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Stories Tragedy

For the Last Time

“Ow! You little bugger—you’ve nipped me for the last time.”

Five months in, breastfeeding had lost its luster, especially as the baby began to teethe, searching more for pain relief than for nourishment. Perhaps they were both just thoroughly exhausted, as both mother’s and child’s sleep schedules—blissful for a month or so after a chaotic start—now became wholly disrupted.

Why is it just when we get used to things, they suddenly change?

Five months in, the mother had persevered through sore nipples and engorgement and leaking through her clothing. She’d even dealt with a bout of mastitis. And now this child was biting her? She tried not to be resentful, but she just wanted a long, hot shower.

Breastfeeding had not always been a chore.

In the beginning, the mother had loved nursing her tiny pink pillbug, warm and trusting, snuggled so close to her breast, next to her heart. While feeding, her daughter’s eyes locked on to her own, wordlessly communicating vast oceans of sentiment. In the early weeks, mother and child settled languorously into a sweet embrace. Theirs was a private world.

Though as the months passed, other things stole their attention from one another. The mother itemized endless things on her to-do list. There was laundry to fold. There were bills to pay. There were groceries to buy, meals to prepare, dishes to wash.

The baby felt a little dissatisfied, too. Distracted by all of the things going around her, she grew a bit bored. Rolling over was easy now. She could get up on her hands and knees and scoot about. She could grasp a toy and bring it to her mouth, giving a brief respite to her aching gums.

Besides, her mother no longer looked at her while she fed; instead, her mother gazed at her iPhone, constantly tapping on the glass. When the baby reached out for its pretty colors and moving pictures, she was firmly told “No.”

How quickly one learns that negative attention is still attention. Hence, the nip.

The mother worried.

“Maybe she’s too hungry?” she frantically asked the pediatrician. “Is it too early to wean? What do you recommend for a brand of baby formula? Supplements?”

“Breast milk is the best food for babies,” came the reply.

True, but for how long? The mother stopped by the market and purchased a can of formula. The most popular brand.

To her relief, the baby took to it immediately.

Years later, she wished she had weaned more gradually. Certainly, if she had known it was the last time, she would have cherished it.

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“Ugh! You little brat—you’ve run away from me for the last time.”

At five years old, her daughter loved playing outside right after school. When it was time to go home, however, her daughter would invariably run off and hide. Even the joy of getting her ready for school had lost its luster, especially as her daughter did not want to wear a uniform, did not want to eat her lunch (except for the biscuits), and did not always play well with others. Perhaps they were both just thoroughly exhausted, as both mother’s and child’s attempt to navigate primary school proved a challenge at times. Nursey school was so much easier.

Why is it just when we get used to things, they suddenly change?

Five years in, the mother had persevered through a fussy eating phase, embarrassing public tantrums, and painful ear infections. She’d even dealt with a bout of night terrors. And now this child was running off and hiding from her? She tried not to be resentful, but she just wanted a long, hot shower.

Taking her child to and from school had not always been a chore.

In the beginning, the mother had loved touring primary schools, engaging with other parents, and having her daughter’s little friends over for playdates. In the early months, mother and child settled happily into a routine: selecting hair ribbons to wear, walking to and from school, having an afternoon snack, coloring animal worksheets, going to the park. Theirs was a private world.

Though as the months passed, other things stole their attention from one other. The mother itemized endless things on her to-do list. There were parent-teacher conferences. There were bills to pay. There were groceries to buy, meals to prepare, dishes to wash.

The little girl felt a little dissatisfied, too. Distracted by all of the things going around her, she grew a bit bored at home. She could open the back door by herself and play on the swing set. She could pour herself juice from the refrigerator. She could find the iPad (wherever her mother had hidden it) and play her favorite games.

Besides, her mother no longer talked to her very much after school; instead, her mother gazed at her iPhone, constantly tapping on the glass. When she asked to play on the iPad, she was firmly told “No.”

How quickly one learns that negative attention is still attention. Hence, the running off and hiding.

The mother worried.

“Maybe she has autism?” she frantically asked the school’s guidance counselor. “Is it too early to test? Who do you recommend for a mental health counselor? Therapy?”

“Try spending unlimited and unstructured time together,” came the reply.

True, but for how long? The mother stopped by the electronics store on the way home and purchased her daughter her very own iPad. The most popular size.

To her relief, the child took to it immediately.

Years later, she wished she had taken her daughter to the park more often. Certainly, if she had known it was the last time, she would have cherished it.

⬨⬨⬨

“Ay, you little bitch—you’ve taken money from my wallet for the last time.”

“I needed lipstick!” her daughter whined.

“You don’t need to wear makeup at your age!”

Fifteen years in, raising a teenager had lost its luster, especially as her daughter stayed out too late, answered her questions with monosyllables, and played her awful music too loud. Perhaps they were both just thoroughly exhausted, as both of their schedules now became overly complicated. Primary school was so much easier.

Why is it just when we get used to things, they suddenly change?

Fifteen years in, the mother had persevered in driving to her daughter’s athletic and school activities as well as community and social events. And now this child was stealing from her? She tried not to be resentful, but she just wanted a long, hot shower.

Raising a daughter had not always been a chore.

When her daughter first entered puberty, she loved listening to her daughter talk about her hopes and fears, how her body was changing, how her feelings seemed raw and jangled. While her daughter was in her early teens, both mother and child discussed everything, forming a united front. Theirs was a private world.

Though as the years passed, other things stole their attention from one another. The mother itemized endless things on her to-do list. There was laundry to fold. There were bills to pay. There were groceries to buy, meals to prepare, dishes to wash.

Her daughter, now a young adult, felt a little dissatisfied, too. Distracted by all of the things going around her, she was bored at home. Her friends were a wellspring of gossip and drama. There was a lovely young man who fancied her, texting her late into the night. Her teachers were mostly awful, but she loved her tennis coach and her English teacher. She found all sorts of new people to talk with and to advise her.

Besides, her mother no longer talked to her very much; instead, her mother gazed at her iPhone, constantly tapping on the glass. Whenever she asked her mother to extend her curfew or for a bit of spending money, she was firmly told “No.”

How quickly one learns that negative attention is still attention. Hence, the steal.

The mother worried.

“Maybe she’s a habitual thief?” she frantically asked her priest. “Is it too late to remediate her? What do you recommend to save her soul?”

“Maybe you can help her find a part time job. Young girls want to buy pretty things,” came the reply.

True, but for how long? The mother stopped by the cosmetics counter on the way home and purchased a few items for her daughter. In the most popular colors.

To her relief, her daughter took the tubes of lipstick immediately, running over to her friend’s flat to try them on, to see what shade looked best.

Years later, she wished she had given her an allowance. She wished she’d taken her daughter to the cosmetics counter, shopping together like they did when she was little. Certainly, if she had known it was the last time, she would have cherished it.

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