One Thing

So here is the thing. The one, unmentionable thing I have managed to liberate from its tortured fellows and hold up for scrutiny. (If you're confused, read "Mental Maytag, a few posts down) The thing  starts with teenage me. The 14 to 16 year old me who goes to school, spends a few volunteer hours at the hospital, then comes home to housework and church work and French verbs and instead of going to bed when that is all passably done, stays up all night finishing Jane Eyre, or The Screwtape Letters. Or maybe even just Freckle Juice.  And the next day she gets up at five groggy—if ever she went to bed—and starts the whole cycle over again.

The teen me thought that when I went off to college and no longer shared a house and laundry with eight people, somehow I'd have more time. I wouldn't be scrubbing toilets, folding Mt. Everests of laundry and washing interminable amounts of dishes. I'd eat better. I'd sleep longer.  I wouldn't be bone weary and scrambling my whole life.

So I went to college. I got a job that started at 4 in the morning. I went to class, I taught Relief Society Sundays and planned service projects as the Activity Chairman for young adults in our Stake. And, being as omniscient as only a seventeen-almost-eighteen year old can be, I got married.  We both went off to college in an even bigger town. Truly, I had little in the way of housework to occupy me. We went to campus at six am, and got back 12 hours later. We sprawled out on the floor and did homework. I didn't even cook. We ate baked beans and rice and bread in the kitchen of a four-plex with so little furniture that when the landlord sold the place and the workers came to gut it, they didn't notice that anyone still lived there. We bought cutlery and plates for two at the local DI, and ate around the open oven door to warm our ears and feet. We slept side by side on a twin-sized mattress and kept our clothes in apple boxes.

Ten months and two apartments later, we had a baby. I use the term we loosely. He would be working sixteen and eighteen hours a day for the next seven years. When he was home he was exhausted. I was exhausted. I dropped out of school two weeks into my fifth college semester, and just tried to stay awake. She was born old—never slept more than seven hours a day in her life—counting all the twenty minute catnaps she took during the day. That left long hours of moonlight pacing, wearing a track in the dirt around the Chapman house, just trying to keep her from waking up Marty, and all the neighbors who too, were exhausted, straining at the restrictions of a 24 hour day, jobs, new spouses and grad school.

A baby boy 15 months later. Then four more babies in a whirlwind of diapers, cross-country moves and garden variety cross-town moves, sewing, cooking, mending penny-pinching, day-consuming economies of use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without that dropped me into bed in the wee hours still bone weary, and of course thinking, "one day, it won't be like this." Broken bones, leaking pipes, mice, bugs, mortgage. Back to school, Bachelors Degree, rub-a-dub-dub six kids in a tub, depression, recession, eclipse. Terrorists, Wall Street trembles, please don't ask to use my bathroom today. Please God, just not today.

They were good years, really. We were poor, but we were improving. We bought some land. We built a house. I raised my kids and all the sleepless nights and zombie days were okay because at my core, I still thought I was someone—somewhere, someday, I would be someone. I would get enough sleep, and I would be able to connect words into logical sentences, gripping sentences even, maybe write the next Jane Eyre. The chaotic days and nights were broken up by weeks, months of calm, where my house was organized, my children clean, scrapbooks up to date. One brilliant year I even went walking every morning, wrote a novel, and somehow taught myself to read Spanish. Spanish.

Then I become Teacher. Miss Kimber. Kammer. Mimi. Immoh. Mimmer. Mom still, and wife. I work 24 hours a day, six days a week and sleepwalk through Sunday. Babies day and night.  I tell myself, one day it won't be like this. One day I will bake again and sew and read. I will take pictures. Write.  Tomorrow. Next week. I will get up earlier starting Monday. I will get this house so organized it takes care of itself.  I will walk and shower and welcome you at the door, any time of day and night sporting clean linen and smooth hair.

18 months later, I realize I can't. I'm dying a slow death. I'm done. When I drop from the roll everyone who doesn't pay or stays after 8 pm or arrives before 6 am I feel a huge relief. I tell people, yes, it's so nice, yes, you can't imagine the relief. Finances are a little tighter, but nothing catastrophic.  

But I'm terrified. I'm not just hunched over the Maytag, peering into the depths, scraping my knuckles on the machinery and yanking at the tangled questions there. I'm hogtied inside it.  I'm terrified.

Scared that this is who I really am. The mediocre teenager, the harried young mother–that wasn't a season–that was me. The crazy woman down the street with twelve grimy kids in the front yard, and dried vomit on her shoulder.  But less than that. That I am the artist who shows you sketches and you say wow! you drew that? But secretly you think it's barely mediocre. The singer we all endure, trying not to cringe, trying not to meet the eyes of anyone else in the congregation lest we see one another's littleness of soul–our petty distain for the off-tune, but wholly honest singer.  The actor who never got a role. The writer who never wrote a book. The mother who never loved. Not enough.

What if I am that person? Even if I quit childcare altogether; done. Even if I tell Marty, hey, it's your turn again. Find a job, any job, and trust God that ends will somehow meet. What if I have whole days and nights to myself, and what if nothing changes? What if I'm still bone weary and disheveled when you come to my door? What if all this, all this busyness has nothing to do with seasons of life and necessity and this too shall pass? What if I just manufacture all of this to conceal the me that will never be great, will never succeed because at my core I'm not great? And so I stay in the rapids, barely  keeping my head above water, refusing rescue because I'm afraid to stand on the shore and take that next solid step. Maybe I have been treading water for so long I'm afraid that's all I will ever be good at.

Then again.

Maybe it takes more than two weeks to catch up on fifteen years of lost sleep. Maybe I will write again. Maybe I will make Sunday dinners and write captions under snapshots and hang curtains. Maybe by some miracle my children will figure out that I loved them and they will grow up and be decent adults who know how to love and be loved and throw back their shoulders on the shores of adulthood and breathe deeply and be great.

And lest you think me self-obsessed. That would be enough. To see them be great. I can hunker down on the shore, in my mediocre house, writing my mediocre thoughts, praying to a merciful God if only He will let my children be great. Striding across the landscape, into the sunset, great. They don't even have to look back and wave. They don't even have to remember me. God only knows how much I hope they forget.  Just be great, deep down, at the core, in spite of your mother and father and all the generations before and maybe somehow because of them, great.

This is the thing I have untangled.

Pretty? No. Ridiculous, yes. Drip drying and maybe some day returning to a logical shape, I can only hope.  

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2 responses to “One Thing

  • Miss Spider (Charlotte)

    You are doing the greatest work. Continue and don't look back. Those precious children are gifts from God with all their challenges. You are not laboring in vain. They will rise up and call you blessed. Remember: "The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world!" You are precious to God and greatly loved!

  • This is Life

    You know, I have always looked up to you and Today I still Do. I love reading the words you write, I love asking you for parenting advice, and I'm blessed you are my (older) wiser sister.-nPs I had to throw older in there

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