By Jill McWhirter:
I shook in my red, pointy high-heeled shoes that I refused to give up for the dependable chiclet tennis shoes that no mother ever seemed to trip over. You see, everyone told me I would fall in love with my child as soon as I saw her—but I didn’t! Instead, I wanted to scream out, “I changed my mind, I don’t want to be a mother! I don’t want to change diapers! I don’t want to clean or cook or even order for her from the menu when we go out for sushi.” But, it was too late. I couldn’t give her back. There was a no-return policy.
So, I read books on raising babies. Well, I skimmed them, okay? I looked at the pictures. Pictures of what babies were supposed to eat. Mashed-up green stuff? What human or thing would announce “Bon appetite” over a plate of green mush lacking any healthy aroma? I was proud that my daughter’s first word was "toro" (which had nothing to do with a bull) and not "mommy" or "daddy." Although, thanks to my tattle-telling sister, my mother found out I was letting her granddaughter eat sushi, and that was the end of me. News clippings began gracing my mailbox. I spent my free time reading them all, envisioning her standing over me, hands on her safety place, the all-powerful hips.
Even after reading all the clippings, I kept taking my daughter, Kate, to sushi restaurants. I couldn’t let my favorite chef or servers down; I was a huge reason they were still in business. But this time, I kept it a secret. I allowed myself a treat of octopus or smelt eggs when I had successfully completed a load of laundry or unloaded a full dishwasher, and definitely when I changed the bed sheets.
I was still breastfeeding, at times, but mostly using the bottle, which Kate preferred. Then, during one of our secret sushi celebrations, she began to cry. I tried everything, everything that I could dig out of the all-magical diaper bag to quiet her. Nothing pleased her. And the restaurant’s clientele were not pleased either. She kept tugging at my trendy, newly purchased lacy shirt until she snapped a button. “Fine,” I called out to her, and tossed her onto my milk producer and covered her with her favorite blanket. She settled into quietness. The patrons were pleased, if slightly disgusted with me. And I rescinded my sake order.
Another fine girl’s luncheon was completed before it was ever finished. I left a half-eaten tuna roll and some soybeans resting in soy sauce on my decorated oval plate, packed up my daughter’s belongings, and quietly slipped out.
My short, speedy steps took me to my car, my high heels holding strong. I opened my car door and gently laid Kate in her carseat. Not wanting to wake her up, I strapped her in and then . . . stopped. I looked at this perfect angel, lying in a tiny carseat. Her chest moving slowly up and down, her miniature fingers laying gently on her ruffled dress. Amazingly long eyelashes, which did not come from me. She was perfect. I put everything else into the car and sat behind the wheel. A moment of peace, before the storm kicks in again, I thought. And that’s when it happened. I heard a small voice from the back; I wasn’t sure what I heard, so I turned to Kate.
She looked up at me with her big brown eyes, smiled, and said, “Momma.”
My heart stopped, and then I panicked. No toro, no oohs or ohs; just, Momma. Just, “Momma.” I repeated out loud. She laughed, I cried. “No one has ever called me that before.” She said it again. My world changed in that second as I grabbed my phone and called my mother. “She called me Momma,” I yelled out, even before my mother had time to say hello. “Well, of course, that’s who you are.” We shared a few words, and then my mother asked what we were doing, and I found a reason to hang up before I divulged my secret sushi lunch with Kate.
I drove my car onto the street and headed home. As I passed the stores along the boulevard, I spotted a shoe store. I pulled in and parked. Kate and I made our way inside, and we went straight to the, yes, the chiclet tennis shoes, and I bought a pair. I slipped my feet in as Cinderella would slip her foot into the glass slipper and happily wore them out of the store.
Many years have passed since I first heard the word Momma. And many secret sushi lunches have been shared. Even today, Kate will sneak out of her office to meet me for a long, indulgent sushi lunch. It became our shared secret. And even though I still love my red high heels, every now and then I wear those not-so chiclet tennis shoes, just so I remember I’m a Momma and proud of it.
Raised in Mississippi, Jillian McWhirter moved to Paris and New York to pursue modeling before moving to Los Angeles to start her film and television career. She has written numerous feature film scripts and has published over thirty educational books that are used by health and safety organizations all over the United States.
Read Elizabeth Gracen's interview with Jillian McWhirter here.