Out of bed, half-awake at most
Hit the shower, hit the kitchen,
Make coffee, oatmeal, eggs and toast
Wife to work, out the door in rain,
I get daughter to school before the bell
Dog out, laundry and dishes in
Dog in, mud in, day going to hell
Breathe deep, don’t freak, don’t yell,
The Swifter swifts, vacuuming sucks,
Washer dryer tangles
Sheets, bras, and socks
Dishwasher roars, freezer leaks
Eat lunch standing, wish I was thinner
Will sit down and write
After I do Kroger and figure out dinner
Put away groceries, get daughter from school,
Take mother-in-law to ladies group knitting,
Make appointments, pick up prescriptions,
Wish I knew what I was forgetting.
On the phone the other night, I was telling my mother about trying to do too much in one day around the house and she laughed and said, “My god, you have my life now.” My mom’s an accomplished poet and writer, and my first writing teacher. But she also was a hell of a housewife, and from an early age taught me how to keep house. I bitched and moaned for years, but finally I saw that resistance was futile, and the skills and value of cleaning and cooking became a deep part of me.
Like many families these days, Sunday is our one day off. Which really isn’t off, but we call it that because my wife Margaret is home for the whole day and I avoid the computer and housework, and we pay attention to our sixteen-year-old daughter Coco, Margaret’s mother Peggy, and each other. Which is to say; we have actual conversations with family members that include eye contact and that aren’t rushed instructions, requests, or apologies as we rush in or out doors on our way to someplace else. This is good, when we can pull it off.
This month, Margaret began teaching middle-school full time, and taking the certification classes Tuesday nights, all day Saturday, as well as both online and onsite seminars. She loves the work and the classes, and shrugs off the exhaustion. But this teaching job has a whole other level of meaning as well. Margaret began volunteering in her sister Liz’s classroom when Liz was diagnosed with ALS a year and a half ago, and now that Liz has retired to focus on her treatment, Margaret’s been hired by the school to take her place.
We’re all, of course, more than fine with this. But when you add on Coco’s intense striving to get A’s in her sophomore classes – her second year mainstreamed out of SPED, my intense striving to write something for any of my outstanding projects and commitments, plus my nightly phone calls to my eighty-nine year-old mother in Delaware to help her deal with my Dad’s struggles with dementia – it’s not surprising that the base-line stress level at our house has been rising lately. And we’re each in our own way doing the best we can to handle it, with mixed results.
To start, Coco and I both have ADHD and memory and temper issues, and though we both are fine and have a pretty good handle on our tornado brains, when stressed, we definitely add edge to any family situation. Coco might blow her stack or I might go into a silent high-speed OCD cleaning binge. My mother-in-law Peggy is in her mid-eighties, and besides being distressed over Liz’s ALS, is basically fine. Though she does have poor eyesight and terrible hearing, which we’re convinced is due to her continually closing herself up in her room and watching Fox News with her headphones maxed up.
Margaret has the most peaceful reaction to stress – she sleeps. Or maybe she’s just exhausted. The point for me is that because of the training in cooking and housekeeping I got from my mother when I was growing up, I have the skills to be of use as our family changes and grows.