Babies, Bikes, and Mothers

Maureen Moynihan

© Copyright 2021 by Maureen Moynihan

Photo by girl's bike.

Ever since I was strong enough to carry a baby on my hip without dropping it on its head, I worked. Growing up, I watched the drama of money play out in my own household. My father made most of the money, so he dictated that we ate Toasted Oats instead of Cheerios and wore sneakers without the Nike swoosh as they were a flagrant demonstration of white collar commercialism.

My mother had limited access to money and once needed to resort to extreme measures in order to buy penicillin. After my father denied her request, claiming the drug was really liquid bubble gum, she called the Irish Reinforcement: his mother.

My grandmother was a crusty old Catholic, pickled in spite. She did not like children but worshipped her respected reputation within the church community. God forbid if word got out that Biff Moynihan did not care for his sick children. Within 5 minutes of Grandma telling my dad to get his head out of his arse, he was out the door and bought the penicillin along with a 12 pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon. It was then I decided that I’d always control my own money. I would never be a puppet in my own show because someone else controlled my purse strings. No way in hell.

Good things evolved from this epiphany. When I was ten, my dad informed me that God gave me a head full of brains along with a good set of legs, so if I wanted a new bike I could figure out how to pay for one. And I did. To my amazement, parents would pay me a couple bucks to play hopscotch or carry a toddler around on my hip. It was spectacular.

My Huffy Sweet and Sassy captivated the blazing trends of a 1970s childhood, featuring a banana seat peppered with orange and purple flowers. It was like sitting my fanny on a little slice of sunshine. A bell perched on the elongated handlebars. I chimed it to announce my arrival or express impatience. And since head injuries had yet to hit the collective social consciousness, my ponytails whipped in the wind with the unbridled joy of a Golden Retriever with its head out the car window. It was exhilarating. It was empowering. It was freedom.

My bike took me many places but mostly 3 miles up the road to Nana and Pa’s house. Nana stopped stirring the sauce the moment I arrived as she needed two hands to applaud my arrival and two arms to wrap herself around me. Every time I showed up in her kitchen, which was practically every day, I received a parade. It was that kind of love.

Nana had little tolerance for the lazy or unemployed. As a child of the Great Depression, she witnessed what happens when layoffs pull the rug out from under families. Fortunately, her father was a wizard with numbers so she was shielded from poverty despite his illiteracy. Nana inherited his whip-snap brain along with a divine sense of purpose and taught herself how to read. In English.

Nana’s performance expectations were beyond scription. If you were not raising a child, the most important job in the universe, you were expected to work and serve your community. That was God’s plan. Her plan had educational addendum. Her academic career ended after high school, though she graduated at the top of her class, as her father did not see the point of educating a girl. So like most women of her generation, Nana worked in the textile mills until an appropriate suitor appeared to exchange the doldrums of factory work for the exhilaration of motherhood.

Growing up, my job was to perform well in school so I could enjoy the luxury of a career, a treasure that was stolen from her. This unspoken agreement was fine by me because I loved school, except for the studying part. Nonetheless, I managed to work my way through every irrelevant and tedious assignment so my Nana could soak up all the pomp and circumstance at graduation. Yet despite her advocacy for female independence, each time I strolled across the stage, she’d wrap her arms around me and whisper, “Now I can die...once we find you a husband.”

The day my mom earned a Master's degree, she handed my dad divorce papers. With an empty nest and benefits, she could afford to leave his tyranny and live a peaceful life of self-reliance. As a witness to her revival, I racked up degrees like a thermostat just in case I accidentally married an arse.

It never bothered me that I was the breadwinner of our family. Jack and I were building a life together and earning big money was not a priority with him. Sure, he enjoyed an occasional game of golf, but fancy cars and designer clothes were not his thing. As long as I made the money and managed it, he was good.

Still my husband and I struggled to unscramble our preconceived expectations of gender roles and household chores. We agreed that two college education professionals should contribute to household finances but argued over whose job it was to unload the dishwasher. There seems to be a lot of chatter about women breaking the glass ceiling but little dialogue about who then is going to clean up the mess.

My precarious work-home relationship capitulated into a chaos when my water broke in the middle of a high school cafeteria. At the time, I was an Assistant Principal wobbling around a pregnant belly, when a fight broke out about a cheeseburger that was really about a dirty marijuana deal. Then whoosh!!!

A warm sensation rippled through my body as a gush of amniotic fluid burst out of my body and onto the cafeteria floor. In a flash, approximately 55 teenage witnesses reconsidered the consequences of capricious sex and developed a new appreciation for birth control.

The voice of our lead custodian, Kevin, bellowed through my walkie talkie:

Spillage in the cafeteria!!”

It’s human fluid!!

Bring the sand!”

I grabbed the largest teenager within my reach and waddled towards the restroom as Kevin’s voice executed my amniotic fluid action plan.

Go to the lost and found!”

Grab that trench coat!”

She’s soaked!”

We weaved through the landmines of public humiliation like 2 infantry soldiers just deployed on Omaha Beach. As commanded, the confiscated trench coat was delivered. I hesitated to put it on as the slogan “Jesus was a Liar” was written on the back in bold, black sharpie. Kevin reported to the bathroom door, his face panicked with the possibility of delivering my baby.

I can’t put this on,” I said, “it’s sacrilegious.”

He stared at me with a level of disbelief that bordered on anger. When my contractions kicked in, I quickly exchanged superstition for hope of an epidural. Kevin wrapped me in the trench coat and sent me out the door like a human burrito in a take-out line. On March 23rd, 2006, minimal learning occurred at Londonderry High School. And I became a mother.

My commitment to making the world safe for democracy became buried under piles of poop. Literally. I struggled with the lack of guidance and gratuity in child rearing. Phrases such as “Thanks for the peaches Mom, they really reduced my constipation,” were never spoken nor was I offered a funny hat and a diploma to certify that I survived 4 years without REM sleep. On one hand, I was told to “Lean In” at work but on the other, I need to lean into the bathroom stall to provide stability for the breast pump.

Really? When will our expectations of gender roles and catch up with the reality of working mothers?

It is validating to make money. Hell, it’s down right fun. But work that offers no financial compensation and rests on the laurels of gender expectation is not fun. It’s an abyss of perpetual, mindless tasks that never end but must get done.

So as our generation plays out the American narrative of work and prosperity, let’s not forget the chapter about who makes the chicken sandwich or carries the baby around on their hip. Let’s all keep in mind that children are not born to raise themselves. And the toilet bowl is not going to scrub itself. We all have important work to do.

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