Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Dare Not Speak: On Not Being the Other Mother

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When I met you, you couldn't talk and your mother hadn't noticed, so accustomed was she to reading your mind. But I looked at you and knew you had something to say. Your face seemed to ask me why you couldn't make the words.

So I began with colors: blue, brown, black, even yellow came easily enough, but it took you so long to learn red that I thought at first you were color-blind. "He can't see red," I told everyone. But as I taught you numbers, shapes, letters, animals, people, food, and tools, I realized you could see everything with a clarity I almost feared, as slowly, your tongue came into focus too.

No sooner had I taught you, than you were cursing me; pointing a finger accusingly, "Mommy."

"Mommy."

And when I tried to shrug it off, "You are Mommy."

No one else thought so; certainly not the Mommy police surrounding us on every side, wondering why that strange woman was still living on the base, when there was already a full-time nanny resident in the single-mom major's house. But they didn't ask. So we didn't have to tell.

But you knew exactly why I was there; leveling that finger right at my nose -- only inches from my distracted face, as I hurried to tie your late-for-school shoes -- and pronouncing, sibyl-like "two Mommies."

Didn't you know that there can't be two mommies? And a Daddy can't be a woman, however much easier it was for you to say at first. Didn't you know that no matter what Andrew Sullivan writes, no matter what Melissa and Julie did, no matter how the HRC spins it, this is STILL a patriarchy. You are a bastard; I am a fallen woman. And your spinster mother? She is the heathen harvest goddess herself, spawning children without benefit of a phallus.

We still move to this drum at our own risk -- dangerously, daringly -- in a world where though it may be chic to know a lesbian, it is not so chic to be one. We are hemmed in by their families and their values, in that place we couldn't find the wiggle room to battle our demons, or to free ourselves from our own childhood curses.

Because we are all cursed, my child. I cursed you with speech and I reaped your ominous pronouncements one by one, counting down the moments before I lost you:

"I love you."

"I miss you."

"You are Mommy."

So now I am Mommy, alone and virgin-wombed. I am Mommy for no reason that is reasonable. I am Mommy by the only law that would grant me the title: your finger in my face as I dressed you; your head on my lap in the rocker at three a.m.; your excited greeting after work, after school; your small, perfect arms around my neck; and your whispered "don't go!" in my restless dreams.


Shannon L.C. Cate is a freelance writer and a teacher of writing and American literature. She and her partner are currently waiting for their first child together through domestic infant adoption. They divide their time between Illinois and Washington, DC.


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