Those who do not keep house for any number of years, for dependents and spouses or partners, you cannot know the pain I will write of here. You just can’t. Those that have done what I do – especially those who are still doing it now – this is for you. And maybe after you read, can I get an “Amen”?
Today I wake up and after going pee and brushing teeth I head into the kitchen for the carafe of hot coffee my husband usually makes then leaves the remainder of (bless him!). My plan is to pour a cup (black) then sit down to my Google Reader (someone help me by coming up with a euphemism for how addicted-like-crack I am to this service) which serves as my morning wake-up. Ah, yes – the few minutes I have during the day where I get a little quiet – even the cats are sleeping in flaccid, soft piles between the legs of my slumbering children. I typically get about a half hour before one of my kids – the eldest, usually – opens sleepy eyes and immediately says, “Mama, cuddle me.”
But no – today it is not to be. The kitchen not only lacks hot coffee, but there are no coffee grounds whatsoever (my mother had taken the last and not rebought) and even more defeating the dirty dishes are haphazardly stacked in a big assy pile – including those from my mom and her boyfriend the night before. Which of course I have to do first-thing if I’m wanting to cook my kids breakfast.
No. Freakin’. Coffee. So I start on the dishes. There are so many, so very many, and some of them are that truly unpleasant kind of dish (oil-soaked casserole pans, some kind of ketchup-y, deep-fried oyster leavings with lemon rinds strewn about) and I just kind of lower my shoulders and do dish after dish, and dry them with a clean towel, and drain and run water again, and fill up the sink strainer. Again. Methodically I finish them all.
The kids get up and about during all this and after throwing them some food, and instructing them to get dressed, I examine them and find their teeth were not brushed last night and in fact don’t look like they’ve been brushed well for days. I get the choice: be the sole family member who gives a damn that they might have a tooth in their head by old age, or just say, “Fuck it!” and let them run off as-is. I choose the former, of course – because the truth is, when it comes to self-care, kids need lots and lots and lots of repetition to bring the habit into their own. And I can accept that. But what sucks is that about half the time I brush their teeth or lay their heads on my lap to floss they complain or whinge about it. I mean that part somehow gets to me.
I’m somewhere amidst yelling at my daughter to get dressed (again!) and putting away the floss when Nels gets ahold of the trail mix, opens it (messily) and proceeds to eat every chocolate piece and strew so very many of the unwanted nuts, raisins etc. all over the table and floor. When I tell him I expect him to clean this up when he’s done he hedges, and gets angry, and then yells, “I’m sleepy, and I want to rest – it’s my job to rest and it’s YOUR JOB to clean up!”
There are hurts so deep they don’t even hurt any more. And for this numbness I’m grateful. I don’t especially feel better or well-supported when my mother comes in on the end of this trail mix debacle, shushing Nels, and beginning to help him clean up. Because she has a tiny and likely unknown contribution to my sorrows, the woman who brings down messy dishes – her boyfriend has never done Dish One, and I feel scorn for a woman who waits on all the men in her life, and I need to examine this, because for one thing who am I kidding? because look at me this morning – and leaves them, and takes coffee, and returns at noon with coffee (NOON! for fuck’s sake), and then spills the grounds all over the counter I. Just. Washed. Oh and I also cleaned up the rotting tomatoes left there too by Who Knows Who. And the thing is, it’s OK to spill coffee grounds, right? Of course I can’t require anyone clean the counter until they’re good and ready, or OOOPS I didn’t get to the dishes [again]! Sorry! But of course this is the place where I have to feed us all and have to feel a small sense of peace living in and working out of.
Raising children is an amazing, endless task. Sometimes the things that make it great also makes it hard: in this case, loving, consistent work over the course of many years. I know if I take care of myself, and take care of them the way I’m supposed to, things will work out as best they can. Sophie later puts her arms around me and tells me not to give up on her dental hygiene, but to continue taking care of her for as long as she can’t manage it properly. I thought this was very sweet and well-spoken on her part. And I really am up to the task; I just wish, more than anything, I had a space of my own now and then to retreat to, all by myself, when I need a break.
My daughter drives off with my mother in a couple hours. She’ll be gone for one or two nights. Let me tell you something: I walk the talk, I let my kids out into the world, and I give them a heck of a lot of freedoms because I know this is right (today Sophie bought our groceries again, solo). But I hurt, every time she goes, for even one night. Every time. I don’t even think she knows it.