When I left the hospital, mother’s guilt came with me.

Smuggled in the diaper bag.
Crouching beneath the car seat.
Burrowing near my swollen breast.

Like a tricky shapeshifter, mother’s guilt manifested as empty milk cartons, dirty kitchens, burnt pancakes, undecorated Christmas trees.

Thriving on mundane events.
Daycare drop-offs, quiet Sundays, summer mornings.

Mother’s guilt seized the opportunity to destroy calm, wreck content, slaughter bliss.

Always present, mother’s guilt followed, like a midday shadow, and sometimes attacked like a starving bear, hungrily consuming.

And I, defenseless, sobbed in the preschool parking lot.
Trembled in the grocery store.

Mother’s guilt is popular, parading with an entourage of friends:
Blame, Regret, Fatigue, Comparison, Resentment.
Inviting her disciples to get comfortable.
Extending their visit indefinitely.

Sometimes at night, I drive across town to my mom’s house.
I comb flakes of mother’s guilt out of her hair.
Wipe guilt stains from her shirt.
Pluck loose threads of guilt from her sweater.
I brush guilt crumbs from her chin.

And let her know she did just fine.

Then, I drive home.

Hoping that one day,
My daughter will do the same for me.

This post originally appeared on Mothers Always Write

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McKenzie Wood

McKenzie Wood is an assistant professor at a college in western Idaho. She enjoys all things outdoors, being a connoisseur of herbal tea, and arguing with her brothers in-law. She lives in Boise with her husband and two children