Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood

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His first day, I get a turkey.
Brown construction paper --
Painstakingly cut by an underpaid adult --
The shape of a turkey's plump, round, body,
Glued on a white background.
Faint, aimless lines in red crayon
Decidedly unenthusiastic.
A plume of green and gold handprints, slightly smudged.
Through the paint and glitter, I see those hands covered in peanut butter
Pasta sauce
Black dirt from the driveway
Clutching my pant-legs.

Did he protest the paint?
The shy toddler who won't fingerpaint
Won't touch playdough
And deplores sticky fingers?

A teacher tells him in her too-big,
Talking-to-toddlers voice
To show mommy what he made today
And she hands it to me
And I go on
And she goes on
And I go on some more
About how wonderful it is
And I imagine that I glimpse pride creeping into his expression.
He carries it to the car,
Beginning to tear the feathers in his tight grasp.
I gently wrest away our treasure for safe keeping.

Did he do that scribble himself?
(He who never wants to use his crayons at home.)
Did they have to cajole him, praise him?
Was it fun?
Was he doing it to make someone happy
When he really wanted to play trucks?

I hang it on the side of our refrigerator,
The one that is stainless steel
The one we chose carelessly, without regard
For the turkeys in our future.

Which aproned young woman made those handprints?
Was she gentle, uncurling the same fists his fingers made when he was born?
Did she smile at him as she pressed his inked hands into the paper?
Did he say "yugh" when he saw the yellow paint,
And did she understand
And say, "Yes, Charlie, that is yellow"
And tell him what a bright boy he is?

He did this without me.
Maybe I will save it, tucked in the baby book I never bother to fill out.
Most likely I will not.

A turkey, for an afternoon,
Has wrenched me from the peace
Of being my baby's Everything.

Sarah McCanless has worked as an aerospace engineer, a technical writer, and a stay-at-home mother. She lives in Southern California with her husband and two sons, ages 6 and 9.

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