Mornings are chaotic, loud, controlled pandemonium. Mom has to get four children ready before the school bus arrives. If we miss the bus, it’s over an hour’s drive each way for her. Plus, my parents pay oodles of $$$ for the bus to take us to another part of the island, so missing it is frowned upon, and makes our Mommy miserable.
Each day starts with a race. My brother, the only boy, is usually ready first, although it’s possible he’s skipped brushing his teeth and he has clearly forgone a comb through his hair. He hasn’t reached that age yet where he cares about whether he smells nice for the girls.
My two sisters, the youngest, always need help with something: hair ponytailed, shoelaces tied, zippers in the back zipped. Outfits have been picked and set out the night before to avoid what could become nail-biting, time-consuming indecision. Not to mention, tears.
I’m the oldest and help as best I can, but unlike my brother – who is a creature I don’t understand, a little monkey really, as far as I can tell – I do care about personal hygiene, and looking and smelling attractive. But my hair is an uncontrollable bushy mess in this humid, tropical heat and I’m sweaty five minutes after getting out of the shower and Mom won’t let me wear any makeup yet, so I’m never satisfied with how I look. I could give myself three hours to get ready for school every morning, but that would mean waking up even earlier than I already have to. Besides, no matter how long it takes, I’m never satisfied.
Mom interrupts my morning ritual calling from the kitchen. She needs a little bit of “Help, please!” getting the lunches into the four boxes and thermoses. It’s Tuesday, so at least breakfast is simple: cold cereal and milk. Mondays and Fridays are scrambled eggs. Thursdays are cold cereal as well. Wednesdays are oatmeal. Nobody likes Wednesdays.
Somehow all four of us are seated at the round dining room table, noisily chomping our Frosted Flakes and Rice Krispies. Mom joins us for a moment. Her hair is in rollers under a kerchief. She and Dad are going out tonight. A business dinner. She likes dressing up and impressing her husband’s dinner guests with her glamor and wit. We love watching her appear from upstairs, gracefully descending in her formal wear, her jewelry, her made-up face and done-up hair. She is a vision. But that will be later. Now, she’s the mother-of-four in her bathrobe and rollers who marches her offspring through their morning.
My brother grabs his book bag and lunch box and runs down the stairs. He thinks he hears the bus honking. The driver will wait, but not for long. My brother is our scout; he runs ahead of us, waving his arms, hoping to get the bus driver’s attention, and yelling, “Love you, Mom!” without looking back. I gather my belongings and my sisters’ and herd them out the door, careful to remember their strides are much shorter than mine. I don’t want them to stumble as they try to keep up.
I look back at my beautiful mother, standing in the doorway, waving to us, blowing kisses. I know that as soon as we’re out of sight, she’s going to reward herself with another cup of café con leche and light up a long Virginia Slims from the pretty box.
She doesn’t yet know I’m stealing her cigarettes and smoking them with my best friend behind the 6th. grade classroom during recess.
HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!