Yeah, the kind of moms who sign their infants up for exercise class. Jesus, what will they think of next—baby massage? Baby yoga?” I’m not going to be the one to tell Jen that both of these already exist.
“Go swim without me, and then meet us for coffee at the Campus Grounds at ten.”
“Won’t Millie need time to stretch and shower first?”
“Shut up. I’ll see you then.” We both hang up, having dropped the goodbyes from our telephone conversations years ago. As I turn to the baby, she gives me a wet, toothless grin. She’s clearly proud of herself for rolling over from tummy to back, and I don’t have the heart to roll her back over again.
“Mills, do me a favor and be extra adorable for Grandma when she gets here,” I beg pathetically. Millie gives me a slobbery grin, managing to drool enough for three St. Bernards. I sigh and head off to get her a fresh dress—I’m sure Linda will find some way to blame the kid’s overactive salivary glands on me.
Want more? Release date is tentatively set for April 22nd!