What you say hurts as much as how you say it

At least the outside of my house is inviting

It would probably be safe to eat off her bathroom floor. Actually, her house is so clean that it would probably be safe to eat out of her toilet bowls. I don’t know how she does it all, seriously. There are active children in her house, large animals and a husband. Meals are always prepared, beds are always made and the carpet always seems to have fresh vacuum tracks.

Always.

Besides the clean and organized house, she still manages to spend time with her kids and run not one, but three businesses. Three. One of which is cleaning houses.

At my house, it’s a good day if the beds get made before DW gets home from work. It’s a great day if I’m not having to wash a dish out of the piled up sink to serve dinner. And I don’t work, outside the home or otherwise. Not really anyway. Everything feels like a balancing act: parenting, volunteering, writing, music, housekeeping, cooking. If I want to do one thing really well, then something else inevitably falls through the cracks. Something else suffers and has to take a back seat, especially in the summer, and most of the time, it’s the housekeeping. Mostly because I would rather write or watch movies in the afternoon with my children than mop a floor.

One evening, over drinks with girlfriends, I heard that this friend was possibly looking to add another house to clean.

“Hey,” I half-joked, “I know a house you could clean.”

Without hesitation, she responded, “I don’t clean houses for stay-at-home moms”.

They should be able to handle it themselves.

Gulp.

All self-doubts about my housekeeping abilities were confirmed. I was not able to handle it myself. How embarrassing that I was a failure.

For weeks afterward, I tried to get up earlier and stay up later to try and keep on top of the laundry and the cleaning, but burning the candle on both ends wore me out, made me more irritable and less willing to build forts with the kids or bake cookies on a whim. Suddenly I worried about digging through the craft bins to find the perfect pink beads or dumping out the Barbie box to find a favorite pair of high-heeled shoes. I had no desire to litter the floor with hair accessories playing beauty shop. Spontaneity was lost and replaced with calculated clean-ups and reorganization.

Finally, I just had to let it go, and admit to myself that I was not secretly Martha Stewart or June Cleaver. Nor did I want to be.

So here I sit, happily writing this post, breakfast dishes still in my sink. The girls are playing on the slip-n-slide outside, dog toys are strewn all through the house, and remnants of multiple sleep overs speckle the family room and the play room. I will get to the big picture later, but at least one of my bathrooms is clean.

Today’s post was inspired by the following prompt: 5.) Share something mean someone said to you once, why has it stuck with you after all these years?

Every week you’re invited to join Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop by responding to one of the provided writing prompts posted each Tuesday. To view more detailed instructions on how this weekly meme works, check out the Writer’s Workshop FAQs. 

Season of Allegro

The string quartet swayed together, their bodies rolling with each beat of  Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, drawing me step by step down the aisle. My heart pumped in time with my feet, carrying me body and soul, closer and closer to this man I love, until we stood face to face, our breath intertwined, whispering “I Do”.

“I Do” has been my refrain to life’s lyrics. The verses are simple:

  • Do you want to marry me?
  • Do you want  to move to another state?
  • Do you want to have another baby?
  • Do you want to be a stay at home mom?

I’ve sung each line with enthusiasm and gratefulness, at the top of my lungs when the days were full of grace, or muttered under my breath when the tempo became too frantic. I absorbed the sounds of Raffi & Karyn Henley’s voices, let them play all day while we danced and sang. I listened to the hum of bouncing seats and wind-up swings, rumbling random giggles, races through the house, and silly made-up stories. Each day was filled with so much noise, I coveted the small moments of silence between naps and bedtime, cherished the stillness.  Those moments gave me just enough time to rest and recover, get ready for the next set.

But now all I hear is the purr of the coffee pot and the tick-tick-tick of the clock above my desk. I am lost in the silence, trying to write new lyrics, desperately wanting to dance to a new beat. The simple refrain of “I Do” still falls from my lips, but the verses have changed:

  • Do you miss being a mommy of preschoolers?
  • Do you have a hard time finding fulfillment in your day?
  • Do you struggle to find contentment?

I was prepared for being a young mom, surrounded by toys and tots, a season of Allegro.  I was not prepared for these Adagio days, shuffling around an empty house, feeling trapped in a Grand Pause, waiting for the conductor to swing his baton down, and start the music again.

This post was inspired by TRDC’s RemembeRed memoir writing prompt.This week’s prompt asked us to write about a time that rhythm, or a lack thereof, played a role in your life. And don’t use the word “rhythm.”

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall

This post is inspired by Red Writing Hood. Red Writing Hood is a writing meme. It is  fiction or non-fiction with a word limit of 600. This writing prompt is sponsored by The Red Dress Club. The topic this week was Sloth: laziness of the spirit, apathy.



“So you finally decided to take a shower. What has it been? Like three days? Except you hit the snooze button so many times this morning, you won’t be able to do your hair and makeup. Not that it matters, you never wear makeup anymore and I’m not sure why you bother coloring the grey since you wear a pony-tail most of the time.”

“Hey! Look at me when I’m talking to you. Don’t pretend like you can’t hear me over the buzzing of the hair dryer either. I saw what you picked out to wear, such a fashion statement you are, in your jeans and t-shirt. Your closet is full of beautiful clothes that you never wear. Oh, that’s right. You can’t fit into most of them anymore and the rest, well, aren’t exactly appropriate for sorting papers in the classroom. There’s this really cool gadget down in your basement you know – it’s called a treadmill. Maybe you should try using it one of these days. I couldn’t help but notice the empty wine glass still sitting on your nightstand either. I don’t think that was exactly what was meant by a “liquid diet” although you continue to try night after night.”

“Sure, pretend like your husband doesn’t mind. I know he loves you for your inner beauty, but come on, that wasn’t what first attracted him, now was it? Besides, you think he likes asking you how your day was and hearing, “the same as yesterday”. What was that he said last week? Oh yeah: Is there something fundamentally wrong with you lately or are you just bored?”

“Yep, there goes the pony-tail again. Nice. What’s on your agenda today? That’s what I thought, nothing, just more laundry, more bill paying, more errands, and more cleaning house. It’s a good thing you have a college degree. I can see it really comes in handy making grocery lists and meal planning. Yes…yes, I know, you’ve told me many times that the kids still need you and that’s why you stay home. But before you know it they will both be off to college and then what? It’ll just be you and the dog. All day. Every day. And those big plans you had for yourself will stop being plans and just be dreams, unfulfilled.”

“Take the plunge. Go back to school. Do something. God, I’m so sick of hearing the same old excuses: I’m still paying my undergraduate…when would I make timeI’m too old to start a careerwho’ll make dinner for everyone…blah, blah, blah. You’re just scared, that’s all. Or maybe you’ve just given up, succumbed to motherhood and forgotten what it was like to be a woman, a woman with goals and desires of her own. Be the woman you want your daughters to be and start living your life again.”

Knock. Knock.

“Mom, are you almost done in the bathroom? I need help with breakfast and we need to leave for school a little earlier today. Mom?”

“Yeah…yeah, I’ll be right out honey. I just need to figure out what I’m going to wear.”

Friday Flip Offs 3/18: Vomiting Children and Unwelcome Pajama Days

I woke up in my clothes this morning, and I don’t remember if that was a conscious choice or not. Is that a bad sign?

A feverish, dry-heave shaking, wrapped in blankets, very weary friday flip off goes to stomach viruses. At 4am Thursday morning I was awakened by The Hare panting and crying by the side of the bed. By the sound of her moans, groans and stomach clutching I fully expected to find her intestines hanging out of her body. My mind immediately raced to when she last ate, exactly 7 hours prior at a Wendy’s drive thru after gymnastics practice.

“Hmmphh,” snorted DW, “What’s going on?”

“I think The Hare has food poisoning. ”

There had been no signs leading up to illness. Less than 20 minutes later, The Hare and I were kneeling in front of the porcelain throne. She is usually a fantastic patient, never complaining and very calm. Except when it comes to vomiting. She panics.

“IT’S COMING, OH NO IT’S COMING!” she cried.

It was quick and shook her whole body, all 53 lbs of her.

“Well, it’s was definitely the chicken nuggets. Definitely,” whimpered The Hare.

DW and I tried to explain to her that her body was just expelling whatever the last meal in her system was and that it might not have been the nuggets at all. I don’t think she really cared what was causing the illness, she just wanted it to be over. Unfortunately she and I maintained this very intimate relationship with the bathroom until 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon yesterday.

Apparently 3 more gymnasts were suffering the same ailments, which indicated it was a virus and not food poisoning. Half-way thru the day I desperately wanted her to take a shower and rinse off the smell of sickness. Her hair was plastered to her neck. She had changed underwear a handful of times. But she was too scared to be in the shower alone, even though I assured her it was okay to throw-up in the shower. It would just rinse down the drain since there was nothing solid left in her system.

“Can’t you take a shower with me?” she pleaded. “I need you.”

It has been a long time since I have showered with either of my children, after all, they are 12 and 8 now. But while we were absorbing the steamy water, I melted in the arms wrapped around my waist, her head rested just below my chest. All I could think about were the years my girls used to play and dance with their Barbies under the pulsating rhythm of the water. I remembered washing their hair and little bodies while singing made up shower songs. For all the times she has insisted she is “too big” or “I can do it myself”, I could see in that moment she was still the tiny princess I brought home from the hospital.

Another sheepish, self-absorbed, under the covers, flannel clad flip off goes to myself. I am embarrassed to admit that before the shower, this unexpected and unwelcome pajama day was full of frustration and bitterness. Everytime I would leave her side she would cry for me, “Mom…I need you.” It felt like an inconvenience. Afterall, I was still responsible for bringing a meal to another family, taking The Tortoise back and forth to practice, laundry and dinner. I knew she would be out of school the next day too, requiring me to cancel my hair appointment and miss the exercise class I had just signed up for. I was pouting about how her illness was effecting me. The shower washed away my selfishness and left me with a clean perspective. This is exactly why I am a stay at home mom. There was no job to call, no quota to miss, no substitute required. Just a small child to care for, and that is what I did the rest of the day. (Thank you Pam’s Gourmet for your delivery service and Panera’s drive thru window.) Later she will forget about how much her stomach hurt. She will remember that mom was there for her every need. We lounged in my bed watching HG TV for hours until her body finally submitted to sleep.

Her fever thrashed through the night, twisting sheets and bodies until it finally broke just before the dawn. I am exhausted from sleeping next to her, but relieved that there is color back in her cheeks. Today is another unexpected pajama day, but welcome to stay.

Romantic Endings

I pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of the bottom of The Hare’s backpack Wednesday morning.

“What’s this and how long has it been here?” I asked.

Glimpses of kissing red hearts peeked out of one corner. A vague memory that Valentine’s Day was a mere 5 days away suddenly loomed over my head.

“I don’t know,” The Hare responded distractedly, “Maybe last Friday. I think it’s your Valentine Party stuff.”

“My Valentine Party stuff? Don’t you mean your Valentine Party stuff?”

“Yours, mine, whatever. Isn’t it kinda your job?”

“Kinda”

Wednesday night I started to make calls. It has been a stellar year for parent participation. We have personally donated more items than collected. My pleas have mostly fallen on deaf ears and a few answering machines. For the first two parties I called every parent on the list to solicit help and donations. I even tried to utilize my years of sales tactics.

“Is there any reason why you couldn’t provide the cheese and crackers for our classroom?”

“What? Didn’t I donate money already? Can’t you just buy them?”

“Can I count on you to help set up at 2:15 on Monday?”

No. Some of us moms have to work and don’t have the luxury you do to show up for everything.”

By the third party, I was praying that parents would pick up the phone and call me instead, after all, I sent home letters at the beginning of the year letting them know who their room mom was and begging asking for parents to be on my committee. Although my “title” is party planner, I’m really just a party facilitator. The third grade team of teachers actually planned all the parties, then gave me a list to fulfill. I think a lot of parents think that I came up with these elaborate menus.

I almost started crying when I saw the Valentine Party list:

  • Red heart Jello Jigglers
  • Ants on a log – peanut butter filled celery with raisins.
  • Fruit Kabobs
  • Decorated Holiday Cookies
  • Red Punch
  • Candy/Treat Bags for each student
  • Valentine themed paper products and table cloths

My first few calls went as expected, everyone wanted to donate the paper products, no one wanted to make Jello jigglers or fruit kabobs. So I had to take a little more diplomatic approach and make some executive decisions, otherwise there wasn’t going to be much of a party.

Here was the list that I came up with:

  • Jello cups
  • a bag of carrot sticks and ranch dressing
  • whatever fruit you want
  • cookies from the grocery store
  • juice boxes

It was a menu that the average working family could manage in a short amount of time and then I was only on the hook for the goody bags.

On Valentine’s afternoon, I lost track of time. At 1:45 I realized I hadn’t taken a shower yet or packed the car. I was supposed to start setting up at 2:15.

“Holy Crap!” I yelled to an empty house, jumping in the shower.

Wet hair was pulled tightly into a ponytail, peeking out from under a grey flannel cap. I managed to find a clean black and grey argyle sweater, dark denim trousers and my cute little black and turquoise Sketchers. And of course, a little jewelry bling to distract people from the lack of make-up. As I rushed back and forth from The Hare’s classroom, toting various donations stored in the teacher’s lounge, I couldn’t help but envy the many classrooms full of parent volunteers. The hallways were full of them, milling around, helping children stuff Valentine’s treats into homemade mailboxes. Some of them recognized me and smiled, a few nodded. I couldn’t tell if it was to be friendly or out of pity.

Pity. Definitely Pity.

Only about half of the kids followed the teacher outside while I was supposed to be setting up the party. The other half were still delivering Valentine’s cards to their classmates’ boxes. I tried my best to work around them and the piles of clutter still decorating the desk tops. The task was impossible. Finally I just gave up and designated one table for everything. The kids were going to have to do this “buffet style”. It was a little hectic trying to serve 25 kids in a timely manner. I’ve been trying to eat healthier, for almost a day, but the stress of this crazy party started driving me to eat scads of cookie crumbs off the table. And jello is fat free, right?

The party proceeded until 3:45 and then there was a mad dash to clean up and pile into the coat room to get ready to go home. A few thank you’s were thrown my way, and a big hug from The Hare. But I was exhausted. I think it would have been easier to try and gather a bunch of clucking chickens into their coupe. (It might even have been less messy and quieter).

On my way home, I was wondering why I always led with my heart rather than my head when volunteering for things. Surely if I just said no, someone else would have to say yes.

DW called on his way home from work. Monday and Tuesday nights are always a mess, juggling sports schedules and my rehearsal schedules. He wanted to see if the girls had time to go out on a dinner date with dad for Valentine’s Day.

“Of course,” I answered, a small tone of jealousy in my voice.

My extra-curricular evening activities are starting to get in the way of our precious family time. It was far easier to leave at night when the girls were little and didn’t have so many interests and activities of their own. DW must have sensed my frustration.

“Don’t leave before I get there, okay?” he urged.

When he walked into the kitchen, I couldn’t help but notice a Target bag clutched in his hand.

“I know this isn’t really wrapped, but Happy Valentine’s Day.”

Generally we don’t do gifts for each other, just a card, so my curiosity was peeked. Inside the bag I pulled out a can opener. Really? A can opener?

“I was at Target today and remembered how much trouble our old can opener has been giving you. I thought maybe you’d like a new one.”

My Valentine card from DW

Points for paying attention, that’s for sure. And then he handed me his card. The front was beautifully decorated with the word “LOVE”, which has been his pet-name for me since we started dating. Every card DW has ever given me has the word “LOVE” on the front. Not an easy task, I’m sure. But what really got to me, especially after such a frustrating afternoon, was what he wrote on the inside:

Your heart has brightened my life everyday with the love and comfort you give me. Keep letting your heart lead your life so I can follow. I love you.

-DW

I guess leading with my heart isn’t such a bad thing afterall.