4 Chapter 4: Mariana, Part 1

Six months later…

I wake with a start. My eyes may only be half open, but my mom-senses mean I can take stock of what's going on around me almost instantaneously.

Is a kiddo crying? No.

Is there a burglar ratting around the apartment? No.

Did I get a leg cramp? No. I'm still face down in my pillow, starfishing across the bed with one leg sticking out of the blankets.

Now that I know everything is fine, I let myself fall back into dreamland.

I wake with a start a second time. Now I know something is happening. I don't move, almost hoping it's a leg cramp, just so I don't have to move for a few more minutes.

No such luck. Theo begins to cry in his crib across the room. I sit up, wipe my eyes so I can see the clock without any blur, and look at him.

"Really? It's six-thirty-seven. Is it necessary to be up so early?"

His little bottom lip quivers as he stands there looking at me. I sigh. Someday, I'll get to sleep in past seven again. Someday.

Scooting to the edge of my bed, I smell the problem.

"Phew!" I grimace as I wave my hand in front of my nose. "You stink, lovebug. Is that what woke you up?"

He waves his hands in excitement as I reach in and pick him up. The nice thing about sharing a room with a thirteen-month-old is I don't have to go very far when I need to tend to him. The bad thing about sharing a room with a thirteen-month-old is he hears every move I make. For a kid that would much rather sleep with his mommy than in his own crib, this has meant months of sleeping as soundly as I possibly can. Which means not sleeping well every night because I'm too busy trying to sleep quietly.

I really think too much about these things.

Dirty diaper disposed of, Theo is in a much better mood.

"Alright, dude. Since you're up, I guess we should get this day started."

We shuffle our way past the girls' bedroom and into the small open-concept living area. I plop Theo down next to his toy bucket and he immediately grabs for it, toppling it over. I wince at the sounds it makes, knowing that means I'm about to have two more kiddos wandering out here for breakfast.

I sigh again. I love my children. More than anything in this world. But sometimes it feels a little overwhelming doing this on my own. If Santos was here, he would have been up with the kids and let me sleep for another hour or two, knowing I stay up so late to get everything done. Dishes, laundry, and cleaning are hard enough to keep up on when there are two adults in the house. When there's only one, it seems like it's never-ending.

No. I can't think like that. What Santos would or wouldn't do is irrelevant. He isn't here. He's never going to be here. I'm making my own new normal.

"Okay self," I whisper quietly as I pull the eggs out of the fridge, "today, you will demand to be respected. You are not perfect, but you deserve respect. From your peers. From your children. From yourself. So let's do this."

It's a mantra I picked up a few months back when a random friend on Facebook posted the quote "Demand respect. You deserve it." Five simple words, but words that hit me just when I needed them most. So now, every morning, I wake up reminding myself that it is still true.

By the time I have a pan on the stove and a few eggs cracked, I hear more little voices. Myra, who is five, is a morning person just like her father. I can hear her giggling with Theo in the living room already. Lina, on the other hand, is a night owl like me.

She slowly shuffles her way into the room, hair sticking up everywhere and eyes half open. Her little three-year-old body struggles to climb up on the barstool, but she finally manages to get herself settled before plopping her head back down on her arms.

"Good morning, sweet cheeks," I say with a smile in her direction. "Did you sleep well?"

Her little head moves in what looks like a nodding motion. "I dreamed we lived in Candyland."

"The game?"

"Uh huh. I ate gumdwops."

"Well that does sound like a nice dream."

"Uh huh," she answers, and I know better than to continue on with the conversation. She'll wake up once she gets a little food in her. Until then, it's best not to try to have any meaningful discussions with her.

I continue scrambling eggs for breakfast and make my coffee. It's the only way I'll make it through the day. Not that there's much actual functioning I need to do to get everything accomplished. It gets boring after a while, being alone with the kids. I spent over a decade revolving my life around Santos. Preparing him the healthiest foods I could cook, making sure his gear was where he could find it, planning family time around his schedules. But now… now I can eat whatever kind of pre-packaged crap I want. The most organization I have is where the towels go after being laundered. And family time is pretty much all day, every day.

Frankly, it's lonely.

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The worst part of loneliness is it makes my mind drift and I question myself and how I got here in the first place. Was I not a good enough wife? Did I complain too much about him being away? Was I terrible in bed? Did the baby weight I couldn't lose turn him off? Is that why he preferred sex with other people? Because they were young and skinny and beautiful?

I feel my heart speeding up at these insecure thoughts. I've never been completely confident in myself as a person or a woman. It's just my emotional make up. That's probably why I poured so much of myself into being a mom and wife… to make myself feel like I was good enough.

"No. I will not go there," I remind myself as I plate the eggs. "I demand respect because I deserve respect."

All of the sudden I hear a thunk followed by a wail.

"What happened?" I yell around the corner.

"Theo fell down," Myra informs me while carrying him into the room. I almost laugh at how much she is struggling under the weight of him, but she is determined to bring him to me.

"I figured that part," I say as I take him from her arms and comfortingly pat his back. He immediately lays his head on my shoulder and tucks his arms under. I knew he was going to go right back to sleep after he woke everyone else up. Happens every time. "Did he hit his head?"

"No." She climbs up on the other barstool.

"So he's just scared."

She shrugs. "When is breakfast, Mommy?"

"In just a second. Are you done crying now?" I shift my focus to Theo. He still has some tears running down his face, but it doesn't look like he's hurt. Which means all that noise was from him being either afraid or angry. My guess is he's angry he fell. Even at such a young age, he's aggressive like his father when he plays, and it really ticks him off when something stops him from accomplishing his task.

"Let's sit down for breakfast, okay, snuggle bug?" I strap him into his high chair and scrape a few eggs onto his tray before giving the girls each a plate of eggs as well. Tapping Lina on the arm, she sits up and digs right into her breakfast just like the other two.

A knock causes us all to pause and look toward the front door. Who could be here so early in the morning? It's not even seven..

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