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    a woman running on wet pavement

    One Rainy Morning

    Unless we have walked a day, a month, a year, in each other’s shoes, how can we know what each one of us is dealing with?

    By Helen Rebanks

    January 9, 2024
    • Sahara Lefevre

      Thank you for this heart warming writing.. I identify myself as that envious mum.. I pitied my life many a time... Yes, things have changed now -- I don't compare my life with anyone. Continue to help people through your beautiful work of storytelling.

    • Elizabeth Slaughter

      One day in college I was waiting at the subway station feeling very sorry for myself for no particular reason. Suddenly the young woman next to me leapt in front of the train. For the 55 years since I have never assumed to know the pain others are in. I loved your essay because it captures my humility that day years ago.

    • Ruth Sill

      Thank you Helen for this raw and real piece. I am a 70year old retired maternity nurse, now running a little farm store on the property God led us to 4 years ago. I sure thought I'd be rocking on the porch, enjoying hobbies...God had other plans. As I chat with many moms, grandpas, children and young folks in our little store each day, I am reminded of the many kinds of ''shoes'' that people walk in. I am thankful for mine and for God's faithfulness in the journey for each of us.

    I stare at the little digital clock in the car, which lights up as the engine starts. We have six minutes to get to school before the bell rings. I might just make it. I look back at the three of them in the back seat as I fasten my seat belt. “Don’t spill crumbs, please,” I scold Isaac as he nibbles his toast. He drips honey down his fingers and looks at me like he is deeply sorry, but carries on. “I’ve brought you a banana as well. I can’t believe you didn’t get any breakfast when I told you to.” His face is still, frozen between chewing and crying. I reach into the glove box as I start to back the car out of the driveway and pass him the baby wipes to clean himself up. I soften my voice to stop him from crying.

    Molly shouts, “Stop! I need my PE kit!” I crunch the tires to a halt on our gravel drive. She runs back to the house, and I say the same stuff I always say: “I say every morning, ‘Have you got everything?’ before we leave the house, and every single time one of you forgets something. Bea, have you even brushed your teeth?” I look at her and she looks back at me guiltily. “Well, they are your teeth, not mine,” I say, going back for another go: “You’re nine, that’s old enough to know that you have to brush your teeth every morning.”

    Molly bangs the car door shut and climbs over Bea’s legs, and they argue. I snap, “You could have moved across and let her in, Bea!”

    “I don’t want to sit in the middle,” she moans, and I can see her face sulking in the rearview mirror as we bump our way down the potholed lane from our farmhouse to the road.

    “We’re late now!” I take a moment to breathe in deeply through my nose and then release it out my mouth, my chest heaving … and I plead, “Please, please, can you all just stop arguing for a second and do what I ask you to do?”

    I look at Tom. He is fastened into his baby seat next to me, the passenger airbag turned off. He is chewing on a teething ring and has dribbled all down his chin until his vest is soaked. “Please pass me a cloth from the nappy bag by your feet, Molly.” I dry him and tuck it into his top, as I turn the car into the village where the primary school is. There are barely any cars here now, so I pull right up to the space nearest the yellow lines. I wave to a friend who is driving off to work. And then I feign a smile to another mum beside her car. Her blonde hair is tied back neatly, she is wearing a black-and-pink slim-fitting top and she is busy tucking her fancy patterned leggings around her ankles before stretching, up and around with her arms, preparing to go running like she does most mornings.

    a woman running on wet pavement

    Photograph by Marcin Kilarski.

    I help Isaac out of the car with his bag and coat and the girls run off to the office, leaving him behind. “WAIT!” I shout, but it’s too late, they’ve gone.

    “I don’t want to go in on my own,” he says to me, nearly crying again, so I tell him to stand still by the car as I unclip Tom and maneuver him out of his car seat. I smile and nestle his rosy cheeks up to my face, kissing them and tucking a scarf around him that I grab from the footwell. The wind is chilly; I didn’t put a coat on him before we left.

    Isaac opens the creaking iron gate for us to file through, down to his classroom. “I will call in at the office on the way back, Isaac,” I say, as I dab my finger in my mouth and rub at the syrup on the edge of his lips. “I’ll tell them to change the register, don’t worry.” But I can see worry all over his little face. It is now 9:15 a.m., and I walk down to his end of the school, shielding Tom and wishing we had been better organized. Isaac’s teaching assistant is smiling and happy as she welcomes him into the classroom. I mutter my apologies and she asks if I am OK. I nod. “Fine,” I say, smiling and shutting the door. I half-see myself in the glass as I peer in. I watch Isaac hang his coat up, and he tucks his packed lunch into the back of his locker as if to hide it. He walks into the room and sits down cross-legged to listen to his teacher.

    I am left staring at my reflection. I have dark semicircles under my eyes. My skin looks pale and my hair is a mess. I am wearing my thick coat, torn from when I climbed a barbed-wire fence last week, an old pair of maternity jeans, the stretchy waistband pulled high up over my flabby belly and covered over with a bobbly gray sweater. My ankle boots are caked in soil and grit because we haven’t got around to paving the front of the house yet and it has been raining.

    I walk back to the car lugging Tom, and get him settled into his seat and ready to drive off. He will need changing as soon as I get back – his nappy was bulging as I strapped him into the seat. But first we need some bread, and I have two packages to mail, so we turn toward the next village. After a few miles I drive past the mum I smiled at earlier; she has run all this way, neat white headphones wired to her ears, her phone strapped to her arm. She is running confidently as I pass her. She looks in control of her life, strong, fit, and ready to take on the world. I feel jealous and tearful. I angrily think, Who has time to go running after dropping their kids off at school? Every single f***ing day?

    It is Tuesday, and we have a farm inspection on Friday, and I feel anxious that I am not ready. I need to gather up all the paperwork and check that all our records are in order: the medicine book, flock health plan, and dead list. I still need to update the livestock movement spreadsheet from last year. I know there are two people coming for a meeting with James this afternoon and I need to hurry back and do a day’s worth of housework before I pick the kids up again, and then work out what we are having for supper, all with a baby in tow. I glance back at the mum running. She didn’t see me, focusing on her pace or something else. She looks determined but not fazed. She must be doing a loop through this and the next before running back to her car, which must be about six miles. I have never run a mile in my life – I always joke out loud that my body would get a shock if I started running. I know I can move quickly if sheep escape and I need to get past and turn them. But I would never consider running as a pleasurable thing. I can’t even manage to brush my hair some days, let alone go for a walk on my own.

    When I get back from the errands, I change Tom’s nappy and sit down to feed him. I check my phone. I scroll through a series of photos taken by a friend of the weekend away she has been on. She is in a restaurant, then a spa, then having drinks by a pool. I scroll on: another friend celebrating her birthday with a cake her kids have made her. Another friend wearing a medal in a photo, proudly standing with her bike after cycling the coast-to- coast route for charity. And another friend showing off her new haircut. I scroll, click “Like,” and scroll again.

    I look at the weather outside. The window is scattered with tiny beads of rain. They start to form heavier droplets that wriggle down the panes. Tom sits on my knee, and I rub his back gently as I tuck my breast back into my bra, adjusting the absorbent pad to be less scratchy against my skin, and clicking the bra-fastener with my finger and thumb. The ash tree in front of the house sways, its lowest branch swinging up and down in the wind as if it might crack and fall. James will be back in for lunch soon, and I haven’t even cleared the breakfast up. I set Tom down in his bouncy chair. He watches me circle the room. It never stops being messy, this room where we live. Cereal boxes on the worktop. Isaac’s Lego creations that I am forbidden to touch. Papers and unopened post piled up. Teddies on the floor. I open the dishwasher and it is full of clean dishes that need putting away. I think back to the mum I saw running two hours ago and suddenly want to be outside in the rain, running, running anywhere, running away, far from here, just me and the road and the rain.

    Two weeks later, at the school Mother’s Day service, the other mothers fuss around little Tom and take turns cuddling him in the church while the children sing songs and pass out paper flowers to their mums and grandmas. I am wearing a clean sweater and smarter coat, jeans, and boots, and the pram is shiny and new. To everyone else I look like I have it all together. I chat with the mum who goes running every day. As she smiles at Tom and tickles his toes, she tells me that I’m lucky to have four children and says, “I don’t know how you do it.” I smile, knowing she doesn’t really want to hear my answer. She hands me a flyer about the marathon she’s training for; I scan-read that she is raising money for a charity helping parents through infant loss. She is running the marathon later this year in memory of her baby who died when he was born. I choke up and feel sick to my stomach, ashamed of hating her that day in the rain.

    There are all kinds of mums around me, and we are all carrying our own stuff on our shoulders. Unless we have walked a day, a month, a year, in each other’s shoes, how would we ever know what each one of us is dealing with? 

    Source: Taken from The Farmer’s Wife by Helen Rebanks. Copyright 2023 by Helen Rebanks. Used by permission of Harper Horizon, an imprint of HarperCollins Focus, LLC.

    Contributed By Helen Rebanks Helen Rebanks

    Helen Rebanks is the author of The Farmer’s Wife and the wife of James Rebanks, author of The Shepherd’s Life.

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