By Rachel Yoder
What affable children these boys are. See how the clean one plays with the one who’s dirty. See how each of them is down on his knees — equals, they are — pushing the small wooden trains along the small wooden tracks. The room is silent save for their play, their horn-like grunts, their heehaws of delight.
The clean one I must admit I gently despise for his evident wealth, for the ways in which I imagine his mother spoils him, purchasing on-trend, full-price clothing, inculcating him to the way of the consumer, to the hierarchy of stuff. He will grow up with a desire to be fully laundered, to have his nails trimmed. He will use the word “product” when discussing his hair. He will “discuss” his hair. But, see: this isn’t the boy’s fault, and of course I still can love him, as mothers love children, even those who aren’t their own.
The dirty boy I have more of an affinity for, yet still I question the mental health of his parents. Who lets their child leave the house with those dreads in his hair? Those yogurt-splashed pajamas? The unmatched socks? The unwiped face? A smear of snot near the temple and crumbs ringing the mouth? Yet still, he is kind and gentle, quiet. He offers toys to the clean one, and the clean one takes them without thanks. There are so many small wooden trains here, so many pieces of wooden tracks.
More children arrive, all of them boys, all of them toddlers. They come running, and falling, walking shyly, babbling, all of them unattended. Some fight. Others share. Trains are thrown. Trains are hoarded. The trains and boys multiply mysteriously. I do my best to maintain order, mediate disputes, offer praise, but soon, I am overtaken. The boys play, or fight, or pull at my clothes. They sign for “more,” or yell “more,” or ignore me altogether and build train tracks around and over my feet. They demand snacks, and soon my small container of dried fruit has been entirely depleted. They rage. They spit milk (though where they procured such milk is still unclear). They build entire civilizations of railroads around my legs until they have built me into a permanent place. I love these children. I scream “I LOVE YOU.” But they are hard at play. They crawl over each other. They choo choo. “GENTLE,” I scream, to no avail.
The air has grown moist and warm and smells of yeasty bodies, the rich compost of poop, Cheerios, old socks. The room is filled with toddlers to its very edges and so, with the coming of more (it is as though they are emerging, fully formed, from the very air itself), they begin to fill up instead of out. They cling to my waist, my shoulders. They shout for cookies. I am holding five of them without understanding the physics of this accomplishment. A big boy bangs me in the head with a locomotive. Others, far below the fray, bite at my thighs or else drive the tiny, hard wheels of their trains against my shinbone. I fall — I want to say to the floor, but I fall to the toddlers, and they wiggle from beneath me, they bring with them trains and tracks, they swarm over me and build intricate systems of rails, and at first I laugh, I say, “What clever children,” I say, “Please be gentle,” I ask for hugs, but their only response is mama! and cookie! and uh uuuuuuuuuuh! and I am overtaken as ants overtake the carcass of a succulent meal, I am crushed beneath their tiny bones, punched with feet and hands, layered with train tracks, and sooner than one might think the air is pressed from my lungs and does not return.
This is the moment of decision, as I lay there suffocating. We might call it The Mother Moment. We might call it The Moment To End All Moments. Either way, it is me or them. I’ve worn flammable clothing in the event such a scenario might arise, my best polyester throwbacks, other gauzes that ignite at merely the thought of flame. And that’s what I do: I think flame. I think conflagration. I think mother and creator and destroyer and I love you and shut up. I grow four more arms and my skin turns blue as I ignite and consume the children. I imagine it is very beautiful as they blaze though I cannot see it since I am the source. You might imagine there are screams, but there are only naps as the boys lie down and go to sleep. You see, I am a mother and my warmth is comforting.
Afterward, I awake among ashes. That I have destroyed an entire generation of men becomes apparent. That I let the toddlers get the better of me is clear. But still, my impulse toward flame seems correct, seems cosmically sanctioned. I cough and a gray cloud wafts from my body and into the murky air.
I’ve destroyed them all. I begin to mourn. But then I remember: my very own son. He is safely in another room with his father, eating vegetables and cheese. As I remember him, this son, I grow big, bigger. I multiply and expand and crush the walls of the room, rip through space-time itself, until I am the entire black universe and everything, even you, is contained inside.
Rachel Yoder lives in Iowa City and hosts The Fail Safe podcast, produced by ‘draft: the journal of process’ and The Iowa Writers’ House. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 204.