Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
What Would Betty Do?

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My five-year-old refers to my mother,
the grandmother she has never met,
by asking, "What would Betty say
when you were mean to Aunt Connie?"
Then I tell a story about some terrible prank
I did to my younger sister,
and my mother's frustration with me.
"Tell me again," my daughter requests
and the stories continue
all with different pranks
and similar responses.

Sometimes my daughter will crawl on my lap
and say, "I hope you don't die of cancer,"
and I'll remember asking questions
about the grandmother I never met
who died of cancer when my mother was eight,
and how little she would say
about this unknown grandmother,
until she was closer to dying of breast cancer herself.
Then her mother seemed to return and stories unfolded,
creating vivid pictures in my mind.
"I'll see her in heaven," she'd say,
and I'd remain silent,
knowing that reunion wouldn't be long off,
and I would become a motherless child
while she'd have a mother once again.

My mother had been dead
for fifteen years when I was pregnant,
yet, the heavier I became with my child's weight
the deeper was the pain with my memories
of my mother crying,
wishing she could live
to see one of her children married
and herself a grandmother.

Evolving into motherhood
I mourned the loss
of my mother's love
and crawled into the closet
crying daily
in my own dark womb
immobilized with unknown visions.
I stroked my belly
apologizing for tears
not wanting to upset
my child
so soon.

When my father worked third shift
we took turns sleeping with my mother.
I'd offer my sister money
so I could have her turn,
money she'd refuse
leaving me alone
awake in my room
silently suffering lost time with Mother.

Now my daughter shares the bed with me
and concerned friends
suggest she's too old
should be in her own bed
and I should be sleeping
with a lover
not a child.

Remembering my mother
and our nights in bed.
I fall asleep
holding my daughter
relieved to be healthy
free of nocturnal fears
immersed in maternal dreams.

I wipe away quiet tears
that wake me in the middle of the night
knowing what Betty would say about this sleeping arrangement.
Sleep well. Keep the covers on and the window open.


Diane Payne is the mother of twelve-year-old Ania in a dry town in the Bible belt. Her work has appeared in many publications including, Full Circle Journal, Drexel Online Journal, Hip Mama, Sojourners and Monkey Bicycle. Diane teaches at University of Arkansas-Monticello.


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