I wish I could be a good writer, but being a mother makes that difficult. I wish that I could sit down every day at the same time and pump out a thousand words, five hundred words, one hundred words.
Instead, I write little sticky notes to myself with ideas I want to write about. My yellow post it reads: You Are My Sunshine. Those words remind me of when my mother would sing that song to me, as a little girl and eight months ago, seconds before I was sliced open. I was a grown adult at 28 years old, but still I needed my mom to sing to me as if I was a child. I was scared. I couldn’t feel the lower half of my body and my baby was in distress. I wasn’t married or in a relationship. I only had my mom.
“Mom, can you sing ‘You Are My Sunshine’ to me?”
“Now?” she whispered.
“Yeah, I’m scared,” I said through tears.
She got close to my face and whisper-sang in my ear. She rubbed my forehead and caught all the tears that fell.
You are my sunshine.
Minutes later my baby girl was born.
Being a good mother doesn’t allow for much time to write. I find the time to write in what little free moments I can find. Sometimes I think my goals are unobtainable. Finish my memoir and be a good mother.
Being a good mother comes first.
Finishing my memoir is my life goal.
Last night I had two choices: leave my sick coughing baby in the bed alone while I wrote or lie next to her to listen to her breathing. I did not want to leave her in the bed alone. I lie down next to her and sing to her, as my mother sang to me. In my head I think about writing every moment down. How can I turn these moments into an essay? I turn the words in my head over and over. I don’t write any of it down, not yet. Instead, I wait for my daughter to fall asleep. If something happened, I would forever regret leaving her, just to write one hundred, five hundred, one thousand words.
I look at her tiny body, the one I grew in my own body, and I caress her little hand. One day she will be grown, and I won’t have these moments. I fall asleep thinking how one day she’ll turn ten, twenty-five, sixty-seven.
I wake up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep with her body next to mine, radiating heat, her little legs pressing into my back. I move her to the crib placed at the foot of my bed and lay her down and hope she doesn’t wake up. Still worried about her, I rotate my own body and fall asleep with my head at the foot of the bed. It’s just the two of us.
In the morning I hear her moving around. I open my eyes to find her staring back at me. She smiles and squeals with excitement. I give her a kiss and tell her I love her, as I carry her to the changing table. She tries to sit up and reaches for the diaper cream. She touches everything she can get her tiny hands on. She tries to suck on the pump of a bottle of lotion. As soon as I take the lotion away, she rolls over to try and crawl away. I’ve seen ads for devices to keep your baby still while changing their diaper, but I know it won’t work. Babies cannot be contained. Instead, I give her little kisses and tell her I love her again and again. I love the way she wriggles around when I’m trying to dress her. I love how in just eight months she has a personality. She’s feisty and determined. People say she’s just like me.
After I change her, I begin to nurse her, though my body is making less milk. I question how much milk she’s getting and how much baby food I should feed her to make up for the dwindling supply. Everything is a question. Motherhood is question after question that only I can answer.
I take her to my grandma or my mom each day that I have to work. I work as an office manager where I inconspicuously write on bright yellow sticky notes. I sneak in the words when I have some free time. The sticky notes are small. The fresh ink smears on the side of my hand as I write. On the fourth sticky note is when I realize this is not practical. I tell myself that later I’ll type the words from the sticky notes onto the computer. Maybe tonight. If my baby isn’t coughing.
I place the sticky notes on top of my printed work-in-progress memoir. I like to keep the manuscript with me at all times in case I have something to add or take away. The weight alone is a reminder. It’s a burden. It’s my heart and soul. Inside contains all of who I am–my history, my life, my gift to my daughter. It begs me to finish it.
I carry my printed manuscript in a bag that’s half the size of my body. I also carry around my breast pump and all the accessories. The cones to cup, bottles to capture the milk, tubes to connect the cones to the pump, a microwaveable sanitation bag, and a rack to dry it all between pumps. Twice a day I close the blinds and lock the three doors that lead into my office. I hope no one calls or knocks. Once someone knocked, while I sat there shirtless, cones attached, and I wondered if they could hear the pumping. I considered typing to drown out the sound of my pump sucking in and out, in and out. Much like the way when I tell myself to breathe, inahala, exhala. Breath in and out. But instead of breathing the pump sucks in my breasts and when it releases, I watch the milk squirt out the tiny holes in my nipples. In and out with a little hiss of milk hitting the side of the cone and dropping to the bottle.
Later that night I thought about sneaking away to the computer, but my baby started to cough. I thought about those neon yellow squares. On them I have written only words that mean nothing to anyone but myself. One sticky note says Selena, so I can write what it was like growing up unable to speak Spanish, just like Selena. I want to write for myself, but most of all for my daughter who will grow up like me–a Mexican-Puerto Rican American who doesn’t speak Spanish in a rural town of Colorado. Though I want to write for her in the future, the present baby version of her needs me. My writing will have to wait.
Days later I find the sticky notes scattered around my bag. The sticky side is no longer sticky, flecks of dirt cling to the adhesive. Those that do still adhere are stuck to the side of my breast pump. They are taunting me. Lucky Perfume. That’s what is written on a sticky note in my sloppy handwriting, that looks just like my mother’s handwriting. I stick it to the top of my manuscript to remind myself to include the time in junior high when it seemed all the girls had Lucky Perfume except for me. I watched as the girls sprayed the precious perfume all over themselves and by the time it was finally sold at Walmart no one was interested in it anymore. There wasn’t any time to write down anything else on the sticky notes. I had to answer the question instead, the motherhood question: What’s more important, making milk for the baby, or becoming a writer?
I think about my baby at home with my mom while I work. She drinks from a bottle now, though when I first went to work, she refused. She fussed and fussed and waited all day for me to nurse her at lunch and after work. My mom sends me photos of my daughter almost every hour along with texts on what the two of them are doing. One text reads, “Ashley I love her so much and you’ve blessed me by making me a grandmother.”
I gather all the sticky notes and tuck them in my notebook that contains my manuscript. I pull out my breast pump. I attach the hose, the bottle, the cones. I take off my top and lock the doors. I pump out milk for my daughter.
© Ashley Espinoza
[This piece was selected by Sarah Broderick. Read Ashley’s interview]