1114: The Mothers by Jill Bialosky

20240509 Slowdown

1114: The Mothers by Jill Bialosky


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

Just as friends arrived to dine with me and my wife, my teenage son left the house with several buddies. I joked he should return before the sun went down, which was in ten minutes. They were off to play video games at a neighbor’s house.

“He must like you. He brings his friends around,” said our dinner guests. “Our daughter wouldn’t be caught within a foot of us. We embarrass her.” I felt for them. I was proud of my connection with my kids. We went through it together.

So it was natural that I would offer to help my son move out of his dorm at the end of his first year in college. "I'm not coming home for the summer" — he said. He'd made plans to room with his friends in a downtown apartment. Wow, that stung. His independent decision brought me to a standstill — I didn’t think I would suffer the beginnings of empty nesting.

Today’s poem beautifully captures those complex emotions of watching our children emerge into themselves — and its threat to our identity.

The Mothers
by Jill Bialosky

We loved them.
We got up early 
to toast their bagels.
Wrapped them in foil.
We filled their water bottles
and canteens. We washed
and bleached their uniforms,
the mud and dirt
and blood washed clean
of brutality. We marveled
at their bodies,
thighs thick as the trunk 
of a spindle pine,
shoulders broad and able,
the way their arms filled out.
The milk they drank.
At the plate we could make out
their particular stance, though each
wore the same uniform as if they were
cadets training for war.
If by chance one looked up at us
and gave us a rise with his chin,
or lifted a hand, we beamed.
We had grown used to their grunts,
mumbles, and refusal to form a full sentence.
We made their beds and rifled through their pockets
and smelled their shirts to see if they were clean.
How else would we know them?
We tried to not ask too many questions
and not to overpraise.
Sometimes they were ashamed of us;
if we laughed too loud, 
if one of us talked too long to their friend,
of our faces that had grown coarser.
Can’t you put on lipstick?
We let them roll their eyes,
curse, and grumble at us
after a game if they’d missed a play
or lost. We knew to keep quiet;
the car silent the entire ride home.
What they were to us was inexplicable.
Late at night, after they were home in their beds,
we sat by the window and wondered
when they would leave us
and who they would become
when they left the cocoon of our instruction.
What kind of girl they liked.
We sat in a group and drank our coffee
and prayed that they’d get a hit.
If they fumbled a ball or struck out
we felt sour in the pit of our stomach.
We paced. We couldn’t sit still or talk.
Throughout summer we watched 
the trees behind the field grow fuller 
and more vibrant and each fall
slowly lose their foliage—
it was as if we wanted to hold on
to every and each leaf.

"The Mothers" by Jill Bialosky from THE PLAYERS © 2015 by Jill Bialosky. Used by permission of The Wylie Agency LLC.