The cracks in the foundation are growing. I find myself measuring them with a ruler each day, making little tick marks on the cement with the date penciled above. It reminds me of the way my mother used to document the height of my brother and me on the back wall of her closet, which, in the end, she painted over when they moved out of that house. When I asked her why she had bothered if she was only going to paint over it, she told me that it had been a way to mark the passage of time, a way that she no longer needed. Now that I have kids of my own, I understand what she meant. That night, I tell my husband about the growing cracks. He shrugs in a “what do you want me to do about it?” kind of way. He has a point. We can’t afford to have it fixed, but still, I find myself out there every afternoon, marking away. My five-year-old finds it fascinating. He stands behind me while I’m out there, his hands on his hips, studying the marks and examining how they have changed from week to week.
Yup, they’re definitely growing, he tells me, one afternoon as the two of us stand out there, passing time.
Meanwhile, dinner the next night, the eight-year-old chooses to tell me that she has decided to become a vegan. When I ask her if she knows what that means, she rolls her eyes at me.
No animal products, Mom, her voice dripping with condescension.
The only thing she eats that night is the rice. I don’t bother telling her I cooked it in bone broth. My oldest son offers to eat her chicken, which she happily piles on top of his already full plate. I text my husband after dinner to let him know about our daughter’s new diet. He responds that it’s fine with him if I still plan on cooking meat for the rest of them. I don’t bother responding.
Meanwhile, the man at the gym whose eyes meet mine in the mirror is there again the next day. He’s probably ten years younger than me. His shirt stretches across his shoulders in a way that makes me want to see what’s underneath. I find myself using equipment that’s close to him. I stay on the treadmill so long while he lifts weights a few feet away that my legs start to feel like jelly and when I finally step off my body still feels like it’s in motion. I steady myself on the equipment but play it cool by pretending I’m stretching. He’s so close I can smell his deodorant. He smiles at me and I find myself smiling back. Afterward, I make a beeline for the women’s locker room to keep him from introducing himself to me. If he asked for my number, I’m pretty sure I would give it to him without feeling guilty. I’m not sure if I’m ready to know that about myself yet though. In the locker room shower, I run my hands across the stretch marks that line my stomach and wonder if anyone other than my husband will ever see them.
Meanwhile, my twelve-year-old daughter asks if she can start wearing makeup. Her skin is so smooth and clear, I ask her why she would ever want to cover it up.
All my friends are wearing it, Mom. It’s not fair!
Nothing is ever fair to my twelve-year-old.
Meanwhile, the principal calls to tell me that the eight-year-old refuses to eat lunch in the cafeteria, that she “can’t stand the smell of all the death.” I tell her that I’ll send her with lunch if she will let her eat in the hall until she outgrows this particular phase. I also offer to head the annual wrapping paper fundraiser. She agrees. When the eight-year-old gets home she tells me that she can no longer use the backpack that she insisted I buy for her before the year started because it was produced at a plant that also processes animal hides. I tell her to ask her father about a new backpack. She glares at me and stomps up to the room she shares with her sister.
Before I can stop myself, I shout up at her, I know! It’s not fair!
She slams the door so hard the walls in the kitchen seem to shake. I remind myself that part of being a parent is being disliked. I can hear my own mother laughing in my head.
Meanwhile, I avoid the gym for the next few days, spending my mornings at Dunkin Donuts instead. By the end of the week, the teenager at the counter knows my order before I say anything. She doesn’t even bother asking what I want when I step up to the counter, just holds out her hand for my credit card. It strikes me how this stranger can remember what I like when my own husband cannot. The next day, I go back to the gym. When the man smiles at me, I walk over to him and introduce myself. When he asks for my number, I give it to him, and we agree to meet a nearby juice shop the next morning. When I get home, I measure the length of the cracks and step back, waiting for all of it to crumble.