Repeat until it sticks

On the day they are due to depart for the weekend, the same day her period has started, the mother discovers her daughters have eviscerated a large floor pillow. The stuffing is all over their room -- which she will have to stop packing for their weekend trip away to clean up. As it is, she is not nearly as far along with the packing as she feels she should be so shortly before they are due to depart.

After first denying responsibility, the girls finally confess and show the mother other things they have "trimmed"-- including their bedroom curtains. The mother, trying very hard to be a "good mom," swallows her anger and though she admits to feeling angry with them, tries instead to focus on her gratitude that they would (if not at first, then finally) tell the truth and to remember that someday this will be funny. However, while restuffing the pillow contents into a new case, the zipper to close it breaks when she forces it a little too far; it might as well be the first few water drops heralding the leak in a dam. Then, while muttering to herself as she surveys and cleans up the remaining damage, she hears her daughters screaming bloody murder. She runs to where they are, worried something terrible has happened.

No. The younger girl has thrown water at the elder girl while she is on the toilet--not only the trapped daughter, but also the floor are drenched. The elder daughter is screaming in frustration. When asked why the younger one is screaming, she explains: "I told her not to tell on me, but she did!" The mother feels her own rage well up and her body starts shaking and soon she's yelling in an ugly mean voice. "What's wrong with you?? Are you animals?? What's so hard about treating each other and this house and me with respect for the rules and each other's feelings?? I'm trying to pack so we can go--you WANT to go...Why make it so much harder for me at every turn??"

Their expressions are a mix of amusement, fear, apology, regret, confusion and defiance. The mother tells them they are both on "time out." They both begin whining--the sound like nails scratching against glass at this point--about the injustice of being punished.

The mother's body thrums with the desire to hit something, strangle something, explode. It is terrifying. "I can't handle this! I can't handle this!" she yells and escapes to the back porch, the back door slamming behind her.

She is taking deep breaths. She is ashamed of herself and she is still livid -- as much with herself as with her daughters. A hard heaviness settles in her chest, a fist around her heart. She is fighting the urge to cry, or scream.

Abruptly, as though someone had interrupted her, she notices how blue the sky is.

"Dear one... dear one..." the mother hears -- or imagines, in such cases it is hard to know for sure -- God calling softly.

"Here," she responds as though teacher has called the roll.

"Here I am, with you," she imagines God responding.

She's mad again. "I don't believe you. It sure doesn't feel like it. You're HERE, in THIS??" she gestures back to the house, to her rageful outburst, to children who in just being children are inconvenient and challenging beyond their mother's limits, to a mother with limits that feel simultaneously too short and too lax. Why would God be in THIS?? And WHERE is there even ROOM for God in her anger, in her failures as a mother, in her children's childhood craziness? "I don't believe it," she says aloud, with force.

"Here, I AM here, WITH you," she "hears" again--and again. She allows herself to be consoled even though she really has no idea whether God is talking or she's just talking to herself.

What would that even mean? God, HERE, for this?

After a few moments longer, listening, breathing, noticing for the first time that leaves have started to fill in the overhead tree canopy -- until recently a skeletal cross-hatching of bare limbs, but suddenly alive with color; and their color, a strong green against the bright blue clear sky--the mother lets herself be reassured that life is intact and okay. She is practicing faith.

When she returns to the cleaning up and packing, her heart has room for itself and she is gentler and slower with both herself and her children, at least for a bit.

1 comment: