Peanut Butter and Parenting: A True Story

I want to thank Jennifer Blanke for her submission ‘Peanut Butter and Parenting’, a true story about parenting and being parented.

Jennifer Blanke has a BS in Elementary Education and a Master of Fine Arts in Writing degree from Lindenwood University where she was an editorial assistant for two issues of The Lindenwood Review. She is a wife, mother, teacher, and writer in St. Louis, Missouri and has writing published in Mum Life Stories and Her View From Home.

Website: http://jennifermblanke.com/home/



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Peanut Butter and Parenting

   My fondness for peanut butter began at Rowan Elementary School in Mars, PA when I was somewhere between the ages of eight and ten. My exact age is a bit fuzzy because let’s be honest, elementary is an age. I was teeter-tottering, rocking my Jordache jeans, and could barely close my mouth around a wad of the newest trend, Hubba Bubba gum, which for some unknown reason was allowed in school. The monstrous pink glob flew out of my mouth as if it were escaping into freedom and unfortunately for both of us got captured in my stick-straight, long blond hair. I tried to remove the gummy mess, but there was nothing I could do except make it worse. My mother was called. I braced myself for a lengthy lecture on the short drive home.

I am the oldest of four children; I was five when the baby was born. My mother loved and cared for us, but she did not have time to coddle us. Growing up in the 70s and 80s was perfect for her authoritarian/authoritative combo parenting style which was a healthy combination of enforcing rules, focusing on obedience, (mostly) fair punishments, and positive relationships. My childhood is filled with happy memories and I attribute that to clear parameters that helped me feel safe and secure to roam the neighborhood with the littles tagging along behind me from morning until the dinner bell (which was basically the yelling of our names for all to hear). Of course, we’d head home mid-day and find a PB&J waiting for us on the back deck so we didn’t drag in dirt or extra mouths to feed. I grew up on peanut butter by choice because the alternative was hot dogs cut up in scrambled eggs or baloney and cheese on white. 


MLS Micro-Fiction Anthology, Vol 1

As I was sitting in a chair right outside of the school office, I saw my mother approaching with a scowl on her face and a jar of peanut butter in her hand. Wait? What is she doing with that? I honestly thought she would take me home and work her magic until every last piece of sticky goo was out of my hair, but nope, as she got closer I could tell that Mom, me, and The Peanut Man, cane and all, were about to put on a show. 

I’ve never had a gum and peanut butter moment with one of my children, but there have been a few shows. I parent just like my mother. I’m tough and I’m driven by an unwillingness to allow my children to become less than their destiny demands. Words like you’re so mean and I bet other parents wouldn’t… and I’m over eighteen have bounced across the wood flooring of our tiny ranch on many occasions. These words echo back:  I’m not your friend, I don’t care what other parents do, and as long as you live in this house. It’s called tough love and thankfully their father is a stable presence in all of our lives because he brings calmness and balance to my crazy.

My two kids never slept in bed with us, they toddler marched to timers and routines, and they know the embarrassment of not having their homework or PE uniform because their mom refused to bail them out. They both have jobs because one wants to replace the 1997 Chevy that his grandpa gave him and the other wants a new phone. I’ve gotten plenty of sideways glances from the helicopter moms as they’re flying their darlings from one sporting event to another with a stop over to pick up the homework paper forgotten at school or from the lawnmower moms plowing a path and eviscerating anyone who stands in their child’s way of success. My children are fiercely independent and fiercely loved. I firmly believe that my responsibility isn’t to rescue them every time they falter and fall into the deep end, but rather to teach them to swim so they can at least tread water long enough to drift to the shallow end of the pool while I cheer for them from the deck. There have been a few near-drowning experiences, but they know how to do their own laundry and pack a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch.

Many battles have ensued with my oldest because stubbornness is a family trait and giving up a good argument is just not in our DNA. He’s been arguing since he could talk which was early compared to some and not surprising if you’ve encountered him when he’s pursuing one of his innovative ideas. The arguments now are about politics, religion, and why he shouldn’t have to follow our unnecessary rules instead of naptime, snacks, and why he should be able to wear his PJ top and inside-out socks to school. The sock thing really bothered me and it’s laughable now, because that was so insignificant compared to the struggles that followed. I’ll never forget the image of a kicking-screaming-thrashing little boy who didn’t get his way in the dollar store causing me to abandon my cart full of his birthday decorations. The scene that followed of me force-strapping him into his car seat as I uncontrollably sobbed, unfortunately, happened more than once. He is strong-willed, but I learned to be stronger. There is a fine line between parenting and hostage negotiating. My years of the former could probably land me a career in the latter.

My daughter is shy, but when she’s comfortable in her environment, her sassiness appears. She’s also brutally honest, if you can get her to talk. When she was in Kindergarten she told a classmate that her shoes were ugly and asked if she got them at the Goodwill. After a call from her teacher, a conversation about being kind to others took place with my five-year-old questioning me about whether or not she should lie next time. So, I should have lied and said that I liked her shoes? Well, maybe you could find something to like about them and only say that. Isn’t that still lying? In third grade at a sleepover, one of her friends called her fat. So, we had an honest conversation about beauty and body image and I gently reminded her that this is exactly why it’s important to think before you allow every thought to escape from your mouth. I hope she never forgets that God masterfully created her to be beautiful on the inside and when she lets the inside shine bright, it makes her radiant on the outside. A propensity for music has grown in the past few years and I find myself needing to push her toward growth. I’m always in a tug-o-war with these two kids; the oldest needing to be tugged back in and the youngest needing to fly.

I will advocate for them, love them even when they make poor choices, and they will always have a safe haven when life gets tough; I will give them exactly what my mother gave me.

            I can still feel my mother’s vigorous hands working the peanut butter through my locks every time I open a jar. She pulled that peanut butter through my hair so rough that day and removed every last stringy piece of bubble gum. Honestly, it’s a wonder that I can still eat the stuff. Her hands said more than her words ever could. I don’t remember much else other than hoping Ronnie, my first crush, was not walking down the hallway; I would have died if he’d seen my mother at school! I did get quite a few glances from my classmates when I returned to the classroom. Apparently eau de peanut parfum was not a fragrance trend at Rowan. You probably figured it out, but I was not taken home to shower and remove the greasy film that coated my hair; I was sent back to class, probably to make sure I’d learned my lesson. Tough love. It worked because I’m now a responsible mom showing up when my kids need it the most.


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The Memory Box – A Life In Letters: Short Story

I’d like to thank Alex Grey for her short story submission “The Memory Box – A Life In Letters” a touching tribute to the memories that make up a life gone by.

After a lifetime of writing technical non-fiction, Alex Grey is finally fulfilling her dream of writing poems and stories that engage the reader’s emotions. Her poems and short stories have been featured in a range of publications including Siren’s Call, Raconteur, Toasted Cheese, Short Edition and Little Old Lady Comedy.  Alex is married to her long-suffering partner of 36 years; she does not have any children but is “mum” to two fur babies – greyhounds Alex and Saffy. Her ingredients for contentment are narrowboating, greyhounds, singing and chocolate – it’s a sweet life.

This story is a fictionalised account of a remarkable life and is dedicated to Renia, Alex’s mother-in-law, whose courage and resilience has always been an inspiration.

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The Memory Box – A Life In Letters

That day, the nursing home’s ever-cheerful Activities Leader told us to use a memory box to reminisce with our loved ones.

I groaned. I knew the Activities Leader meant well but chasing my mother’s memories had become a tedious scavenger hunt as dementia hid them in the distant recesses of her brain and destroyed the clues that might lead me to them.

“We’re going to use the alphabet to think about places that your loved ones may have visited. Remember, don’t ask them to remember…” she paused, waiting for our weak laughter, “just ask them to tell you a story about a place that begins with that letter. Take your time and see how far you get.

I sat at the table with my mother, her blue-veined hands tapping out a tune that only she could hear. She smiled at me vacantly. I knew she couldn’t remember who I was, though she seemed to acknowledge that I was benign, something simple and pleasant like the institutional tea set and the cheap biscuits. My mother devoured them greedily, like a little girl at a rival’s birthday party. The activity room had a dozen tables like ours, covered with cheerful chintz tablecloths and circled with residents and their visitors in various degrees of torpor.

My eyes met those of another woman sitting at our table; her mother slumped in a wheelchair, crooning. We smiled briefly and looked away. You’d think there would have been some spark of empathy between us, but the long goodbye we were enduring was too painful, too personal to be shared.

“OK!” trilled the Activities Leader. “Let’s make a start. As you complete each card, just drop it into their memory box.”

“Look, we’re going to put things in here today.” I said.

I rattled the vintage biscuit tin that we were using as her memory box. I remembered when she’d bought the tin as a souvenir of a rare sightseeing trip to London; we’d eaten the biscuits with ceremony every Sunday teatime for a month. The lid had a picture of the Tower of London and the crown jewels.  When it was empty, she kept her sewing things in there. Every time she reached for it to darn a jumper or patch a dress, she would rattle the tin and laugh,

“Will we find jewels in here today?”

I remember looking over her shoulder excitedly; she always hid a treasure in the tin for us – an amber bead, a tiny rag dolly or a fat toffee wrapped in shiny gold foil.

I shook my head; my mother’s sewing days were over. Today the faded and rusty-edged tin contained some trinkets and photographs from a previous memory exercise. On good days, we would take them out and she would nod, her wandering mind briefly meeting mine at a waypoint. On bad days, we drank tea and stared, the tin a bewilderment of junk between us.



I forced a smile and picked up the first alphabet card. My mother looked the other way, distracted by the conversations going on around her. I touched her hand and she frowned, unwilling to concentrate on the activity. She had always enjoyed people-watching, that was the best part of being in a nursing home, she told me, back when she had been aware of where she was.

“Look, mama.” I said, “Can you tell me a story about a place that begins with the letter A?”

She fingered the card, and then started talking. I wrote little notes on the cards – it helped me to keep track of her disjointed thoughts.

AUSTRIA: My uncle saved me from the slave farm, a miracle; I had a bath, when I was free of filth I was as light as an angel in heaven.

BELSEN: They measured me there, height, hands, head – I was judged – Aryan enough to live, but not enough to be free.

I sighed; she’d been telling us tales of her wartime enslavement all of our lives. We’d always moved her on, embarrassed, but now I was afraid that her mind would be trapped in that nightmare for the rest of her days.

“No mama, don’t think about the war, what about our lovely holidays?”

She looked rebellious, then carried on…

CHECKPOINT CHARLIE: We went to Poland with treats for my uncle hidden in the car seats; frightened, we willed the children not to betray our innocent smuggling.

DULWICH: We made our life there – our own house, large enough to last a lifetime, a green place to raise our children, respectable, rich, peaceful.

EALING: We all went there after the war; we spoke Polish and dreamed of the old country. Some sneered that it was just a new ghetto; stupid people – we had freedom, money, education. I went to college, met my Olek and made a new life.

I missed my father so much; he’d looked after Mama when she first became ill, back when we pretended that she was just tired, that it was normal to forget things from time to time. We told stories to make it alright, but it wasn’t. He died of grief and worry, leaving me with this responsibility.



I realised that I’d drifted off – I held up the F card…

FRANCE: A truckstop on the road to England; so scared; so alone, each girl so alone, together only in body and hope.

“Not the war, Mama, please…”

GHANA: Olek’s business trips, violence, distrust; I worried at home with the children; the money never came home, but Olek did. I was grateful.

HARRODS: The SALE on our doorstep, a proper sale – I bought a fur coat for a song; I was an aristocrat again.

That fur coat! I loathed it, but mama’s friends from the old country wore fur, it was what they did, a symbol of how they’re recovered from their refugee poverty. Who was I to tell her it was wrong when she was so proud? She made me try it on, said it would be a legacy for generations if I looked after it and kept it in the freezer. I cut it up and turned it into dog beds, horrible thing.

ITALY: Our first holiday after the war; We went to the eternal city. We went to St. Peter’s Square where the Holy Father prayed with us. I was so sick, I thought it was the food, but I had been blessed, with YOU my daughter, reaching for life.

Suddenly she reached for my face and looked straight into my eyes. A lump of hope leapt into my chest, I’d so longed for her to know me again.

“Mama!” I said

“Sandra.” She said, “Are you here to cut my hair?”

I turned back to the cards, trying to hide the tears in my eyes, the heat of my hope igniting my anger. She couldn’t help it. I gritted my teeth; she really couldn’t help it.

She grabbed the next card…

JAMAICA: Our first Caribbean cruise, the sun so hot, the island so green, the sky and sea so blue.

KRAKOW: We bought amber in the market, dined on Fois Gras in Wierzynek; toured the salt mines, grateful for our freedom; we bowed our heads and sobbed in Auschwitz.

We’d all sobbed there. I hadn’t wanted to go. I still wish that I’d never been there, but Mama said we must never forget. I will never forget. I hoped that she could let the camp’s silent eloquence slip away, but some experiences refused to sink into the pit of her lost memories.

LINZ: The slave market, sold into hard labour; I had a price, yet I was worth nothing.

MAGNIFICENT SEVEN: The undertaker said Olek should have a magnificent seven burial. I said yes, of course, Olek was a magnificent man, his ashes went to Brompton, where we had joined in marriage – I told him we’d meet again there.

NAZILAND: A plague of evil; they came to the house, took my father, shot him dead in the woods; my beloved daddy, his only crime was teaching the truth.

I willed her memory to reel back to happier days, before the war destroyed her childhood, even if meant that her memory of my childhood would be destroyed too.

ORATORY: Brompton, where we married; where we ate Polish doughnuts filled with rich plum curd.

POZNAN: Home with daddy and my beautiful mother; they were tall, like me. I remember servants.  My sisters played with their dollies, but I wanted to run with my brothers, mother frowned, girls don’t run; daddy laughed. It was always summer in the sunshine of his smile.

QATAR: Olek’s business went international; so glamorous; we sipped vodka in our expat compound and forgot the world.

RUSSIA: Betrayal – they destroyed the Third Reich for you, but we paid the price; the bear steals babies in the night, unseen, you didn’t know?

SEVEN SEAS: The children left home; we cruised the world. Oh, the on-board buffets, food 24 hours a day.

TULSE HILL: Olek left his soldiering behind and became an architect. How hard he worked – apprentice, partner, owner – his business was a lifeline and a legacy for our children.

UNIVERSITY: Daddy said I was too clever to be a girl; after the war, welcomed me, I became a draughtswoman, I became someone.

VICTORIA MANSIONS NURSING HOME: They said I wasn’t safe at home, I pleaded with mother to let me stay, but they took me away. They are kind here, servants bring my tea, mother stands by the desk and watches them. I clean my plate like a good girl.



I let go of a breath that I hadn’t realised I’d been holding. Moving mama into the home had been the hardest thing I’d ever done. At first, she knew where she was, visits were difficult as her eyes accused me, but we were past that now.

“You’re almost there,” said the Activities Leader.

Her voice made me jump. I had been lost in my thoughts, but I felt a touch of satisfaction when I saw how far we’d come. The other old woman at our table was fast asleep in her wheelchair; her daughter had vanished – I could hardly blame her.

I took a deep breath, willing the last of the alphabet to pass quickly.

WARSAW: We went to the old town, it was good as new, as if the war had never been, as if the past had never been torn from the future. We drank coffee in the old market square and laughed.

I flipped the X card over quickly, but mama grabbed my wrist.

XOCHIMILICO: Our first cheap package holiday to Mexico. I never knew so much colour could exist; travel, holidays, it was freedom beyond imagination.

I laughed, she was full of surprises, but I knew from her photo albums that this memory was real, unlike some of her more colourful fictions.

YESHAK: A saint’s school for my children. I wore my fur coat to the school gates so they would know we had money, that my children were not the spawn of poor immigrants; that my children belonged in England.

ZAKOPANE: My uncle’s farm in the lovely mountains; I am there now, skipping with the dogs, mother frowns, girls don’t run, but daddy smiles….

My mother dropped the last card into the box, her transparent skin luminous with joy as her face was lit by sunshine from another time, another place.

The old biscuit tin bulged with cards; her jagged memories captured by my spiky handwriting – her life in letters. Her remarkable life in letters. I kissed her forehead, promised I’d see her next week. Her carers wheeled her to the dining hall; she was already asking about pudding; she’d always had a sweet tooth.

***

To this day, I do not know who she was smiling for when she put that last card in the box.  Maybe it doesn’t matter; I know that my last smile was for her, my beloved mother…



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A New Promise: Short Story

I’d like to thank Sharon Kretschmer of South Australia for her story submission ‘A New Promise’. A touching work of fiction, based on true events.

Sharon Kretschmer is a born and bred South Australian, recently embracing both a tree change and becoming an empty nester in the beautiful wine region of the Barossa Valley. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and Post-Graduate Museum Studies, reflecting her love for both writing and tangible and intangible heritage. You can often find her exploring pioneer cemeteries in search of inspiration.

Her stories have been featured in the anthologies ‘A Flash of Brilliance’ and ‘Tales from the Upper Room’, and have also been published by Haunted Waters Press, Two Sisters Publishing, 101 Words and Beyond Words Literary Magazine. The NSW Department for Education has also published several of her works for children in quarterly statewide publications.

When not writing, Sharon enjoys spending time with her two daughters, two sons, and one son-in-law, as well as a spoilt Border Terrier named Bee.

This page contains affiliate links which may earn me a small commission (at no extra cost to you) if you click through and make a purchase. Affiliate links are how I keep this blog going, thank you.

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A New Promise

It takes two hours to travel by bus between Kiev and my hometown of Hlevakha. In those two hours, images flash past the window like a film reel. The weathered Beech and Oak trees roll past the window, forming a continual stream of browns and greys. The farmers in the distance, toiling in the black soil, shirt sleeves rolled up in summer, their heads covered with knitted caps in winter. One can see the rural history of Ukraine in the ancient farmhouses and sheds which appear, nestled in a valley or high on a hill. There were not many tourists that travelled this path. And yet my village was becoming filled with strangers from other countries. They just hadn’t been born yet.

Hlevakha is a small village, populated by generations of the same families. I was born here, and no doubt I will die here. My life has been the same as my mother’s, and her mother’s before. That was until the summer just past, when my husband Yakiv sat across from me after a dinner of borscht and unfolded a grimy flyer from the pocket of his chequered shirt. I was trying to keep my son Marko still, as he squirmed in his highchair. I had been trying unsuccessfully to wipe purple stains from his lips. Yakiv cleared his throat and pushed the paper across the knotted wood of the table.

“Read this Sofiy.”

I unfolded the piece of paper to reveal an advert for surrogate mothers. It was from a business called ‘New Promises’ in Kiev. I’d looked up sharply at Yakiv, confused by what he meant in showing it to me. His chair scraped against the concrete floor as he pushed it back hurriedly and came around behind me.

“Read it.”

My eyes skimmed over the words. Help couples from around the world; set yourself up for life; every expense paid;15,000 euros compensation. 15,000 euros! I pulled my eyes away from the words and stared at Yakiv.

“Tak Sofiy, tak! 15,000! That’s 395,000 hryvnia! Just think what we can do with the money. Put some aside for Marko’s education, build an extension on the khata! What do you think Sofiy? Would you do it?”

It was the easiest decision I ever made.

The first visit to the clinic had been more gruelling than I expected. I’d caught the early morning bus, waving goodbye to Yakiv and Marko. My stomach churned as the bus rumbled over the country roads towards Kiev. Yakiv was anxious, now the decision had been made, to start the process. I was surprised when I entered the small waiting room to find several other young women already there. I guess I wasn’t the only girl wanting to make money from rich Americans, or Europeans, or wherever they came from. I sat in a small room with five other women. I wondered what would happen, not fully understanding the reason for this visit. A girl from Kiev with bright red hair, has a cousin who had been through the process. There will be a questionnaire, discussions with a psychologist, and a physical examination. My hands are shaking, so to keep them busy I take out the form, signed by Yakiv, giving his consent for the process. I wonder if the other husbands have been as quick to sign as he has been, but I am too shy to ask.


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Two hours later I am back on the bus, heading home. I had passed the test with flying colours, they explained. They were certain I would be called back very soon to meet with prospective parents. They gave me a bottle of vitamin tablets to start taking, to prepare my body for the pregnancy. The doctor said make sure I take one twice a day. I feel elated, but also scared. but know Yakiv will be very happy.

It is a little over two weeks later that I journey back to the clinic, passing by the Motherland Monument. I think how apt that Ukrainian women are becoming birth mothers to children around the world. This time I am taken straight away to a bright and sunny interview room with windows looking onto a courtyard. In the center of the courtyard stood an old pear tree, it’s leaves glossy and green. A large clock ticked on whitewashed walls. Two other girls were waiting, one in jeans and a white shirt, her face carefully made up, her blond hair pulled back in a ponytail. The other looked older and was dressed as if for a business meeting. Her stockinged feet were crossed at the ankle, sensible black pumps on her feet. She smoothed her woolen black skirt across her knees, a striped blue shirt and black jacket finished the ensemble. I tucked my limp brown hair behind my ears, and looked down at my green serge dress, and wondered what chance I had of being the chosen one.

All three of us jumped when the door opened. The head of the clinic, Sergie Anatov, entered and ushered in a man and two women. He introduced the couple as Mark and Jody, the second woman was named Svetlana, and she would be our interpreter. I studied the couple. The woman, Jody, appeared more nervous than I. I guessed she was maybe late thirties. She had short blond hair cut into a bob, and thick glasses framed her large blue eyes. She wore a lavender shirt with white trousers, a heavy gold necklace and matching earrings. She smelled delicious when she walked past me, a whiff of citrus and rose. Mark was stocky, with dark wavy hair. I would say he was older than Jody, probably in his forties. He had cream trousers and a navy-blue shirt. He too smelled delicious; his scent reminding me of the fresh pine needles which lay on the forest floor just beyond my village.

The interview went in a blur. There were many questions directed to the three of us, as well as individual questions. I couldn’t place the accents of Mark and Jody. It wasn’t one I was familiar with. One question they asked was how I spent my days. They seemed pleased when Svetlana interpreted my answer. I work in the fields, helping my husband with our small farm, or I am looking after my two-year-old son. I watched as Jody smiled and nodded at Mark. Perhaps they thought the fresh air would be good for their baby. The interview ended, and I was about to follow the other two women out the door when Jody gently reached out and touched my arm. She said something to me, and I looked to Svetlana to explain what had been said. Svetlana smiled at me.

“Jody said she can’t thank you enough for the gift you are giving them. They choose you.”

The process was quickly completed. Jody and Mark had already been to the IVF clinic attached to New Promises clinic, the embryos ready for implantation. I discovered they were from Sydney, in Australia. I found a map and looked to see where it was. Such a long, long, way from Kiev. Jody had suffered many miscarriages, her specialist in Sydney convincing them their only hope for a child of their own would be surrogacy. It made me both nervous and excited to be the one to help them realize their dream. Of course, the money that I would earn was also cause for excitement. I knew that my body would embrace their child, after all, Marko had come along so quickly and with no problems. The small embryo nestled into the warmth of my body and began to grow.

Jody begins sending me emails as soon as the pregnancy is confirmed. She organizes Skype sessions with me, anxious to see her growing child, to know it is safe in its Ukrainian home. At first it is easy to detach from this child. But as I began to feel the weight of her, for I feel sure it is a girl, to feel her squirm in my body, I begin to try and imagine what she will look like, what sort of life she will lead. Will she have Jody’s big blue eyes? Mark’s wavy dark hair, or the straight fairness of Jody? I sing lullabies to Marko, traditional Ukrainian songs like Brother Ivan and The Dream Passes By The Window, and the baby will roll and stretch. Sometimes I wonder, will she miss me? Will she wonder, where is the woman who sang me songs? Whose heartbeat lulled me to sleep? I wonder if when she is older, she will smell a Vareniki dumpling, and wonder why her mouth waters? I wonder how much of me, of my life, is imprinting itself on this little one. Although we share no DNA, I am nurturing her, providing sustenance and warmth. I remember how Marko reacted to my voice when he was a newborn. How he turned his head, and watched me with sombre brown eyes. This little one will have none of that. She will be given to people whose voices will sound as foreign to her as they were to me.



As the date nears, I see a fear in Jody’s eyes when we Skype. Mark often joins in, asking about my health, my life, how I am finding the appointments in Kiev. I tell them that at thirty-six weeks I will be moving to Kiev. New Promises has an apartment where I will live until the baby is born. Jody nods her head, but her unease is palpable. I realize the enormity of her fears. How does she even know that I carry their baby? Mistakes can be made. What if I decide I want the baby? If I run away, and she never sees me again. Of course, I know that I would never do such a thing, but Jody, Jody doesn’t know me at all. And now the end game is closing in, I can only imagine what doubts creep into her head, when she is over 14,000 kilometers away from her child.

I hug Marko tightly, his small legs wrapped around my swollen belly.

“Promise you will bring him to see me at least once?” I say to Yakiv. He promises me, and whispers in my ear, It will soon be over.

The apartment is small, and there are already two other women living in the room. There is a wooden bed, a sofa bed, and a mattress on the floor. A kitchenette with gas cooktop and a chipped enamel sink, sit below the small window which looks out onto a busy thoroughfare. A place my case down on the worn floral carpet.

“Dobryj den,” I say, “I’m Sophiy.”

“Dobryj den,” they reply. “I’m Anna and this is Katya. Sorry, but the mattress is for you. I have a week to go, and Katya is due in two weeks. Once I’m gone you two can shift up one.”

The days are long and slow waiting for the baby to arrive. I take walks in Shevchenko Park, following the trails between the fig and birch trees. I watch the families, thinking of my little Marko. I watch the young couples, their lives unimpeded by the worries of life. I wonder if they too will go down a similar path as Yakiv and me. Jody and Mark flew in from Sydney at thirty-seven weeks. We met a couple of times in a small cafe around the corner from their hotel. They have employed an interpreter for their time in Kiev. Jody tells me about Sydney, about their home and that they live only five minutes from the ocean. She says the little one will be a ‘beach baby’ as they will teach the baby to swim from an early age. I don’t know how to swim. I’ve never seen the beach. I subconsciously rub my belly as she talks to me. Jody reaches over and places her hand over mine.

“May I?” she asks.

I take my hand away and she gently strokes the skin surrounding her child. She whispers words I don’t understand, but I know that they are words of love. I see Mark reach into his upper pocket, pulling out a handkerchief and placing it on Jody’s lap. It is only then I realize Jody is crying silent tears.

In the end she decides to come early, at thirty-eight weeks and two days. Jody and Mark are in the labour room, dressed in the same blue scrubs as the nursing staff. They wait nervously to one side of the room, looking anxiously at me as I moan and push and scream their child out of my body. I saw Jody make to come to me, perhaps to hold my hand or speak words of encouragement. But one of the nurses lies a hand across her arm and shakes a silent no.

And then she is there. The doctor holds her up, squirming in his hands, her hair slicked down with blood and fluid. She opens her mouth and yells a protest, like the mew of a kitten. My heart is full. Full of love for this little girl. I watch Jody and Mark stand over the baby, watch as they wipe away the remnants of what remained from her attachment to me. Jody surprises me by remaining dry-eyed, although the joy which emanates from her is catching. Mark is sobbing great tears which he cannot contain. The nurse wraps her in a blanket and passes her to Jody, who cradles her as if she is the most precious thing in the world. And she is. To them. Jody comes over to me.

“Would you like to hold her?” she asks.

I shake my head no. But I am happy that she offers. I have heard stories of new parents simply walking out and ignoring the birth mother after delivery. I look into the baby’s big blue eyes and smile. They are definitely mother and daughter.

“Her name is Isabella Sophia. And she will know about you, Sophiy. She will know what a gift you have given to us.”

I nod my head, too tired and too emotional to speak.

Jody promises to send me photos of Isabella, and she has kept her promise. She sends me a message every few months, which is more than enough for me. I am busy with Marko and organizing furniture for the extension we’ve completed on our khata. Other young mothers in Hlevakha have followed my lead. There are several who are already pregnant, and more who are in the process of becoming so. I know for some, my story will fill them with hope, for others disgust. I am not sure, even now, how I feel.


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