I woke up cold and moved closer beneath the covers to him, wrapping my arms around his hairy 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 that 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. Still, dragging myself to the couch has probably only happened a handful of times in our years together and usually corresponds with me not being on my antidepressants.
His cell phone alarm went off and, again, I remembered how much I hate the sound he’s selected but not enough to mention it because it would only irritate him. Since I don’t usually shower in the morning, I asked him whether he wanted to go first or second. “I’ll go,” he said, and uncovered, revealing those familiar black-cotton boxer-briefs. I rolled onto my ugly I-had-babies stomach and sprawled across his side to doze and wait for the signaling of my turn. As if on cue, I felt my son toss his special blanket named GG onto our bed as he pulled himself up by a handful of sheet. I pretended I was sleeping until he settled down, and when I opened my eyes I got his bright morning smile. He was waiting for me to wake up. 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 water from our personally-installed shower head woke me, shaking free of last night’s dream of people no longer important and places that occasionally haunt me.
I liked to use a brand of soap I think my Massachusetts grandparents had in their upstairs shower. It’s not that I knew their preferred brand, I didn’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.
It was a hair-washing day for me, which meant day three, and my scalp was just becoming dry. I shaved my pits and privates but not my legs because I didn’t care about my legs – leg shaves can wait until a bath. One of my 11-year-old daughters walked into the bathroom without a knock, “Good morning, I need to pee,” she said.
She was quick, didn’t flush and probably didn’t wipe. The room just became private again when I felt the ever-annoying chill creeping into the shower. She had forgot to close the door, damnit. I shouted “Close the door you’re letting the hot air out!” from the inside of a bathroom, over the noise of children’s bickering, and husband’s green smoothy being blended. 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 that were reviewed and reselected by Dad who stuffed his upgrades into a daypack which also contains Dad’s swimsuit and a single towel for us all to share (?). I was like my both my daughters, focusing on comfort, wearing my black fleece hoodie, and with the book I was reading, The Goldfinch by Donna Tart.
We finally locked ourselves into our seat belts, put a tanks worth of gasoline into the van and purchased bottled waters and baby wipes. An hour later we arrived at Staircase in the Olympic National Park where we excitedly piled out of the van wearing our smartly prepared backpacks and smiles, easily, as we walked toward Uncle D., Aunt J. and the cousins who were waiting for us to swim with them 3 miles down the river.
After we arrived, the kids stood on the stone covered beach looking at the green lagoon. The water was still and clear but to their left and right which were swift rapids. I watched and remembered childhood, feeling love for the forest, and water; to love to play. For whatever reason, altitude or dehydration or just my general-out-of-shape-ness, I felt a mild headache coming on. It would eclipse that evening. The girls walked triumphant and brave as though at home they were not afraid of everything. It wasn’t until a full day of playing on the river’s edge – toss the rock games, 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, more like a 90-degree angle, back to the van. The incline and elevation brought my headache to its peak. Allison began to mope. My head hurt with each step causing me to lack sympathy. We each suffer along the way but I can’t suffer in peace, I’ve got Allison who kept saying, “I’m tired, my legs hurt, I’m scared,” etc. Pounding head, whining kid, steep incline. IMPATIENCE. I fussed at her. “Quit crying and complaining or I won’t hold your hand anymore!”
She complained one more time and I let go of her hand, shaking it out of me and kept climbing. She chased after me, “Mom, I’m scared.”
“I warned you if you complained again I’d let go of your hand. Walk beside me if you’re scared.”
Earlier at the beach, I also lost my patience with her, I said, “God-damn-it Allison! Can’t you just listen to me?” I was reacting to her having human poop, her human poop, smeared on her foot from her earlier shit in the woods. I asked her discretely to come with me to clean her shoe; I wanted her to politely clean it off with a baby wipe away from the place they’d been eating, but instead, she resisted and wouldn’t get up. Then I fussed loudly for her to get up right now or she’d be punished. Shouting like mad women, I’m sure. Now when I reflect on my impatience I feel remorse I was impatient.
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. Some of us have a different model or broken down ones whose ability to love us is equal to her blame on her for being such a terrible family. Her mental illness has made her more calculating. She demands attention in obsessive overtures and creative threats. Guilt is her poison. She lays it on like a walrus crossing an 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 or I won’t be real thrilled about saying a prayer for you or sending any presents if 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 sister. 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 and showed my husband, “Look, she had to add that comma and clarify the level of hate she felt for me, ‘pure hate’.” But wait, there’s more, worse was the final sentence in which she declared that since she apologized, I should also.
When I arrive at the van and we sit and we drive and my son sleeps, I reflect. Getting outside is pleasant, naturally so, we let the noise of our regular life fade and are unquestionably happy. The part I didn’t write about is how happy we all were when the families swam and competitively tossed rocks into the river. For hours there were no squabbles or complaints – not until that tired walk home that is. I am in our van contemplating – 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.
My children listen to their daddy-playing guitar in the garage at night and my quiet typing at an IKEA desk with a 24-inch MAC. My children don’t realize their household is unique. Some kids grow up to their parents watching TV from dusk till dawn. My parents didn’t 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.
It was my turn to tuck in the children tonight. My son is the youngest, so I tucked him in first. He asked to take his toy to bed with him and I nodded yes. He went to bed with five toys in his hands and a smile. I believe in letting kids have their way on the insignificant things.
I thought my fears were related to my childhood but perhaps it is genetic, or both.
Tonight Luca admitted to me she was “very afraid” every time someone sneezes, or coughs, or blows their nose. For the past week, she had been checking her temperature every night around bedtime. “Am I sick?” she would ask in earnest.
“No sweetie, you’re not sick,” I said as I rubbed her hair back. The light of the bathroom spreads across her; 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 and vomited ten dry heaves early yesterday morning. Can you take my temperature?”
“Yes, but with my hand.” I touch her forehead, sweeping aside her brown hair. She is not hot. Not even close. “Nope, no fever. You’re not hot.”
“How do you know?”
“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 it’s going to 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. He narrated his own story, “… cut the tree down.” He pretended to saw the basket with the Black-n-Decker toy chainsaw, his favorite this week. He pressed that saw’s noise button almost as much as he opened the refrigerator.
“John, get back in bed.” I scolded.