11:04 PM: Oh. It’s later than I thought. I guess I won’t read tonight. Straight to sleep!
11:06 PM: Shoot. I sort of need to pee. But so comfortable. So cold out there. I’m just going to ignore it.
12:35 AM: I HAVE TO PEE! But so cold out there.
12:45 AM: (Finally gets up to pee)
1:15 AM: (Can’t fall back to sleep. It’s hot. Kicks off a blanket.)
1:34 AM: (Can’t fall asleep. It’s freezing. Puts on a blanket.)
2:02 AM: Fuck this. I’m still awake. This sucks. My feet are cold, my middle is hot, my shoulders are cold. (Arranges blanket to cover feet and shoulders only. This is not easy to do while keeping blanket on sleeping husband.)
2:27 AM: Why am I lying in this weird contorted position? No wonder I’m awake. I should lie in a way I actually sleep. (Rolls over.)
2:35 AM: Nope, not like this. (Rolls over.)
2:41 AM: Nope. Not like this. (Rolls over.)
3:00 AM: Why am I lying in this weird contorted position? No wonder I’m awake. I should lie in a way I actually sleep. (Rolls over.)
3:03 AM: Nope, not like this. (Rolls over.)
3:07 AM: Nope. Not like this. (Rolls over.)
3:15 AM: If I roll over one more time Tim will smother me with a pillow. How many hours have I been awake now? Ummm, numbers are hard. I think I slept for an hour. Tomorrow should be a great day. Go to sleep NOW!
3:18 AM: WHAT WAS THAT NOISE?
3:18-3:40 AM: Goes through 7 different home invasion scenarios. If the bad guys do it just right, we might just get out of here alive. Chances of living through the night? Probably about 36%.
3:41 AM: What’s that car doing on our street? Who drives around at 3:41 AM? Killers, that’s who.
3:42-4:00 AM: How long would it take before someone discovered that all of us have been murdered? Who would find us? How long would it take before someone noticed we were missing and got worried enough to check it out? No one expects us at school or anything. Oh, Tim’s work! They’d call in the morning when he didn’t show up. Then… what? They’d call a few times. At what point would they call the police? That seems so extreme. Who would call my mom? How would all my friends find out? Maybe my sister would post it on Facebook. I guess that’s what you do these days. Cleaning out and selling the house will be a terrible job for my mom. My poor mom. Ugh. Who would buy a house that my entire family was murdered in?
4:01 AM: Shut your stupid thoughts down, Allison. This is dumb. Why am I lying in this weird contorted position? No wonder I’m awake. I should lie in a way I actually sleep. (Rolls over.)
4:03 AM: I have a great idea for a blog post. I should write it down. Or, I could just get up and go downstairs to actually write the whole thing. I’m awake anyway. But so cold out there. I should definitely write the idea down at least. I always forget. Nah. I’ll totally remember.
4:07 AM: Wait, what was that idea again? It’s just out of mental reach. Fuck. Why am I lying in this weird contorted position? No wonder I’m awake. I should lie in a way I actually sleep. (Rolls over.)
4:08 AM: Holy crap I’m so thirsty. Think I might die of thirst. No wonder I’m awake. (Takes sip of water from glass on bedside table without sitting up properly, dribbles everywhere. Flips pillow.)
4:15 AM: FUCK THIS! IT’S FUCKING FOUR FUCKING FIFTEEN IN THE FUCKING MORNING. THIS SUCKS THIS SUCKS THIS SUCKS. Why am I lying in this weird contorted position? No wonder I’m awake. I should lie in a way I actually sleep. (Rolls over.)
4:20 AM: fucketyfuckfuckfuckfuckfucketyfuckfuck
4:22 AM: (Gets up to pee.)
4:25 AM: This is serious now. Sleep dammit!
4:26 AM: Look at that bastard over there sleeping. What the fuck is his problem. Jerk.
4:27 AM: (Rolls over.)
4:29 AM: (Rolls over.)
4:33 AM: (Rolls over.)
4:34 AM: (Rolls over.)
4:39 AM: (Rolls over.)
4:42 AM: (Rolls over.)
4:45 AM: (Rolls over.)
4:46 AM: (Hears thud from daughter’s room.) WHAT WAS THAT? I should probably go check on her. Oh, she’s fine. It’s cold out there. And I’m finally feeling sooo sleeeeeppppyyyy.
4:46-5:05 AM: Goes through several different scenarios in which daughter dies. (Cries while imagining the horror of discovering her.)
5:06 AM: Fuck this. I’m going to sleep.
5:09 AM: OMG HOW AM I GOING TO SURVIVE TOMORROW? I’ve had an hour’s sleep. I’m going to die. And it’s school vacation. And it’s rainy. SHIT! I’m going to actually murder the children tomorrow. I am the worst mother. Fuckety fuck fuck. Fuck insomnia. This sucks.
5:20 AM: I’m so tired. So so tired. I think I might be able to finally…
6:02 AM: (Startles awake) What was that? Oh, I was actually sleeping. Wonderful, beautiful sleep. I think I might be able to just….
6:49 AM: (Startles awake as Tim gets up to shower) Sweet sleep…
7:00 AM: (Startles awake as Tim gets out of the shower)
“What time is it?”
“Really? Good I got some sleep.”
“No, not really. It’s 7:00.”
“Shit. I had the worst night’s sleep ever.”
“Yeah, I know. You were really annoying.”
“Sorry. Well, the kids were up late. Hopefully they’ll sleep in.”
7:05 AM: (Bedroom door opens) “Is it morning, Mama?” Sigh. “Yes it is.”
I am many things, but naturally neat and tidy I am not. My habitat quickly matches the chaos of my constantly addled mind. Papers, pens, shoes, discarded children’s socks, toys, and my sunglasses seem to creep like ivy and move around of their own volition until my house looks like a windstorm swept through it. Keeping the main thoroughfares free of tripping hazards, and the actual cooking surfaces free of fire hazards, is generally enough of a steep uphill battle for me. With selective tunnel vision, the disorder of my house almost doesn’t bother me. Almost.
Like the burst of motivation from a New Year’s resolution fad dieter, I occasionally become tyrannically devoted to cleaning. I whip the house into shape, and if your beloved objects end up in the bin or donated, well it’s your fault for not taking better care of them in the first place. Then, like the fad dieter, I return to my bad habits and my mess grows ever fatter. Sometimes, like the poor resolutioner might do at the gym, I overdo it in my zeal for cleanliness and order. Instead of sore muscles keeping me from exercising again, I develop a relentless apathy towards the growing mess.
About six weeks ago Luke had a birthday party at home. Ahead of the party I cleaned the house so well that my husband accused me of hiring a cleaning service on the sly. It was a terrible mistake though, because I have not lifted a finger since.* If you’re wondering what a house looks like after six weeks without intervention, the answer is NOT GOOD.
Our walking paths are not clear of tripping hazards. In fact, this gigantic bear has been lying in the center of the living room for weeks, directly in the pathways between my desk and the kitchen, and the couch and the kitchen.
My husband is a good and patient man. If one of us cared more, our house would be tidier, but alas, neither of us care more than we don’t feel like fixing it. He has tactfully refrained from mentioning the state of our home.
At the same time our house waves the white flag to entropy, we have experienced a minor miracle. The Dollar Store helium balloons we bought six weeks ago are still aloft. They had enough helium for maybe six days, but to last six weeks? I’m tempted to bust out the menorah. Now stringless, they litter our ceilings and we are forced to wait for the helium to slowly leak from the surprisingly impermeable balloons.
The balloons have been there so long I no longer really see them. They’re just part of the house like the lights and fans. Yesterday, however, Tim brilliantly summed up the current state of our house: “I’m so happy that we figured out a way to also have trash on our ceilings.”
So, there you have it, folks. I’m the mom who makes you feel better about your messy house. The things I do for you.
*Confession: I have cleaned toilets and sinks.
My mother has more patience for annoying things than your average person. She somehow tunes out what would drive anyone else crazy. Her general equanimity remained unaltered despite her three children’s cacophonous voices, vexing messiness, and constant fighting.
Every once in a while, though, she’d snap.
“NOW YOU’VE DONE IT!” she’d scream at us when she reached that breaking point, implying that we had finally gone so far, been so terrible, that we crossed a line. Just in case we didn’t pick up on the implication, she might shout, “IF YOU MADE ME YELL, YOU MUST BE REALLY ROTTEN!”
With that, she’d storm out the door and to her garden on the far side of our property.
It seemed unpredictable, what might send her over the edge. We didn’t necessarily do anything more obnoxious than any other day. Maybe exasperation was cumulative? Turns out it was PMS, but none of us knew that at the time. This was the late ’70s and early ’80s and PMS was not a widely recognized thing, despite women everywhere suddenly hating everyone.
What I remember was the feeling of, “Oh, shit we’ve really done it this time. We ruined everything.” Without her (nearly) endless patience, we’d be in serious trouble, all the time. My job, I felt, was to sit vigil in the window and watch her in the garden, to make sure she didn’t leave the property. If she left, surely she’d never return, and we’d be doomed. I imagined her ripping weeds from the ground while angrily thinking about how terrible we were and how awful we made her life. It wouldn’t be long before she planned her escape.
From her perspective, I learned years later, she felt better immediately upon slamming the back door leaving us inside and her alone. She’d weed her garden and pick vegetables happily, not stewing over her horrible children or plotting her flight for freedom. By the time she returned to the house, she was so far past the anger that it was a non issue.
Meanwhile, when she returned to the house with a bowl of fresh beans, smelling of Earth, I’d make sure I was on my very best behavior, hoping to endear myself to her again so she wouldn’t abandon us. Ultimately, this made her garden retreat a double win for her. She felt better and her kids stopped being assholes, at least temporarily.
I did not inherit my mother’s temperament or tolerance. I’m easily irritated and can’t keep calm in the face of my children’s obnoxious exploits. Shouting the phrase “Now you’ve done it!” would be pointedly meaningless in my household. My kids hear me yelling so often that it’s a useless measure. That is, until all things align just right. Then, something in me snaps (more than usual) and the yelling takes on a note of hysteria. Then the kids sit up and notice. I recognize the fear in their eyes and I don’t care. I have to leave.
I don’t have a far away garden that soothes me. Instead, when I lose it, if my husband is home, I get in the car and drive off in a fury. I generally have nowhere to go, and am not fit to be in public anyway. I look exactly how I feel – like a lunatic. I don’t want to sit in a coffee shop reading a book or in a restaurant sipping a glass of wine. I want to yell and scream and rampage like a two-year-old. Instead, I usually pull over into some random parking lot and cry for a while, then just kill time until either the kids are in bed for the night or I can be trusted to actually like them again.
While I don’t come home smelling of Earth and feeling renewed, I do come home. And my children are appropriately afraid and sorry and hoping to endear themselves to me again. I might feel guilty for storming out. I probably feel like a bad mother. But then I remember my mom and her garden. And even though those occasions were full of yelling, anger, and upset, my memories of them always make me smile. It’s those crazy moments in a family that no one else knows about – the secret hidden stuff that makes it only ours. Somehow, it’s the crazy that makes family family.
My children’s lives are safe and happy, as mine was. If having a crazy mother is the worst thing that happens in their childhood, so be it. Their crazy mother might sometimes be a tempest, but I love my kids and they know that. Occasionally seeing that their mother is only human and needs a break is just fine.
One day I’ll tell them that while they were often horrible, it was PMS that drove me to the brink. One day they’ll think back on these occasions fondly. Memories of our crazy household will be the stuff we laugh together about; it will be what they think back on when they’re at the breaking point with their own families.
I can’t be a perfect mother. I’m flawed and my kids are annoying. And we’re all good enough.