Most children don't leave home until they leave for university. Her kids left home earlier to go to rehab. She thought she'd be used to it by now, her third child packing for an extended stay in an eating disorder clinic. She wasn't. She still felt like a failure.
She turned the faucet on as a cold wind howled outside the kitchen window. Hot scalding water filled the sink as she began scrubbing the pot. It was pointless to make meals; they sat uneaten on the plate while she and her daughter sat together in a heavy silence. Her hands turned bright red in the water while she worked on a particularly stubborn clump of tomato sauce. Her fingers began to tingle and sting but she wouldn't pull them out of the burning, sudsy water. A depraved thought flashed through her brain; cook the flesh off her hands in punishment for being a bad parent. Not one of her children had been exempt from some sort of mental illness, whether it was an addiction problem, or self harm or now starving themselves. She needed to make some sort of penance for her sins. A mother was supposed to protect her children from the pain of the world. How do you protect them when the pain is internal, not external? She rinsed off the pot and dropped it into the dish rack. Her fingers throbbed and ached. She shut off the water and just stood there looking at them until she felt a powerful presence behind her. She glanced over her shoulder and saw her daughter standing there. Good thing she's inside, that wind out there would knock her over. She put on her mom face and smiled.
"All done packing"?
Her daughter mumbled her reply. God, that child was always mumbling.
"We can watch some tv if you want"?
The girl shook her head no,
"I'm kinda tired. I'm gonna go to bed. Tomorrow's gonna be a long day".
"Ok. Love you. Sweet dreams".
She had turned back towards the sink when she felt the bony arms encircle her waist. She tried not to jump at their frailty.
"Love you too, Mom".
The hug evaporated as quickly as it had materialized. She felt her breathing quicken as tears filled her eyes. It wasn't much, that hug, but it was just enough to convince her that maybe, just maybe, she wasn't quite such a failure as a parent after all.