mess

Some Things That Might Happen When You Move

You might, at the beginning, underestimate the work of moving. In the weeks that pass between buying a house and moving into that house, you might begin the process of sorting and packing. You know you haven’t done enough, but still, you might look around each room and think: that won’t take very long to pack. You will be wrong.

On the day you actually move from one house to another, you might be disturbed by the wreckage. It’s not that you expected things to be orderly. In fact, you’re the one who advocated for a move that would span several days. Let’s just move the beds, you said, and a few boxes of things we immediately need. Then we can come back and pack the rest. But this means you are left with a house filled with dust bunnies and all the things that have been hiding under the bed for many years: flip-flops and luggage and photographs you took in college. This does not look like a house that can be tamed. You might wonder how on earth this house will ever be clean and empty.

You might be impressed by how prolific the loose Legos are, and the k’nex and the marbles. You never stop finding them. They are in every single corner of every single room. You fill your pockets with them. They often carry dust and stray hairs. They are so prolific that one afternoon, as you are cleaning out the empty fridge, you find what looks like a loose blue k’nex piece stuck in one of the mounts at the back of the freezer. You will stuff it in your pocket with the other k’nex. Later, when you find the other blue piece on the other side, you realize that these are not k’nex but parts designed to hold a tray in place. You might feel foolish for a moment.

One night at the new house you might decide to make tuna salad for dinner. You know you’ve got bread, mayonnaise, and salad greens. You even know where the tuna cans are. You might not realize until after dark, when you’ve got the mixing bowl on the counter, and the mayo, and the pickles, that the can opener is still in the kitchen drawer of your old house.

You may find that packing is demanding work. Doing so invites deep existential quandaries, like: Why am I reluctant to get rid of this dress that doesn’t fit me? and Do I really need two ladles? By the end of each day you might be surprised by how tired you are. You might fall asleep next to your toddler, drooling in your clothes.

You may realize, for the thousandth time, that you and your partner have different attitudes about stuff. You would like to see 90% of it go away. It may be hard for you to decide which things to part with, but if someone were to do that job for you, you would thank them. Your partner, on the other hand, would like to keep things like cracked dishes that cannot be repaired. She would not thank someone if they secretly took boxes of her stuff to Goodwill. Not that you tried or anything. No really, you didn’t. Still, you will have to find a way to live with each other. You just bought a house, after all.

You might find that your hygiene standards change for the weeks that you are still packing and unpacking. Those pants that you painted in last week might turn out to be the only ones you can find. Go with it. One morning, you discover that they have worn out between the thighs. Don’t worry; no one will notice. You might rifle through one of the many garbage bags filled with clothing until you can find a hat that will cover your bedhead. You might wear your garden clogs everywhere.

You might discover that it takes only 10 minutes to set up internet in your new house even though the directions say to give it two hours. This small victory might be compromised when, on the same day, you spend hours battling with the brand new dishwasher. Though you got it to start yesterday, today it won’t. You press buttons, consult the manual, and still it won’t go. You take a break from trying, but can’t get it out of your mind. Why won’t it work? you keep asking yourself. Finally, at the end of the day, for reasons that will never be clear, you hit some magic combination of buttons and the thing runs like a Cadillac. Tomorrow you will have to figure it out all over.

You might be surprised by how fluid the word “home” is. In the days leading up to your move, you find it unimaginable. You will keep thinking that something will happen to prevent you from moving into the new house. It’s not that you don’t want to go, it’s just that your imagination is limited. Only two days after the move, you will marvel at how easily the shift happens. Sure, your stuff is in boxes. Sure, you still haven’t met the neighbors. But already this feels like where you live now. Your kids, who were anxious about the move, seem to barely notice that they’ve left something behind. Instead, they jump on their new beds and sit by the fireplace as if they have always inhabited this space.

Rainbows vs Ninjas

There’s pleasantly exhausted, and then there’s on-the-brink exhausted. Two nights ago,  I was the latter. As Smoke prepared for bedtime, I walked through our house and tried not to look too hard. Everywhere, there was a sight that raised my blood pressure. There’s a pile of laundry in the armchair that hasn’t disappeared for weeks. There are the shelves full of expired medications and near-empty bottles of supplements. There are about a dozen piles scattered throughout the house of paperwork that has no home. Some days it feels like I can’t reach for something I need without eight things I don’t need falling to the floor.

This is a problem, yes, but it’s not a new problem. It’s a problem I live with until I get so tired that I don’t think that I can live with it anymore. If I came to this point at 9 am on a Saturday morning, then perhaps I could put the feeling to use. But at 9 pm on a weeknight, it translates to nothing but desperation, and even though I feel far more cranky than sleepy, I try to tell myself, over and over, “Go to sleep as soon as you can.” I was afraid that if I didn’t I might fall apart–on myself or on someone else.

But it was my night to put Smoke to bed, and he never wants me to go to sleep as fast as I can. He wants books followed by meandering conversations, and he’s never sufficiently impressed when I report to him how late it is.

Every week Smoke comes home from kindergarten with some small book he’s made and memorized, and so I often have him read to me at bedtime as a warm-up. Smoke had come home with this rainbow book, and I had placed in on his bed earlier in the evening so that we would remember to read it. But when we got to bed, Smoke wanted to skip it. He only wanted to read about ninjas.

rainbow

In spite of my mantra (Go to sleep as fast as you can!) I fought him. “Why won’t you read to me?” I asked while at the same time I wondered: why was I picking a fight?

“It’s too embarrassing.”

“What’s embarrassing about it?”

“I just don’t want to read it.”

“Well how does it go? Just tell me.”

Smoke rolled his eyes. “You say the colors of the rainbow twice, and then you say ‘Makes a rainbow ________.”

“Makes a rainbow what?”

“Makes a rainbow b_______.”

“Makes a rainbow bright?”

“Yeah. Bright.”

“Oh,” I said. The layer of sheer annoyance that had hardened around my heart had started to melt away. “I think I would probably cry if I heard you sing that.”

Of course Smoke started singing: Red-orange-yellow, green-blue-purple, red-orange-yellow, green-blue-purple—clap!—make a rainbow bright.

It was the clap that did me in. I was totally unprepared for the earnestness of that clap.

I’m quite certain that the earnestness of that song, its unapologetic sweetness, is exactly why Smoke had wanted to forgo it in favor of his ninja book. At six, he’s just aware enough to recognize innocence and be suspicious of it. But, when pressed, he reluctantly administered the medicine I needed. That was kind of him.

“Do you think I cried?” I asked. Smoke wasn’t sure, and so I pointed to the corner of my eye. We laughed at my one little tear, and then read about ninjas for much longer than I wanted to. And then we went to sleep.

Looking for a Hole in the Space-Time Continuum

Summer has ended and already I’m tired.

Last night Stump woke up at 3 am and remained awake for two full hours, insisting Nurse? Nurse? Nurse? every moment I wasn’t nursing him. When I woke up at seven, he was still nursing, his hair all sweaty beneath my armpit. When I finally got up, Smoke decided to show his love for me by smacking me repeatedly on the butt while I packed his lunch. Meanwhile, Stump spent the next hour attempting to raid Smoke’s marker stash; he screamed in agony every time I forcibly removed a marker from his death grip. The moment before we left, I discovered red scribbles all over our white kitchen chairs. I have no idea how he managed this; he hadn’t left my sight for a moment.

One small thing that helped: on the way to work, as Stump was fussing the backseat, whining for another cookie and another cookie and another cookie (the daytime equivalent of Nurse, Nurse, Nurse) I drove by a man with a beard who was riding a motor scooter and wearing a long floral print dress that fluttered in the wind.

At this point, I’ve given up all hope of getting ahead, of managing the exploding messes in my house, of getting my teaching tasks preemptively in order for next week when the papers roll in. But I’d like to catch up on sleep, on reading and TV—these are small missions I began over the summer but haven’t completed. The other day I realized that all of this would be possible if only I could find a time warp somewhere. Ever since then I keep dreaming about it, as if it’s a distant but actual possibility like winning the lottery or landing a book deal.

A stellar-mass black hole in orbit with a companion star located about 6,000 light years from Earth.

Last week as Kellie watched the show Cosmos, I heard Neil DeGrasse Tyson explain that if you wandered into a black hole you would most likely die by spaghettification, your body stretching until it snapped. But if you were lucky and entered in just the right spot, in theory you might survive.

Would there be room for a bed in there? Could I bring a backpack with some toiletries,  some books and chocolate and beer?

See Ya

I feel a little ashamed to write this next sentence, but I won’t let that stop me. Sometimes the highlight of my day is leaving my kids behind and driving to work. I’m not saying that work is the highlight of my day. I’m not even saying that driving is the highlight of my day. I’m talking about leaving the kids behind—that part is the highlight of my day, sometimes.

Like this morning. Stump woke me up at 6:20. It was early and I didn’t have to leave until 9, so I tried to be an optimist. Maybe I would get some laundry done. Maybe I could pay some bills. Maybe I would find Stump’s missing shoe. Smoke still slept in my bed. He had crept in during the wee hours, taking advantage of the fact that Kellie’s out of town. I decided to do something kind and make him bacon, because he had requested it the night before. By 7:00 the house smelled like bacon and I had a load of laundry going in the washer. Stump, busy eating blueberries, hadn’t destroyed anything yet. I was rocking this solo parenting gig.

IMG_0714

All is well.

I was forgetting that it typically takes ten minutes or less for our house to descend into chaos. Smoke woke up, and as I prepared the toast to go with his bacon, Stump climbed on top of the kitchen table and systematically tossed all of the papers onto the floor. I gave Stump his own toast to keep him busy. He sucked the jam off of it and tossed the bread onto the floor. Smoke’s crusts wound up on the floor as well, and when I asked him to pick them up, desperation already creeping into my voice, he acted as if he couldn’t hear me. I looked around and did an assessment: in addition to toast on the floor, there was a crusty, greasy bacon pan to clean, dishes to wash, and laundry to move to the dryer; none of us was dressed and I still hadn’t found that missing shoe. My blood pressure rose.

“Smoke! Please stop tuning me out! Please pick your crust up off the floor, now!”

Smoke just looked at me. “I know you’re going to apologize later for yelling.”

You may reasonably ask why we leave so much crap on our kitchen table for Stump to mess with.

You may rightfully ask why we leave so much crap on our kitchen table for Stump to mess with.

Somehow, we made it out the door fully clothed. I may have even managed to remove the toast from the floor before we left, though I know I left the greasy bacon pan behind. I dropped Smoke off at preschool, got back inside my car, and breathed. I was alone. Smoke’s preschool is two blocks away from my favorite coffee shop and so I drove there. There was a parking spot for me. Inside, there were no children, only grownups. The barista asked me what I wanted, and then when I told her she gave me that, exactly. I said thank you, and she said “Have a good day.” I was amazed by all this civility. No one threw toast on the floor. And then I continued on my quiet drive to work, sipping my cup of coffee.

These days, so much of the pleasure in my life is based upon what isn’t there.

Our Messy Lives

I took this photo last Sunday because I intended to follow up on my recent post about Stump, about how he is a bobcat, a wild child. I just wanted you to know that I wasn’t exaggerating.

IMG_1074

This was at the end of an outing to the park where he walked from mole hole to mole hole to dig in the dirt. At first I thought, well that’s okay, and then as he became increasingly exuberant, throwing the dirt so that it landed in his hair, I thought, whoa this is getting a little crazy, so I carried him over to the rock formations as a distraction.

The rock formations feature a kind of bowl that collects rainwater to which kids like to add leaves and pinecones and stir the concoction with sticks. On this particular day, someone had also added dirt, so it was filled with mud. Stump wasted no time finding this mud. Within moments, it was on his hands and up his sleeves and down his collar. It created a nice foundation for yet more dirt to get stuck to. When I pulled him away, he scrambled up the rocks, bobcat-style, leaving mud tracks behind him on his way to find more mole holes.

No, I didn’t have a change of clothes.

Moments later, a woman cut through the park with her corgi and Stump looked up from his digging. He clapped his hands and cried “dog!” over and over. As he began to walk towards the woman and her dog, she shot me a glare that said, You will NOT let your grubby child touch my dog.

On the way home, I thought about my parenting, and how sometimes I’m torn between letting my kids make a mess, and worrying about how I look to other parents or bystanders in that particular moment. And it’s true that my choice to let Stump play in dirt is as much a symptom of my laziness, my exhaustion, my I-don’t-want-to-fight-it attitude as it is a conscious parenting philosophy. But I stand by it.

That was Sunday I thought this was our mess of the week.

But then on Monday morning we discovered that Stump had thrush, an infection of the mouth, and our doctor prescribed gentian violet as a topical medicine. When Kellie brought it home, we discovered that it’s a bright purple liquid. We’ve been using it for nearly a week now, and once applied, it looks like Stump has been sucking on a purple sharpie. As a bonus, there are drips of it everywhere—on my arms, my shirt, the sink, on my favorite sheets, and on the dishtowels.

IMG_1088

All of this has me thinking about the other ways in which mess has taken over my life. My office at work, once neat, is now embarrassing. It features piles of papers from this quarter, papers from several years ago, boxes of books I will never unpack, and cups of tea that have sat around unwashed for weeks.

And then there is my brain, which is even more cluttered than my desk. If I ask you a question, I’m unlikely to retain, or even hear the answer. I will likely ask you the same question again forty minutes later. Sometimes, for no particular reason, I might suddenly remember a work-related email sent weeks before that I read once and didn’t respond to. Other times, I try to remember where I first heard about a particular article or movie, a task I could once readily perform, but now my memory is a blur of social media, blogging, NPR, and actual conversations.

Sometimes I feel like our world is designed to entrap me in meaningless chaos. My inbox is full of thousands of emails that I will never read, reminders to pay my bills or view my monthly statement, to buy new shoes for 20% off or activate my Quarterly Rewards Bonus. The institution I work for withholds hundreds of dollars from my paycheck every month, money that I can spend tax-free on child care and doctors visits, but I must fill out forms and submit paperwork if I ever want to see it in my bank account. This week I tore apart my house looking for an invoice I had paid off weeks ago. Three days later, when I picked up a notebook in my office, it fluttered to the floor.

I don’t know how other people cope. How is it that people pay their bills on time and stay within a budget and drive a new car and feed their kids dinner at 5:30 every night? How do they arrive at work on time, with neat hair, and not wearing mustard from the sandwich they scarfed while driving? How do they shave their legs and keep up with the shaving? How do they get the laundry done AND fold it? How do they manage to appear normal to their neighbors? How do they get their kids out of pajamas every day or leave the house with snacks and water and a change of clothes? How do they keep their kids from digging in the mole holes or climbing on the kitchen table and throwing cereal?

What?

What?

I know these questions may sound rhetorical, but sometimes I do worry that I’m missing some essential yet obvious life skill. Please explain your answers in the space below.

 

The Word of the Day is: Uh-oh

I think that “Uh-oh” must be every baby’s fifth word. It’s easy to say and they hear it so often—when they drop food from their high chair, when they scramble for the Legos on the floor, when they attempt to climb out of the bathtub. Uh-oh.

My baby learned this word yesterday, but he doesn’t quite get the proper usage yet. To him, uh-oh is a conversation starter. We’ve been passing it back and forth all day. He climbed on top of the storage bin and announced himself: uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh. He pushed open the door to his brother’s room: uh-oh. He’s uses uh-oh to unwittingly announce his misbehaviors because to him uh-oh has nothing to do with accidents, it’s just something we say when he’s in the midst of doing something really, really fun, like dumping a box of cereal all over the floor.

Image(Our first uh-oh of the day. Sorry this shot was blurry; I was tired. After taking this, I noticed that my older son is acting equally crazy in the background, and there’s a plastic guy on the floor along with the rejected food.)