Momma — Kali Smith

I come from a very southern Baptist household. We attend church at least three times every week, everyone makes sure to not sit in our pews, and our families surname is on the founder’s plaque in the vestibule. My parents don’t listen to all the parts of the Bible, especially the parts about not getting drunk on worldly spirits, but there’s one verse they always practice: “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.”

My momma takes this a little too closely to heart. She has several different paddles. One is short and stubby and has my brother’s name, Joseph, written across it—he gets in trouble the most. There’s the one she uses at the elementary school, which she doesn’t bring out for us much on account of it being a lightweight. And then there’s the one that’s two feet long with holes drilled in it every couple of inches. Momma says the holes make it so she can hit harder but I don’t think she needs any help with the hitting hard.

Each of my siblings reacts differently to being paddled. My older brother used to put a New Testament Bible or cassette tapes in each of his back pockets to lessen the pain. My parents caught on quickly though and now make him strip to his boxers for paddlin’. My sister is a little weirder. When she gets paddled, she doesn’t cry or get angry. She just stares really coolly at my parents. We’re all a little scared that there’s something off in her head.

And then there’s me. I am a good kid, so I don’t get paddled a whole lot. But I’m convinced my parents kinda like it, so even when I do nothing I can expect a good hit once a week. I’m not a good actress like my siblings, so I just cry really loudly for a long time and look really pathetic. I think that way it hurts my momma more than me.

I say this because she comes into my room most nights and cries about how bad a mother she is. I think this only happens between the wine and when her sleep pills kick in, but I don’t like it. It’s hot in my room, and momma is hot, and she holds onto me and cries, stroking my hair. Then she asks me about my life, and I don’t like to talk much so I’m a little mean and then she cries more and tells me to not leave her when I’m older. I just kinda pat her back and say okay because I never really know what’s going on.

Last night after she left my sister came into my room. “Does she always come in and talk to you?” she asked real quiet, looking at the floor. I nodded my head and she started to cry a bit. “She’s never come in my room.”

I was beyond confused about why she would want momma’s sweaty hugs but Leah was really sad so I couldn’t say that. “Never?”

“No. I don’t think she likes me much.” We both stared at the floor and I didn’t know what to say because my sister’s pretty annoying and I could see someone getting annoyed at her. But momma was supposed to love all of us equal, right? We were all supposed to be the same in their eyes and they weren’t supposed to pick favorites and I started to get angry at the situation because it was so messed up. Why would mom do that to Leah?

“Well, that is just not right. I won’t let her visit me at night until she visits both of us. I promise.” And Leah smiled a little bit and nuzzled into me excited at the thought of mom visiting her at night and talking to her. I just kept getting madder at her unfairness.

Momma never visited either of us again.