Yesterday morning, I was in one God-awful mood. Nothing major had happened. All the stress and pressure and unhappiness I was feeling manifested internally. I was a real bear.
Here’s how it started: I woke.
My house was a mess—it is always a mess and I’m never alone to clean it. As I clean, my children make more mess and my mother-in-law calls me to her and I don’t get a thing done. Ever. Because I am never alone. Seeing this mess always makes me feel tired and a little angry. Even if I could address the mess, the house would stay clean for all of two seconds, so what is the point? I just feel so defeated in this area of my life.
Deborah was coming to care for my mother-in-law for five whole hours. This is a good thing, but it has some drawbacks. Because Deborah is not a housekeeper, I feel like I have to rush around and clean up before she arrives—so there is pressure. Because I only have very limited time in which I can leave the house and I have to make the most of that time, there is pressure. Because I have to leave when Deborah arrives and I have to take the children with me, there is more pressure—where will we go, what will we do? Oh, AND I have no money—that’s always bonus pressure. Most of what we do when we are forced to leave the house has to be free.
Why do I have to leave when Deborah arrives? It’s just awkward if I don’t. It’s like hiring a sitter to watch a newborn and then staying home. What’s the point? That baby isn’t going anywhere. She sleeps all the time. No, when Deborah is in my house caring for my mother-in-law, I feel like I have an audience. Someone is just sitting there watching me cook, clean, and parent. I don’t like it one bit. I’m grateful Deborah bathes my mother-in-law, changes her sheets, does her laundry, and feeds her, but the downside of having her here is pretty, um, down. I have to leave.
Having to leave leads me to feel like I have no ownership over my own home. I don’t live there. I stay there. I have no authority. It is a very disempowering feeling. I feel reduced to childhood. Yep, that’s what it is for me—like being a child since I have so little say about where and how we live. I hated being a kid. HATED. IT.
So, on the days when Deborah comes, I always have a plan. The plan always involves having my children and myself dressed and fed early so that we can go somewhere the moment she arrives. Our plan for yesterday was to go to storage to pick up a desk and then to the library for the Back-to-School program. I figured that would occupy our time from nine until noon. Then, we would take our picnic lunch to a playground and kill a couple more hours before heading home.
Kids didn’t cooperate. They lollygagged. They don’t feel the pressure to leave like I do and so they wanted to stay home—watch TV, play with toys, and contribute to the mess. They did not want to go to a storage unit to pick up furniture. Really, isn’t that what we’ve done all summer long? Move furniture and run other related errands? Not fun. And so they dragged their feet.
We left later than planned and I was on my way to one witchy, bitchy mood.
I looked at my watch. 9:45?!?!? No way could we drive to the storage unit and get to the library by 11 am. So, we would skip the part where we pick up the desk. But where to go now? We couldn’t go to the library an hour early because they’d be restless by the time the program started. There is nothing between our house and the library—so no convenient stops at Target to buy paper towels, no errands…
Playground? Yes, we could easily kill an hour at the playground. And there is one in a churchyard close to the library. Perfect!
When we arrived, the playground was filled with tots. The church had opened a daycare center. Okay, so we weren’t going there. As we pulled out of the church drive way, my children began crying, “But you said we could play.” Yeah, I did. I already feel like crap and now, I’m a bad mother on top of everything else.
So, where can we go? I suggested we go look at the Bay. One of our rental properties was close by and it is in a neighborhood that overlooks the Bay and has a community pier for residents only. Okay, I’m not a resident, but I am a home-owner in that community. I never lived there, but my husband did for years before we got married. If anyone questions my right to use the pier, I will tell them who I am and the neighbor will gush about how happy they are that my husband finally found someone and settled down and aren’t our children just beautiful. Because I married a 46-year-old bachelor, this is the response I get from everyone who has known him longer than I have—the story of how much they love my husband and how happy they are he is finally married. I saved him from a lifetime of despair and our children are so beautiful. Deep sigh. Cue the happy-ending music.
And would you believe I couldn’t find a place to park? Normally, I’m that person who sees a “No Parking” sign and rationalizes, I’m not going far, I will be right here, if someone asks me to move my car, I will, it’s no big deal. Just park. See? This is the kind of thing my mother-in-law and I have in common—the willingness to believe we are above the authority of signs. The difference is that I wouldn’t pretend not to speak English if caught doing something illegal. Yeah, she did that. It’s a great story for some other time.
But for some reason, No Parking signs had great authority over me yesterday. I guess I was already feeling disempowered and a little beaten down. I just couldn’t take those red all-capital letters yelling at me: NO PARKING! THAT MEANS YOU! I DO NOT CARE THAT YOU OWN A HOUSE IN THIS COMMUNITY. I DO NOT CARE WHO YOUR HUSBAND IS OR THAT HE LIVED HERE FOR MANY YEARS. I DO NOT CARE THAT YOU SAVED HIM FROM A LIFETIME OF LONELINESS. I DO NOT CARE THAT YOUR CHILDREN ARE BEAUTIFUL. NO PARKING. Yes, that is exactly what was printed on the sign. It was a really big sign.
And so, we drove past the Bay. We didn’t get out and look at it. And my children whined, “But you said we could get out.” Yes, I know. And I’ve already told you, I am a really crappy mother.
It was still too early to go to the library and it was definitely too late to find another playground or another view of the Bay. So, we played the real estate game. We have a friend who is looking to buy a house in our end of the county—my children know this—and so I told them that we would drive around and look for real estate signs for Ms. Anne. They seemed to enjoy this activity—it’s like I-spy with a purpose.
I, on the other hand, was consumed with my own negative thoughts. Yes, I felt banished from my messy, disorganized home, and as a mother, I was a walking disappointing. And if one more person mentions the importance of down-time, alone-time, me-time to me, I will beat them with my shoe. If it’s someone whining about how ‘hard it is to be a mommy’ and how she had to drop the kids off with her mother-in-law just so she could get a little alone time, well, I’m going to beat her so damn hard that she may never recover.
At 10:45, I decided that it was, at last, late enough to go to the library and wow, we would be on-time! How refreshing! I may recover from all my internal agony yet.
So, we walked through the library doors and I saw a sign that read, “Back-to-School Program! Today at 10 am.” And in the fine print, I saw, “YOU BLEW IT! YOU ARE LATE! PROGRAM IS ABOUT TO END! GET OUT OF THE WAY OF ALL THE HAPPY CHILDREN AND GOOD MOTHERS BEFORE YOU ARE STAMPEDED!”
I turned to the librarian and said, “I thought the back-to-school program stated at 11.” She said, “You should have called.” Yeah, there are a great many things I ‘should have’ done, lady. Calling to double check the time of a library program isn’t at the top of that list, but thank you.
We left. As I buckled my children into their car-seats, I was crying. Yeah, I know—crying? Over a missed library program? Get real.
It’s unlike me to cry, whine, or complain about this kind of thing. I’m one hell of a lot tougher than that. I’m that person who doesn’t panic in a crisis. I slap the person who is panicking and I bark out the orders. That’s what I do in a crisis. I have the personality of a field marshal—or so I’ve been told.
But really, none of this is a crisis. It’s just disappointment and fatigue. I am tired in that way that a good night’s sleep or a two-week vacation will not fix. It’s deep, deep tired with no end in sight. And about all that oh-so-important me-time, alone-time, down-time that I so desperately need but will not get any time in the foreseeable future? I’d need one hell of a lot of alone-time to make up for this. Maybe once my mother-in-law dies and my children are grown I can get ship-wrecked on a desert island?
Now, to my credit, during my downward cycle in which signs were singling me out and yelling at me, I did have a rational voice in my head, too—and it was issuing some tough-love. This is not a big deal. This is temporary. In a world plagued with violence, hunger, and disease, you call this a ‘bad day?’ Oh, Sweetheart, get a grip. This is nothing. You need to count your blessings and move on. It was a quiet voice, but audible enough to keep me from intentionally driving into a tree or doing the other stupid things people on the brink do before returning to sanity. For that matter, I never, ever question my sanity. So, at least, I have that much going for me.
My daughter saw my tears and asked what was wrong. I told her—“I’m just not having a very good day. Everything is just a little off.”
To that, she answered, “Mom, I’m your Prayer Warrior. I will say a prayer for you and God will make it better.” And she did. And in that moment, I realized I must be doing something very right if I’m raising a child who prays instead of getting sucked into her mother’s unhappiness. Wow.
And that rational voice in my head got a little louder. So, you are disappointed. Salvage the day. Where were you going next? The park for lunch? Do it.
We got to the park and the kids were happy because that is where they wanted to be in the first place. They didn’t want a desk or a library program. They wanted a playground and a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich. I was a little bored just sitting there watching them, however, and I was certain that they needed a break from me. So, I pulled out my cell-phone and called my husband. For some reason, I really wanted to tell another adult that I had had a horrible morning, but things were looking up, and I wanted to brag to him about his daughter.
As I had him on the phone, however, I was looking at the playground and thinking, “What a mess,” because there seemed to be more litter than usual on the ground and most of it was recyclables. Hmmm…and since this park belongs to my husband’s employer and he is pretty high up in the organization, I figured I would complain to him.
“I’m at the playground right now, and it is a mess. Do you want to know what the problem is? They have 22 trashcans just at the playground and 2 more in the parking lot, but no recycling cans. The only recycling bins are in-doors at the farm, the nature center, and the train station snack bar. No wonder people have been throwing aluminum cans and plastic bottles on the ground. I wish I had a bag. I’d clean it up for them.” And based on this description, locals reading this know which park I am writing about, right? Not because of the litter problem, but because of the amenities, I hope.
“If you go to the nature center and ask, I’m sure they will give you a bag.” I guess we will address the lack of out-door recycling bins later.
So, that is what I did. The children and I went to the nature center, asked for a bag, and we spent the next hour or so collecting discarded plastic bottles and soft-drink cans. It was a wonderful experience. Other families saw us doing this, and while no one joined us in this endeavor, I believe we had a positive impact on the environment and on those folks who observed us. Maybe they would be more conscientious about not littering. It was just one skippy-happy feeling for me and light-years away from where I was earlier in the day. THIS was the Divine Plan and it had nothing to do with getting a desk from storage or attending a library program.
And that rational voice was right–this–my entire situation with Deborah, the house, this sense of disempowerment–is very temporary. And I can be thankful for that and so much more.
Ha! When I started this blog entry, I meant to get to the positive stuff a lot quicker, but I see the good part is only 468 words long, but it took me 1,808 words to describe the all-consuming bad mood that came first. I’m reminded of reading Dante in high school. He went on and on FOREVER about Hell, but Paradise was just really, really good–not nearly as much description. It’s easy to find the words when describing something bad, but when it comes to describing something good, words are inadequate. That’s what Dante and I have in common.
So, trust me, picking up trash at the park was just good—really, really, really indescribably good.