The Hooked Rug

The hooked rug

This was not what I’d had in mind. My vision was me sitting in a rocker, nursing my beautiful baby, my long hair shielding her little face from the moonlight, Joan Baez singing softly in the background. I thought having a baby would be mellow and sweet. Peaceful. Lovely. That’s what we all thought in 1973 – we would be earth mothers.

No. An earth mother didn’t spend hours each night trying to get her baby to sleep and keep her asleep by pushing her wicker bassinet back and forth across the hooked rug in her room.

My baby had colic – leg straightening, tummy tight as a coffee can lid, full O, little red lips, screaming colic. It made me crazy. The crying went on for hours, for days, it seemed. Sometimes I would have to put her in her bassinet and go sit on the front porch to keep from shaking her.

Once, so frustrated with her crying and so disappointed in how hard and unrewarding being her mother was, I found my husband’s fancy Nikon camera and took pictures of her laying on her back, her face red and mouth in full, brain crashing scream. I need to remind myself not to have any more children.

Like usual, and like every other mother on the face of the earth, I knew that everyone else could do a better job than me. Other people’s babies aren’t constantly screaming.

It was such a mistake for me to be a mother.

One night, in the dark of her room, I sat on the edge of the rocking chair pushing the bassinet back and forth across the hooked rug. I’d brought the kitchen radio upstairs so I could listen to the City Council meeting where my husband, the Director of City Development, was making a presentation and holding a public hearing on a controversial new urban renewal project. I could hear his voice as clear as if he was in the next room and I could see him in my mind – dressed in his best suit, nice shirt (one of the five I pressed each Sunday night), his wavy hair and neat beard. He was a guy people could trust, a straight shooter.

He meant me no harm. He’d no sooner oppress me than fly to the moon. He was only doing his job. And doing it well.

Better than me.

The bassinet by now had split the seams in the hooked rug. It was coming apart in several places so I had to aim just right to make a smooth back and forth. If I slowed down, she stirred. So I kept up the pace while I listened to people on the radio asking questions, heard my husband patiently answering them. I pushed harder and harder. Not angry. Just envious. I was nothing else except the person pushing the bassinet. I obsessed about that. I need to be a better mother. I need to be important like him. I need to do something important. What is that?

The front legs of the bassinet buckled.

I knew it was time for a new plan. Or a new attitude. Or both.

5 Comments on “The Hooked Rug

  1. I remember days and nights like that. Sometimes thinking that (don’t let anyone hear me say this) I don’t like this child. I especially don’t like me for thinking that. Thankfully, time passes and things change. That child is now my best friend. This is honest writing. And I think the courage to be honest is a giant step toward being an excellent writer. You are are definitely that.

  2. This is an incredibly powerful passage. Those often silent, lonely, isolating feelings, as we transition into “being a mom”–you captured it so deeply. There’s so much vulnerability and rich depth, that turns so beautifully into a place of power…”for a new plan…attitude…or both”

    I love it. You’ve got a new follower! Thank you.

    • Thank you, Aubrey. It was a night that stuck with me for 40 years – strange how a little piece of time can be so significant to a person. It was a turning point in a lot of ways. Thanks for following – hope to make it worth your while.

      • Oh Jan, you already have. I can’t stop thinking about this post. I love the tag “earning to be a mother.” This idea that we have to prove ourselves as mothers, beyond simply loving and supporting our children, is mind boggling, and near impossible.
        When I resigned from my career to stay home and care for my family five years ago, I had these same feelings of isolation, of fearing I’d been doing it all wrong, that every decision we’d made would likely screw my kid and my family for decades.
        I read this post, first seeing all of your strength and conviction, and I wonder why I didn’t feel that way. And I reread it embracing the depth of the raw insecurities we tend to feel in the powerlessness of our lives, and I wonder, “Does Jan look back on this moment and see her conviction, or does she see weakness? Why do I not acknowledge my own conviction, despite all consequences, to be a stay at home mom, to know that things had to change for me, for my family?” And, I start thinking about it all over again.
        Your posts on mothering touch my soul, my very existence. They make me curious about my seemingly mindless desire to “earn” motherhood. I love it, and I am so grateful to be reading your stories.

      • Such a wonderful and motivating comment. Thank you so much. Motherhood to me has been a series of epiphanies, most of which I’m only now able to recognize as such, if that makes any sense. 🙂

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