I woke cold and moved closer beneath the covers to him, wrapping my arms around his chest and tucking my knees into the back of his folded legs like the puzzle we’re good at completing. A friend of ours was in disbelief recently, when he learned my husband has never been in the “doghouse” having to sleep on the couch at my command. I thought it surprising that one would think I was the type to send a man to the couch. I’m not. I’m more likely to take the couch myself and make a huge drama out of the inconvenience. Even then, dragging myself to the couch has probably only happened a handful of times and usually corresponds with me not being on my antidepressants.
I don’t usually shower in the morning and so I asked him whether he wanted to go first or second.
“I’ll go,” he said and tossed off the covers, revealing those familiar black briefs.
I rolled onto my ugly I-had-babies-stomach and sprawled his side to doze and wait for the signaling of my turn – when the water is turned off. As if on cue, I felt my son toss his special blanket named G.G. onto our bed as he pulled himself up by a handful of bed sheet. I pretended I was sleeping until he settled down, and then I opened my eyes and see his bright morning smile. He had been staring at me, waiting for me to wake up. Waking to his anticipating face is an adorable thing to have happen.
I convinced myself out of my memory foam topped bed knowing that if I lounged around too long I would end up being rushed to get all three kids and myself ready for our destinations: daycare, school, and work.
Opening the door of our single-family bathroom I saw Ryan finishing up his routine: 1) clean ears, 2) put deodorant on, and 3) put bed-head styling product in hair. I stepped out of my panties and felt his eyes on my ass as I pulled the shower curtain aside and turned the water on, but when I looked around to catch him, he was really just looking in the mirror fixing his hair. Sigh.
The act of showering released me from last night’s dream of people no longer important and places that occasionally haunt me. I use a brand of soap I discovered because it smelled like the brand my Massachusetts grandparents regularly had in their upstairs shower. It’s not that I know their preferred brand, I don’t; rather, I once purchased Yardley because it seemed more natural than Dove and when I used it, the scent carried me to them and I’ve loved it ever since.
One of my 11-year-old daughters walked into the bathroom without a knock, and stated matter of fact, “Good morning, I need to pee.” She was quick, didn’t flush, and probably didn’t wipe.
Then, just as the room just became private again, I felt the ever-annoying chill creeping into the shower. She had forgotten to close the door behind her. From the inside of a narrow blue bathroom, over the noise of children’s bickering, and husband’s green smoothy being blended, I screamed, “Close the door, you’re letting the hot air out!”
We were five in an 1100 square foot home with a single bathroom.
The next day we woke in a frenzy of: “Get this,” “Do that!”, “Why aren’t you listening? Go brush your teeth!”, “Do I have to ask again?”
I packed our lunches and comfort items, and the children prepared themselves for the family mini adventure. Allison was calm and waiting, wearing the school sweatshirt that she mixed up last year with another student but accepted ownership easily enough.
Luca was nervous and asked safety-related questions while holding her stuffed animals Salsa and Rosetta.
John grabbed his pillow, GG, and a change of clothes which were reviewed, deemed unsatisfactory, and reselected by Dad who stuffed the upgrades into a daypack that also contained swimsuits and a towel. I, like my both my daughters, focusing on comfort items: my black fleece hoodie and with the book I was reading at the time, The Goldfinch by Donna Tart.
We locked ourselves into our seat belts. An hour later we arrived at Staircase in the Olympic National Forest where we excitedly piled out wearing our smartly prepared backpacks, and smiles as we began our three mile walk toward Uncle J., Aunt D. and the cousins who waited for us to swim with them. The girls walked on triumphant and brave as though at home they were not afraid of everything.
We arrived. The kids stood on the stone covered beach looking at a green lagoon. To their left and right, swift rapids. I watched and remembered my childhood, my feeling of love for the forest and water.
For whatever reason, altitude or dehydration, or my general-out-of-shape-ness, I felt a mild headache coming on. It would eclipse that evening on the hike back to the car after a full day of children playing on the river’s edge – tossing the rock game, watching their father cannonball into ice-cold water over and over again – that they wore out and became whiny. All five of the children, including cousins, were beautiful at every moment of the afternoon.
After a day of near perfection, we began to hike back and turned right instead to take suspension bridge. The alternative path had a definite lean, or more like, a 90-degree incline all the way back to the van. It brought my headache to its peak.
Allison began to mope. My head began to blare. We each suffer along the way and I wanted to suffer in peace, but I had Allison beside me complaining: “I’m tired, my legs hurt, I’m scared.”
Pounding head, whining kid, steep incline. IMPATIENCE. I fussed at her,“Quit crying and complaining or I won’t hold your hand anymore.”
Then she did it. She complained one more time and I let go of her hand, shaking it out of mine, and kept climbing without a glance back. She chased after me, tears shedding, “Mom, I’m scared.”
I cut her with my words, “I warned you if you complained again I’d let go of your hand. Walk beside me if you’re scared.” Dad was up ahead carrying the other whiny child, our son, on his shoulders. Moments like this are hard. Not the hike, but the responsibility of being a parent.
Earlier at the beach, I had also lost my patience with her. “God-damn-it Allison! Can’t you just listen to me?” I was reacting to her having poop, human poop, her human poop smeared on the bottom of her shoe from her having stepped in it after her earlier shit in the woods.
I fussed because I had spent the previous few minutes asking her, discretely, to come with me to clean her shoe. She was near the others who were eating and I wanted her to remove herself to clean her shoe, but instead, she resisted and wouldn’t get up. She wanted her shoe cleaned there, she was stubborn. That is when I fussed for her to get up “right now or she’d be punished.” Leading to my shouting like mad women, I’m sure.
Now when I reflect on my impatience that day, I feel remorse. I feel like I was being a bad parent. I get my impatience from my own parents who were also quick to react.
Today my mother is a different woman than the one who raised me. Consider yourself lucky if you still have your mother, consider yourself in a lottery winner if your mother is still your mother. Some of us have a different model whose ability to love us is equal to her ability to blame us for being such a terrible family. Mental illness has made my mother more calculating. She demands attention in obsessive overtures and creative threats. Guilt is her poison. She lays it on thick, thick like a walrus sitting on an ice cube and I’m the ice cube. To be the daughter of my mother means receiving poetic and sad messages that conclude with sentences such as this one: “Please pray for me or I won’t be real thrilled about saying a prayer for you when I walk into heaven.”
Last week, in fact, she emailed me to say she had to go to confession because she said she hated me and my sisters. I kid you not, she wrote, “I’m sorry for saying I hated you, pure hate.” I’m so used to her manipulating (and poetic) sentences that I laughed out loud when I read it. I showed my husband. “Look, she had to add that comma to clarify the level of hate she felt for me, pure hate.” But wait, there was more, in the final sentence she declared that since she apologized, I should also.
When we drove home and while my son sleeps, I reflected. I thought of how getting outside is pleasant. We had let the noise of our regular life fade and felt happy. For most of the day at the river, there were no squabbles or complaints. It was not until that tired walk home… instead of letting Allison struggle on her own, because of my own impatience, I should have held her hand, even though she was whining. I will apologize to her and love on her later. I felt for the daughter who I may have damaged.
In our lives, my children listen to their daddy playing guitar at night and my quiet typing at an IKEA desk with aging MAC. My children don’t realize their household is unique. Some kids grow up to their parents watching TV from dusk till dawn. My own parents didn’t allow this and I’m thankful for that. My dad worked graveyard shifts at oil refineries and sleep in basements with earplugs and bedrooms lined in tinfoil. We were encouraged to be outside.
Later on, it was my turn to tuck in the children. My son is the youngest, so I tucked him in first. He asked if he could take his toy to bed with him and I nodded yes. He went on to bed with not one, but five, toys in his hands and a smile. I believe letting kids have their way on the insignificant things helps encourage independence.
The walk. My impatience. My guilt.
Next I go to Luca who said to me she was “very afraid.” She and I had spoken earlier in the week about her fears of illness every time someone sneezes, or coughs, or blows their nose. For the past week, she had been checking her own temperature around bedtime.
“Am I sick?” she asked in earnest.
“No sweetie, you’re not sick.” I rubbed her hair back from her forehead. The light of the bathroom spread across the floor. The door was ajar for her want for safety.
“How do you know?” She asked. “Do I have a fever?” She asked again.
“No baby, you’re not sick. You’re fine.”
“But my stomach hurts,” She said.
“Even if your stomach hurts, you’re not sick. You are okay. I promise.”
“But,” she said. “John just had a stomach bug last week and vomited ten dry heaves. Can you take my temperature?”
“Yes, but with my hand.” I touch her forehead. She is not hot. Not even close. “Nope, no fever. You’re not hot.”
“How do you know?” she asked.
“Because your skin isn’t hot and you’re eyes aren’t sick-looking. Even if you did get what your brother had, which you won’t because you were not exposed to him, then you would get sick and you would get better and be okay.”
“Okay.” She succumbed and rolled onto her pillow tucking her hands underneath.
Meanwhile, my son was out of bed playing in the laundry basket. I heard him narrating his own story, “… cut the tree down.” He pretended to saw a laundry basket with the Black-n-Decker toy chainsaw, his favorite toy this week. “John, get back in bed.” I scolded.
I went to Allison. Time to apologize. Time to make right where I went wrong.