Credit: Rachal Duggan

Gingerbread mothers know we will be consumed by our children. Bite by bite, we teach them gratitude. We teach them that treasures take time: homes, stories, relationships. We teach them to run.

My son takes my hand and raises it to his lips for a kiss before taking a bite—just a nibble at first, followed by quick hungry mouthfuls up to the elbow. At 13, he towers over me; and when he gently places a peck on my cheek, I do not flinch; for he is kind and takes only what he needs.

“I love you, little Mama,” he says, going off to play the piano, leaving me to wash off the saucy remnants of dinner one-handed.

My youngest daughter, stalling from her homework, hugs me from behind and asks, “When will we have to run?”

She is always ready to run.

“I don’t know,” I say honestly.

She sits on the floor beside me, “I think my teachers hate me.”

“I’m sorry,” I say, because I’m not sure if it’s true or if she imagines it, and either option makes me sad.

She bites my ankle. I’m startled by the sudden crunch of it and catch myself on the counter.

“I never mean to hurt you,” she says, her voice shaking. “Never.”

“I know.”

Slightly wobbling, I keep washing and get her to sing a favorite song to keep us both distracted.

“I love you, Mama,” she says when finished.

Crumbs collected in the corners of her mouth, I see her exercising restraint, fighting not to bite off my entire foot.

Already useless, I break it off below the bitten ankle and hand it to her to devour in two impossible bites.

She goes off to chase after the cat.

Every day I worry about giving them what they need. I have nightmares about angry fists pounding on our door, large grinning mouths with too many teeth, voices shouting: We are going to devour you.

As I sweep crumbs off the floors, my oldest comes by and offers to make us some tea. While we wait for the water to boil, she helps me clean up.

“I’m afraid you’ll disappear,” she says in earnest, eyeing all that’s missing.

I hug her close, and as she bites my shoulder, I tell her, “I always find ways to fill in the missing bits.”

What I don’t tell her is that even when the missing pieces grow back and the cracks heal, they always ache.

Later, when everyone is asleep and the house is quiet, I fill myself with music and words and wine. I make plans that give me hope, then crash hard into sleep to dream of outrunning death. Or is it fate? Or maybe fear?

When they leave me, I stand in the doorway.

“Remember you are not running away but toward something,” I shout ginger-hearted into the wind. “Choose wisely. Run as fast as you can! Someday I will catch you!”   v