This is my first summer as a mom of three, and I feel like I’m failing.
The smell of burnt hamburger fills the room, intensified by my baby’s sobs from the playmat on the floor. My shoulders rise; the tension is palpable.
“I know, Nora, we’re past your naptime. I’m sorry,” I say, but her crying is only getting louder.
“Allie, can you please talk to Nora?” I beg my nearly four-year-old. “I’m almost ready; then we’ll take dinner out to Dad and the guys in the field, okay?”
“Hey, No-yah,” Allie croons as she kneels beside her baby sister. She starts making silly faces at Nora as I turn back toward the stove. Then, realizing how big the flames are on my new gas range, I turn down the knob.
I spoon the slightly burned taco meat into each flour tortilla, the steam rising from the green Dutch oven with each scoop. Allie abandons her big sister duty to watch me and climbs up the off-white drawers—the black handles perfect ladders for her tiny bare feet.
Nora’s crying continues, so I walk to the front door and grab her car seat. After placing it on the floor beside the stove, I pick her up and snuggle her to my chest.
“I’m sorry, Nora,” I whisper in her ear while rubbing her back. Then, I lower her into the car seat and buckle her in.
“Allie, can you get her pacifier from my room, please?”
Allie jumps from the counter, her long dark hair bouncing down her back. I continue putting together the tacos, rocking the seat with my foot. A bead of sweat trickles down my face, and I wipe it away with the back of my hand. The blistering August heat combined with the gas range and the witching hour makes the late afternoons nearly unbearable.
“Here you go, baby,” says Allie, as she shoves the pacifier into Nora’s mouth.
Nora begins to rapidly suck the pink owl WubbaNub while rubbing her eyes. Turning back to the stove, my shoulders drop, and I let out a sigh. I tear off a sheet of aluminum foil, covering the last plate of tacos, and Nora begins to scream again. Grabbing the car seat handle with one hand, in a last attempt to calm her, I begin to swing it back and forward quickly. Soon, I realize she isn’t making any noise—the kind of quiet that scares me rather than comforts. Looking down, she is bright red, and her cries have taken her breath away. Her eyes scrunch closed—then she lets out a huge wail.
“I’m so sorry, Nora. I didn’t mean to scare you!” Immediately, I unbuckle the straps and pull her out of the seat. Then, with her clutched to my chest, I gently bounce her, continuing to whisper my apologies into her ear.
Despite my wish to keep holding Nora, I strap her back in the car seat.
Allie stands by the coat rack at the door, silent, with her eyes locked onto me and her sister. Looking down at her feet, I see she has on her pink cowgirl boots. “You ready? I ask.
“Yup, I got my boots on!” she says.
Then, I load the girls and all the food into the pickup, and we take off down the road.
“Mom, does she think you’re a monster?” Allie asks, her legs dangling below the seat, swinging back and forth. Her gaze fixed out the window.
My eyes are focused on the gravel road, shoulders still tense. “What?” I ask.
“She thinks you’re a monster,” Allie states, her legs still swinging.
“Who does?” I ask, looking at her through the rear view mirror.
“Nora,” she says, pointedly.
“I don’t think so,” I say, shrugging my shoulders, my hands still firm on the wheel.
Allie stares out the window, watching the harvested fields pass by. Her interest in the conversation is gone. I look at the clock, thinking Nora should be in bed sleeping, not just napping in the back seat. But I picture the guys in the field with hours of seeding ahead of them, their packed lunches long gone. I know they need dinner.
I hit the brake to ease into the field, and then it clicks.
She wonders if Nora thinks I’m a monster because I said, “I’m sorry I scared you.”
Click over to Coffee + Crumbs to read the rest of my essay.