She thinks of Andrea Yates often. She can remember the day that she heard about the murders on the news. Andrea Yates, mother of five, drowned each of her small children in a bathtub. She shuddered that day. Monster, not mother.
Seven years later, she still shudders at the thought of Andrea Yates’ actions. Innocent children killed by their own mother. The person they love more than anyone harming them. The last few moments of their young lives…she cannot bear to think of them.
Seven years later, she understands Andrea Yates. Andrea Yates thought she was a bad mother. Andrea Yates thought her children would be better off without her. She understands these feelings. She feels the same thing. Her children would be better off without her.
She could never harm her children. She could never harm herself. All she could offer was to leave. That’s all she could do.
She would leave a note. It would tell them that she loves them. She loves them so much that’s why she left. She wants a better life for them than she can possibly give them. She wants them to grow up so happy and well –adjusted and not sad and depressed like her. She can already see them judging her and comparing her to other woman and recognizing that their mom has flaws. She knows that it will only get worse as they get older. She knows that she will start to lose her shine in their eyes. She knows that eventually they will hate her.
Her note will tell them that she wants them to get rid of all the pictures of her. She wants them to never talk about her. She wants them to forget her. She wants them to find another woman. A better woman. A woman who gets up at 5:30 every morning and makes them breakfast and orchestrates family scripture study before they leave the house. A woman who puts the cups and the plates and the bowls away in the cupboards in an organized way. A woman who never leaves dishes in the sink. A woman who doesn’t have a laundry mountain in the basement. A woman who doesn’t step on toys or papers in the basement. A woman with shelves in the basement with containers with pictures on them of what should be in the container and those items are actually in the container all the time. A woman who says every night at 7:30, lets clean up our messes from the day. A woman who never goes to bed with a mess. A woman who never leaves a stinky towel out for her husband in the morning. A woman who makes sure her children go to bed in beds with clean smelling sheets and fresh jammies every night. A woman who never says just a minute. A woman who never wastes time. A woman who never forgets anything. A woman who never gossips and always serves. A woman who is skinny and never overeats. A woman who never lays her head on her pillow without writing in her journal. A woman who packs healthy lunches for her children every day. A woman who writes everything in her planner and checks off each item every day. A woman who’s prayer is never a “spasmodic cry at the time of crisis.” A woman who reads a book to each of her children every night before they go to bed. A woman who never leaves trash out for the dog to get into. A woman who would never get pregnant when finances are precarious. A woman who’s garage is perfectly organized with a place for everything. A woman who has her children’s extra clothes organized in totes labeled—Boy 6-12 mos and Boy, winter 4T.
She can picture this woman. She can see her in her place doing the job infinitely better than she ever could. Her eyes burn at the image of her children bringing this woman flowers in the spring and giving this woman hugs every night. She shakes her head and blocks the image.
She plans her departure. She will need a little money. She will need a place to go. She will need a job. It gives her a headache to think about all these things. She doesn’t know what to do but she knows she has to get away. She is ruining them.
There is a chance for her to go away for a day and a night. Just one. She thinks this will be a trial for her. To see how hard it will be to be away from them. To see how much better they do for one day without her. This will be a good opportunity for her. This will prove that leaving could only be better for them.
She packs her bag. She packs her pillow. She packs a blanket. She thinks of her children. She thinks of missing them. She cannot bear the thought of it. She reminds herself how much better they would be. She tries to smile and think of them as adults with children of their own with their perfect happy wonderful lives.
She is gone for a day and a night. She keeps herself busy with books and puzzles and the task at hand. She eats and drinks. She watches tv. Every moment she tries not to think of them. But she does think of them. Her heart aches as she thinks of what they are doing and how are they and are they ok.
She recognizes she could never bear to leave them. She feels so selfish. If she truly loves them, won’t she give them the very best? Won’t she leave so they can have the very best? She feels at odds with herself.
She goes home in the early morning hours. She walks through the door. No one is awake. The house is perfectly quiet. She sits on the couch. She listens. She waits. She hears a stirring. A child awakens and sleepily moves her way down the stairs and to the couch. The child tucks herself under her arm and says you are home, I missed you. The child nuzzles her and snuggles to be closer. The woman chokes back a sob. I missed you too. She sits and listens. She hears another child. Momma. Momma. Momma. The small voice is calling for her. She goes to the child and lifts him from his crib. He pats her hair and kisses her. He snuggles in for a hug. He cannot say that he missed her but she knows that he did. She takes him and sits with him on the couch. Slowly, the other children stir and come to her as if she were a magnet. She visualizes herself as the sun and they are drawn to her as planets in an orbit around her being. Each of them utter the words of missing her. Of loving her. Each of them nuzzle close to her straining for her caress on their faces and hair. Each of them need her.
She feels light. She feels warm. They need her. They don’t need someone. They need HER. She is giving them the best she can give. She is not perfect but she is perfect for them. She has nurtured in them a love and a relationship that can transcend her weaknesses. Leaving them would be cowardly. It would not be better for them. It would ruin their lives.
Seven years later, she thinks of Andrea Yates and her moment of desperation. Andrea Yates was sick and sad and needed help. She needs help too and she is strong enough to ask for the help she needs. Asking for help doesn’t make her weak. It makes her stronger.
Slowly, the image of the woman to take her place fades. She is not that woman. She is who she needs to be. She is an ideal woman.