by Kate Mantello

Shortlisted for the 2015 My Child/Parenting Express Short Story Competition for Parents


I cried today. Not because I am depressed, but because I am desperately dissatisfied and strangely, sadly….empty. The sparkling essence that once filled me until brimming has trickled out somewhere along the way.

When I stare deep into my inner well, I no longer see my reflection grinning back at me from the shimmery surface, only a dark tunnel of emptiness. The echo frightens me. I know if I throw in a pebble, it will splash eventually, proving that some of the substance of who I was remains, but it’s taking longer and longer to hit the bottom.

Today I woke up early again, around 6am. I am so tired of being tired. Our small son was eating his cereal at the table. I felt guilty that he regularly ate his breakfast alone, but couldn’t bring myself to leave the sanctuary of bed. Besides, I’d been having a dream about swimming in a river in Sweden and I wanted to prolong the feeling of careless abandon for as long as possible. I’d forgotten what it felt like. Our even smaller daughter pitter-pattered out of her room and her wails shattered any lingering feeling of joy from my dream, bringing me back to my domestic reality.

I wiped the goo from my eyes. Conjunctivitis was a little gift from our children this week. I got up and read my mantras, stuck to the wall beside my bed, hoping to instill positivity and strength enough to face another day as a mum.

“Every day is an opportunity for success!”
“I am creative, motivated and determined”
“I can achieve anything”

Today I cleaned. I emptied bowls of mushy cereal and crawled around the floor picking up soggy flakes, which I knew would cement to the ceramic tiles if I didn’t act immediately. I swept. I packed away toys. I dreamed I was anywhere but here. I asked our son to get dressed. I ran the dishwasher. I asked our son to get dressed. I changed a nappy. I made the beds. Our daughter spilled her drink. I cleaned under the table again. I ordered our son to get dressed. I wondered what my childless friend in LA was doing right now.

Our daughter flung a basketful of soiled clothes all over the bathroom. I closed the bathroom door. I listened to her scream and bash on the bathroom door. I opened the door and asked her to pick up the mess. I listened to our daughter scream. I opened the door. She screamed. I closed. I opened. I told myself I would remain calm. I snapped and smacked her…hard. I hated myself.

Today a customer came around. For a few minutes I felt a flicker of the old me come alive, before it was extinguished, along with the tea-light candle our son blew out once the customer had left. I put on some inspirational music and burned some incense, determined to find my equilibrium. I breathed. I cleaned up under the table where our son spilled his drink. I picked up toys. I gritted my teeth as ‘Muuuuum!’ was wailed to me for the hundredth time today. I watched our children play outside, seeing them but not. I thought about women I loved who had miscarried their babies. I felt guilty. I should treasure every moment with my healthy, beautiful babies. I changed another nappy.

Today I found myself thinking about the women who abandon their families. It is not the first time. I wonder if I could or would ever do that. I decide I couldn’t. Wouldn’t. But it scares me that I think about it. It has become a game I play with myself…Where would I be if I wasn’t here…? How can I love something so much, but want so desperately to escape from it? Yes, even from you.

Today I thought about our loaded silences. Is it just me or does the air between us seem heavier? I have tried to talk to you, to cry, to engage, even begged for you to listen, but you push me away. You have your own thoughts to burden you. I never thought we would find ourselves here. We are on auto pilot, fulfilling our roles of Mother, Father, Husband and Wife, but not really resonating. You are as unfulfilled as I am and I cry for you too. This is not how we pictured ourselves.

Today I thought about the distance creeping between us. You tell me I never want to be intimate anymore. Can’t you see it’s because I have nothing left to give you? The children take and take and take. I am empty. In the interest of self-preservation I close myself, unwilling to give anymore, lest I am emptied completely. You can help fill my well with loving words and gentle touches, but you are drained too and no longer touch me. When you do, it is straight to business and I feel even hollower. My desire is gone. My love for you is not.

Today I sat on the couch and wrote this. The children are asleep and I can think. I count the days until our son begins school, then I remind myself to treasure this time with him. He told me he wanted to marry me because I was his best girl. I thought I would be a better mum.

Today I dreamed of swimming in rivers in Sweden and of being free. I wondered if I would ever know that feeling again. I picked up toys. I changed a nappy, I made three lunches. I cleaned. I cried…I loved.


© Kate Mantello

“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*

I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.

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* Gloria Steinem