My alarm buzzes at half past five. I try to ignore it at first. I’m on my stomach, face down in the middle of my bed. I put my pillow over my head, pull my covers up to my neck and try to go back to sleep. To sleep all day, to lay in bed with absolutely nothing to do and no responsibilities, that is all I want in the world.
The alarm finally stops on its own. I lay in the still quiet for a moment thinking about falling back asleep. Through the paper thin walls of the building I hear my neighbor in the apartment next door turn on the shower. Water rushes through the pipes and I know I have to get up if I want to get Charlie out the door on time. My neighbor always starts his shower at 5:45 every morning. He’s almost more reliable than my alarm.
I roll over, I can tell its cold in the apartment because ice has formed on the inside of the window panes. That’s what happens when you pay $300 a month to live in a 100 year old house converted into apartments, you get single pane windows that don’t close all the way and a really big heating bill.
I all but fall out of bed. I am not a morning person. In high school my mom used to spritz me with a spay bottle full of ice water to get me out of bed. I trudge to the kitchen, my feet freezing on the icy hardwood floor. I grab the coffee from the top shelf, spoon it into the coffee maker and turn it on. If there is one good thing about the morning its listening to that coffee maker come alive and knowing that while I’m in the bathroom getting ready its brewing my life.
I pull two packets of Pop Tarts put of the cupboard—the brown sugar kind—and put one in the toaster. I like mine untoasted, but Charlie will only eat them if they’re warm. The best way to get him out of bed is telling him that his Pop Tarts are getting cold.
When I walk into his room he is sleeping soundly curled in the perfect little ball. His room is warmer than mine, but not by much. I left the space heater running in here last night, but its so old you hardly notice that its working. I shake him gently and he groans, mumbles something, and turns over.
“Charlie come on dude, you gotta get up,” I shake him again. “Your Pop Tart is cooking.”
“It’s a snow day,” he says.
I laugh. “No its not, we live in Wisconsin, there is no such thing as a snow day here.”
“I didn’t finish my homework,” he tries again.
“Yeah you did,” I say, “Uncle Pete helped you do all those math problems last night. Come on—up!” I pull his covers off with a dramatic swoosh.
“Mom!” He squeak’s in his sleepy 9-year-old voice.
“Come on!” I say, “You gotta get your Pop Tart!”
I leave the room, carrying his comforter with me. He’s definitely inherited my distain for mornings.
It’s just after six when I walk back into the kitchen. I push his Pop Tart back down in the toaster and turn the heat to low. He will throw a fit if his Pop Tart is actually cold and I don’t really want to go through that this morning. The coffee is still dripping into the pot but I pour myself a cup anyway, adding a little sweetener.
I can hear Charlie in the bathroom, showering and talking to himself as he does. He’s always been a talker, making up stories, having conversations with the air. Sometimes I will listen to him outside the bathroom door in the mornings as he creates whole worlds for himself. Today he is a radio talk show host interviewing Chris Pratt about the latest Jurassic Park movie.
“So, Chris, tell us. What was it like working with those dinos?” He asks in a cheesy sounding anchor man voice.
“Well Bob, I’m so glad you asked,” He answers himself in a low-pitched voice, mimicking the actor. “Dinosaurs have been getting a bad wrap these days but they really are nice. And…” His little voice trails off as I walk back into the kitchen. I pack up his school work that was left strewn across the kitchen table last night after he and my brother abandon it for video games. I don’t bother checking it over, Charlie is already a smarter kid then I ever was. He gets all of his homework done on time with very little complaints, what he doesn’t understand he asks my brother who picks him up from school every day. He always does extra credit, always takes the lead on group projects, and is never afraid to give the answer in class. It is the extract opposite of everything I ever was. I was always slacking off. I never turned my work in on time, hated group projects, and hid behind other students hoping the teacher would forget I was in the class. But Charlie is different. Charlie is out going, and charismatic. He is ready to learn. Ready to take on the world.
“Pop Tart time!” I turn around to his toothy grin. He’s wearing button down plaid tucked into his jeans and bright orange dinosaur socks. I laugh at the combination and hand him his Pop Tart. Sometimes I’m amazed that this kid is even mine. His goofy grin, his wet slicked back hair, and his love for all things dinosaurs get me to the core. How did I make him? How did all my mistakes create such a sweet, smart little boy?
I remember the night I found out I was pregnant. “Are you going to keep it?” his father asked me. The thought had never occurred to me not to keep it. I didn’t even know how a person would go about getting rid of a baby already growing inside her belly
“What do you mean?” I asked. I rubbed my belly almost instinctively even though the baby could not have been any bigger than a walnut at the time. It wasn’t even really a baby, was it? But it was already mine and I was already attached to it.
I was 15 when I got pregnant. I wasn’t a partier; I didn’t do drugs. In fact I hardly ever left my house. I was shy and quiet and terribly awkward. And then I met him. The older guy who made me feel like I was everything. Like I was sexy, and alluring. He made me feel good about myself. We slept together and I was dumb and naive and a product of an Evangelical Christian household where no one ever said a word to me about birth control or safe sex. And so, I got pregnant. Its as simple and easy as that.
My parents were not furious. They weren’t anything, really. They let me live with them. They watched Charlie while I finished high school. There were no lectures about how I was too young to be a mother. There was no screaming. No yelling. No anything.
I almost wished there would have been yelling. I wish they would have disowned me. Or maybe I wish they would have pushed me on to college. Telling me I could do it. Lots of young single mothers do it. But they didn’t. They didn’t do anything.
I moved out of their house when Charlie was 3. I lived with friends until I made enough money to rent this cheap, apartment with broken cupboards, bad insulation, and all of the charm of a crack den. That was when Charlie was 6. I’ve made the place as nice as I can in the three years that we have lived here. I hung white curtains in the living room, and I painted Charlie’s bedroom a crisp blue. I’ve put plants in every corner of the apartment where it feels dark and dreary in an effort to liven it up. Most of them are still living too…
Charlie comes back into the room as I’m pouring myself a new, fuller cup of coffee. I yawn as I watch him drag his backpack behind him. “Pick that up Charlie, before you rip a hole in it,” I say. I glance at the clock and realize we’ve been moving slower than normal this morning. Its nearly 7 and his bus comes at 7:15. The bus stop is at the end of our street and if I don’t get him out of the door now he will miss it for sure.
“Go get your shoes!” I hurry him back into his room.
“Mom, it’s snowing,” he looks at me, arms folded. Expecting.
“Fuck.” I say and drop into a chair. I don’t even cover my moth. Charlie had heard these words out of me enough times. I look out the window and sure enough the snow is coming down. Big, thick, wet flakes. All the warm thoughts I had about our life together, all the positive feelings disappear. I forgot to buy Charlie new snow boots like I promised I would last week. He had been squeezing into his old ones for as long as he could but last Friday it finally got to be too much. He had the growth spurt I had been fearing.
“Well, go get your shoes,” I say because I don’t really know what else I can say right now. He leaves and comes back with his soggy old tennis shoes. I look at him and then glance around the apartment. It feels smaller, dingier, less welcoming now. I see the peeling paint, the sagging cupboard and the, cracked glass in the bathroom mirror. The mostly dead plants. What am I doing? For him and for me?
Hot tears spring to my eyes and I whisper “god damn it,” under my breath as I help him get his shoes on. I tell him to wear two pairs of socks and I pack an extra pair that he can change into when he gets to school. He looks dejected and embarrassed. He’s mad at me, even though he pretends not to be. He’s mad because he knows I forgot. I forget a lot of stuff. Like lunch money, and school assemblies, and signing permission slips for field trips. He’s used to it. And that’s what hurts the most. He’s used to my forgetfulness. He’s used to me not keeping my promises. He’s used to me being a bad mom.
“I’m sorry Charlie,” I swallow the lump in my throat and don’t meet his eyes so he won’t see me cry. “I promise I’ll get you a new pair after work tonight.”
He doesn’t say anything for a moment. Then he says, “No you won’t. You’ll be too tired.” And with that, he picks up his backpack and walks out the door, down the stairs and out of the building to meet his bus. Just like an adult. He’s too grown up for nine.
I go to the window and watch him walk down the street. He stops to kick snow out of his sneakers a few houses down. Other kids pass him and he runs to keep up but stops again to kick the snow out of his shoes. I bet those other kids have moms who can remember those basic things like snow boots and lunch money. I bet they have moms who didn’t make stupid decisions. I bet those kids aren’t embarrassed to invite their friends for sleepovers. I sink down on the kitchen floor with my back against the cabinets and open my Pop Tart. I want to cry, but I’m too used to this routine by now to cry. Instead I chew slowly. All the while making mental notes on how to be a better mother.
But even as I chew I know that things will never change. I’m just a girl. I’m not ready to be a mother. Even after nine years. I love Charlie, but it’s on mornings like this when I’ve failed him for the hundredth time, that I wish he had been a miscarriage or a false positive. Not because I don’t love him, but because I would have been able to love him better if he had come into my life at a different time. On a different day. If he had come to me after I grew up.
I finish my Pop Tart, stand up, brush the crumbs from my front and get ready to start the day. Mornings are always the hardest.