Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Cake Pops

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Rob buys a nine-pound brisket because I've been homesick for Toronto. It sits there marinating in one of those dollar store foil pans, taking up half the fridge and needing to be turned over every night. The marinade splashes out of the pan when I flip the brisket over with the tongs, spattering Lily's forehead as she sleeps in the wrap carrier on my chest. I wipe it off with my fingers and lick it automatically, immediately repulsed. I remember being maybe six or seven, cooking with Bubbie, and how she would pop little pieces of raw ground beef into her mouth. There was my mother's warning, too:

"I know Bubbie does it," she said, "but her stomach is used to it. Don't you ever. It'll make you sick."

About a month ago, my mother and I were talking on the phone. She asked how I was feeling.

"Happy," I said. "Tired, sore. The postpartum time is so much harder after forceps."

"Don't say that word!"

"What, forceps?"

"You know what I mean," she said. "That word."

"It means after you have a baby."

"Well, that's not what it sounds like."

When Nate was a baby, I used to meet my friend Miriam from hypnobirthing class at Starbucks on Monday afternoons. Nate and Leo would nap in their strollers while Miriam and I drank enormous cups of decaf. It was one of those things my midwife suggested I do in order to feel better. A scheduled outing. Miriam was doing it too; we'd both laughed when we realized that, our mouths half-full of cake pops.

It became our secret code—cake pops—the self-care talk, the lack of sleep and destroyed nipples, and the realization that all the light fixtures in the house were full of dead flies and the crying and crying and what? Scary thoughts. That's what they talked about in the group Miriam went to. I would have gone too, but instead we moved to Regina for a bigger house in a better neighborhood and more family around—Rob's family. They were all there; it would be good for Nate.

Miriam once told me that you were supposed to pull your car over and start brushing your hair if you started having cake pops while driving. I have a therapist now too. It's an online thing, and her name is Brandee. That's her real name. I looked up her profile on the University of Regina's website, and her photo is exactly what you'd expect. Her hair is blowing in the wind; she should be sitting on a pony.

It has occurred to me, it is a recurring thought, even, that the brisket weighs the same as Lily. Nine pounds, three ounces. It said so on the packaging, and my midwife said so yesterday at our six-week checkup. I suspected they were close, when I first held the brisket, but now that I know they're an exact match it's been on my mind a lot more. It seems almost indecent, using the tongs to pick it up and turn it over, and so I do it a little more gently.

At night, Rob lays in bed, reading on his phone, and I ask if he has to hold it so close to Lily's bassinet.

"What are you talking about?" he asks.

"I don't know. I don't know what you'd call them. Airwaves? Radioactive airwaves? You know, all those real estate agents who got brain cancer from their cell phones?"

"They only use that frequency when you're talking on them. It only matters when you're holding them next to your head."

I sigh and roll over; he knows I'm not buying it.

"All those waves from computers and cell phones are in the air, anyway. It doesn't matter if you're using them or not."

"You're not making me feel any better," I say.

I cut the cord on our microwave early this morning. Rob hasn't noticed yet and I haven't told Brandee. At first, I tried just unplugging it but it wasn't enough; I kept thinking about that news article I'd read earlier, about some teenagers breaking into a house and microwaving the cat. It was a 20-pound cat, so there was no question as to whether she would fit in there. I got the scissors out of the junk drawer and tried to cut the cord, but all I managed to do was put little grooves in the plastic. After that, I got a pair of loppers from the basement, and those did it.

Rob falls asleep and I push the bassinet away from our bed and get out my laptop. Brandee, with her master's degree in psychology, will not understand. When my input into the weekly CBT module is something other than "I feel better now that I slept for three hours in one stretch," or "I got a haircut," Brandee wants to know if I'm requesting a follow-up call. I have no desire to speak with someone who gives all of my check-ins feedback like, "Fantastic job going for that haircut! What a great way to take some time out for yourself!" and 'fantastic' is not only in italics, but in green text, so I explain around it instead: I've been eating too many cake pops and have made myself sick.

I think of Brandee sifting through her inbox full of patient check-ins, tapping out her responses with Shoppers Drug Mart cashier fingernails. "Good for you, taking a bubble bath! Fabulous idea!" and "Do you think this might be an example of black and white thinking?" I imagine what her face would be like if I slammed her with this one. Ha. Hey Brandee, did you ever try putting a nine pound, three ounce brisket in the microwave, not to cook it, of course, to cook it would turn it into shoe leather, but just to see if it would fit? Because I stayed up all night last night worrying that it probably would. The thing is, I've got a nine pound, three ounce brisket marinating in my fridge, and it's pretty big. Nine pounds of anything is pretty big, but not that big, if you know what I'm saying.

Rob can fix it later. He'll just have to peel back the coating on the cord and twist the wires together again. He fixed the cord on the rice cooker that way a few weeks ago when I'd left it lying across the stove burner and melted it. A few chops, a bit of fiddling, some black electrical tape and it was fine. "It's better now than it was before," he said. "Cord was too long, anyway."

Before I go to sleep, I look around for a few minutes online. For months I’ve been meaning to send Miriam an email to say hello, to say sorry for not writing to say goodbye when I moved away, and how now I wish we could meet somewhere to talk and have coffee. Miriam ended her maternity leave early. "Leo is amazing, but accounting is so much easier!" she said. Her emails became infrequent and brief. Did I even respond to them? I look for her name in my friends' directory. She's not there.

In the morning, I get ready to go for a walk with the kids and my mother-in-law. I walk up and down the sidewalk in front of our house with Lily crying in the stroller and Nate standing on the toddler board attached to it. I sing him his favorite song:

Down by the bay
where the watermelons grow,
back to my home
I dare not go

My mother-in-law pulls up to the curb. "That's right. Let her cry it out for a few minutes. It's good for the lungs!" she says.

Lily's hands are out of the blanket now, raised over her head. My mother-in-law comes up from behind and takes the stroller in a whiz of purple Lululemon tracksuit. I had been trying, slowly, to swerve around the caterpillars lying on the sidewalk. Overnight, they were everywhere. They had fallen from the sky.

"It's like that here, the first few weeks, in the spring," Rob tells me later. "It happens in Toronto too, doesn't it?"

"No," I tell him. "Maybe. Maybe there were a few. But not like this."

He goes on to explain how eventually I'll stop thinking about them. I guess I'll just look straight ahead, ignoring the violence happening under my feet.

This piece first appeared in Room.

Amy Roher  has published fiction and creative nonfiction in Room, Lilith, and others. She lives in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.

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