Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Sunday, Whiny Sunday


"Do we have any bacon?"

After I cheerfully rattled off a veritable grocery list of available breakfast food options--eggs with or without cheese, pancakes, waffles, grits, toast, cinnamon raisin toast--my 2nd grader has the nerve to ask "Do we have any bacon?" and make disappointed noises because we don't.

"Do we have any bacon?"

After a morning of sibling sniping, a preschooler who wants to wear two pairs of underpants at the same time, the usual spills, complaints about the clothes I picked out and ironed while the reluctant wearer snoozed beneath her warm comforter, and the misery I inflicted by offering "spicy" grown-up toothpaste because I did forget to get kid toothpaste at the grocery store again! And apparently bacon too!

It was one of those Sunday mornings where I was just one strip of bacon away from losing it.

The time had come for a brief lecture on gratitude and my very low tolerance for complaints from kids with more than most --"Starving Kids in China" for the new millennium. I give myself credit for not opening the lecture with the decidedly post-modern, "You ungrateful little wenches..." I did, however, close the lecture by pointing to the refrigerator magnet which declares the house a no-whining zone.
But because my children are blithely unaware of my short fuse this morning, they continue fanning the flames.

"Why you wearing that again?" Peyton asks, as I am upstairs rushing to get dressed for church. She is newly three and I remember the days when I worried that she wasn't talking enough or clearly enough. Careful what you wish for.

Why am I wearing this again? Because making a nice breakfast and getting two children bathed, fully dressed, and their hair neatly groomed while listening to them lodge complaints every five minutes drains not only my energy but time. I have no minutes left for such luxuries as an outfit that still needs to be ironed. It is easier to coordinate the one I had on yesterday, if we are going to get to church on time. I'm just grateful for the shower.

But I simply answer: "Because."

Next up: Taylor, who has earned the nickname Dramatica, has bumped her knee. And this is no mere bump. She didn't bump into a pillow or pile of cotton balls. She (well-timed pause) bumped into Something Hard! Taylor moans to solidify her Academy Award nomination, and I tighten my grip on my toothbrush.

You know what, kid? My life bumped into something hard. My parents died. And, after over a decade of marriage, I got divorced and broke your heart in doing so. I'm starting my whole life over, and there's no blueprint. I started a new business. I write for a living, which is nobody's career path to financial security and funded college educations. I am trying to be a patient, sensitive mother, and sometimes, that doesn't go so well. And I am tired of hearing complaints!

Except mine, of course.

I keep all this to myself. To Taylor, I offer a sympathetic monosyllabic sound, sort of like a hum but with warmth, which has in the past conveyed: "I have heard your woes, daughter-mine. I care, but you are not bleeding. You will be fine. I am going to continue what I'm doing now."

And then it's time to go downstairs and take my uncharitable self to church.

Putting on jackets is another ordeal. Taylor has committed the egregious error of helping Peyton put on her jacket. Peyton rips off the jacket--"I. Do. It. MySELF!"--and throws it to the floor. Then, she smiles at me, picks up the jacket, and puts it on. "See?" she intones, with sugar dripping off the word. Taylor groans.

I put on my own jacket, a new one I'd just gotten on sale, and I begin the search for my purse and keys.

"Nice coat," I hear from behind me. "Where'd you get it? Target?"

I laugh at Peyton's beyond-her-years effort at conversation, amused and proud. I tell her I got the coat at a different store, and she continues sizing me up.

"Why you want to look like a man?"

I am no longer amused. Taylor, however, is laughing uncontrollably.

"What?" I ask.

"You look like a man in that coat," Peyton repeats.

What do you do when someone who thinks wearing two pairs of underpants is a good idea insults you and your fashion sense? My instinct is to assert my unmistakable femininity. Church can wait.

"I do not look like a man."

"Yes, you do."

"I do not." Then, allowing my pride to take a back seat to my curiosity, I try to get behind Peyton's eyes and see what she sees. " you think I look like a man because your dad has a black wool coat like this one, and I usually wear a brown leather coat?"

Peyton looks at me as if to say, "Whatever helps you sleep at night, sir."

Only a fool would argue about gender with a 3-year-old, I tell myself. Keys and purse in hand, we head out the door.

The ride to church is uneventful, and I even begin to relax, glad to be going to the kind of church where a mannish coat, jeans and a sweater (even day-old) aren't frowned upon.

As a violinist plays the sweetest prelude music at the front of the sanctuary, my mind wanders back to bacon. I hear the Enjoli perfume woman singing, "I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan..." Yeah, yeah, yeah, me too. That part is easy; remembering the bacon amidst the rest of life's to-do list is the real challenge. I bet the Enjoli woman didn't have kids. No mom I know bursts into a faux blues song declaring her ability to Do It All. Not while sober, anyway.

Deesha Philyaw’s writing on race, parenting, gender, and culture has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, McSweeney’s, The Rumpus, Brevity, TueNight and elsewhere. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, her collection of short stories about Black women, sex, and the Black church, is forthcoming from West Virginia University Press in fall 2020.

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Oh Deesha. Having lived through a hundred whiny Sundays (not to mention other days), I can so empathize and relate. This column is painfully hilarious and yet very moving too. Great work.
Deesha, I love how you write about your kids -- the voices are so clear!
I fell out of my chair! Never have I read something that so close to the way I feel on the "remember that you love them" days.
Deesha, I go through like situations almost every Sunday morning barely making it to Sunday school on time and my kids are 16 and 12. I really enjoyed the story, keep up the great work.
Deesha, I go through like situations almost every Sunday morning barely making it to Sunday school on time and my kids are 16 and 12. I really enjoyed the story, keep up the great work.
Ditto, Deesha. So many moms can SO relate to this scenario, and I'm certainly one of them. Kudos on your patience and wise approach (only a fool would argue about gender with a three-year-old, for example) and for reminding me I'm not the only one out there willing myself on a daily basis to be a more patient mom.
Oh, I'm stumbling upon these kind comments so late! But thanks for the kudos and the reminder that I'm not the only one whose strong suit is not patience. The funny thing is, I'm tremendously patient with people who are not my children. Maybe it's that thing about familiarity breeding contempt. Or at least, impatience. :-)
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