When my kids were young, I did my best to be a worthy mother, yet I often failed. I couldn’t believe how much more maladjusted I was than they were. What happened in my childhood to leave me so utterly lacking in self-control?
After moving to Nigeria, we spent several summers visiting grandparents in the U.S.A. After experiencing cinemas in Lagos, I had an entirely new appreciation for American movie theatres. The popcorn bucket was big enough to bathe in! The artificial butter machine was a delight! There were so many varieties of candy! The seats reclined! People didn’t make phone calls or video chat with their friends while the movie was playing!
I acted more childish than my children at the movies. I would get a huge popcorn for myself then coat it with fake butter, or ‘urine’, as I referred to it, laughing hard at my stale joke. During the previews, I would leave the theatre to add more butter. I wanted each piece to be sopping wet. It was like eating crunchy, delicious grease.
One day, we planned to see an afternoon film just after finishing lunch at my parents’ house. As we stood in front of the automated ticket machine, I told my kids, “Don’t ask me for anything to eat because I know you can’t be hungry. Let’s not fill up with junk food, okay?”
They all nodded solemnly.
When we walked by the concession stand, I caught sight of the options. There were nachos and deep-dish pizzas. There were plump hot dogs in fluffy white buns. There were big boxes of M&M’s I longed to pick up and shake like maracas. How delicious would it be to sprinkle a box of chocolate candy into a buttery vat of popcorn?
I was torn. I am a big believer in keeping my word to my children. My credibility is what keeps our circus afloat, so I couldn’t be the one to suggest we cave to the sweet and savoury delights. I would need my children to beg me, then I could make a generous concession that would allow us all to partake in tens of thousands of calories.
“Looks pretty yummy,” I said, waiting for someone to crack. The children were silent, staring at the popcorn.
“Don’t you wish you could have some?” I said. I turned to my younger daughter, the naughtiest of the bunch. “What would you get?”
She pointed at the Sour Patch Kids. “Maybe that,” she said, with an air of indifference I found alarming.
“I would get gummy bears,” my son said.
“Mama, let’s go sit down. You said the movie was starting soon.” My eldest daughter grabbed my hand and started to lead us away from the snacks.
“Wait,” I said, resisting her. “Don’t you want to get something?”
“We just ate lunch, so we aren’t hungry,” my younger daughter said.
“Yeah, we aren’t getting anything today,” my son said.
I followed my children glumly into the dark theatre. It was agony not to get snacks. Why was I forced to suffer? I was a grown woman at a film about talking toys. Kid movies were torture, I realised. Refreshments had been my coping mechanism, and now I had lost them.
I lost so much when I became a mother. I sacrificed my career to take care of my children. When was the last time I had written something? I sacrificed having a life independent of my kids. Other women in their 30s had hobbies, glamour and adventure. I lived in a reality where it was perfectly normal to find the odd piece of poo sitting on the floor, poo that had dropped from a little, oblivious person’s bum. I had given up so much, but giving up movie theatre popcorn seemed the cruellest loss of all.
My children were laughing and enjoying the cartoon film, oblivious to my pain. I writhed around in my seat praying someone would have a tantrum and demand popcorn, but it was fruitless. The kids were mature and content. I was the one close to tears.
Mona Zutshi Opubor is an Indian-American and Nigerian writer. She holds an MSt in Literature and Arts from the University of Oxford, an MA in Creative Writing from Boston University and a BA in English Literature from Columbia University.
Read more at www.monazutshiopubor.com
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