For just a few minutes, I have my house back. It’s damp and foggy outside and in the house the wood stove is radiating just enough warmth in this rare moment of quiet peace. It won’t last long and there is a tension in my gut that I only have a short amount of time to enjoy it. I try to savor it but the anxiety that it may end too quickly irritates me.
I am alone in my house for the first time in many weeks. My son moved back home with his wife and two babies while they save enough for a place of their own. This is a fairly recent circumstance and one that I have feared since the day he left home. He’s a good kid, don’t get me wrong, and I’m not complaining. I have a small house. Perfect for two people.
My son’s babies are precious and needy, his wife, kind and patient and doing her best to be considerate and unobtrusive with six people now living in my tiny farm-house. It’s crowded. My son sleeps in my favorite recliner because his old room is too small for all four of them. I tiptoe around on Sunday morning until he wakes up or his wife stomps down the steps to demand his help with a shitty diaper or a crying baby or to just hold them for an effing second while she pees. I let them play out their little family dramas and stay quiet in the background.
The temptation hovers, always, to bitch, eyes rolling, foot stomping, heavy sighs. But I won’t. I can’t anymore.
20 years ago I bitched, at will. I stomped and screamed and complained and felt pretty sorry for my situation, magnifying small annoyances into catastrophic pity parties.
I was young and had young children with needs and emotions and complaints and wants and hurt feelings and skinned knees and all the things kids have going on – x4. And I was mightily put upon, or so I thought.
All things considered, I was lucky and I knew it, even when I didn’t acknowledge it. I just kept thinking, I can keep bitching and complaining for one more day and then tomorrow be June Cleaver or Mother Earth or Mary Poppins for my kids. But I kept putting off that day and bitched and yelled and scolded and felt sorry for how over-worked I was and how my life was not nearly the dream I had envisioned for myself.
Lucky for me, they all grew up.
In between all those days of complaining and moaning, I must have done something good because they turned out okay. All four of them. Sure, they have issues. And yes, I see the results of the bitching pity parties in each of them. But mostly, they are good. I can’t complain.
I offer to help with the babies sometimes, when I see the kids feeling sorry for themselves and becoming frustrated and overwhelmed. I have an ongoing debate in my head about whether or not I should help them around the house. Is it enough they are living in my home or do I have to clean up after them and babysit too? Would June Cleaver take the baby while the daughter-in-law goes pee? Who knows. I’ve never really met June in person but I suspect a prescription drug addiction or secret hits off the Beave’s one-hitter. Nobody is that gracious and not stoned. Right?
I actually did help for a minute this morning after my daughter-in-law stomped back up the steps, having gone pee and depositing the 16-month old baby on my son’s lap in the recliner. My son remained supine in the worn-out chair while the toddler came screaming into the kitchen where I sat reading my daily stuff and trying to organize a new article to write. Hard to resist the boy with my remote control in one of his tiny hands and his father’s cell phone in the other, headed straight for the dog’s water bowl. Tempted to let him continue his ruinous mission but he had my remote so I stopped him, made some toast and opened a box of Fruity Balls cereal. I remembered, again, how lucky I am when I spilled the pink balls all over the counter and my first reaction was to think, FML. As I watched the balls scatter and bounce and roll and fall to the (recently mopped) floor, the boy squealed and laughed at my miserable misfortune. Fruity Balls everywhere. Silly me.
I heard the cranking pop of the footrest coming down on the recliner and my son appeared in the kitchen to join the hilarity of the Fruity Balls. He took over with the boy and I returned to my seat to write and ignore the nagging debate in my head about helping, although, I did clean up the Fruity Balls.
The kitchen TV is dark and silent now. Tiny blue lights blink on the satellite box and remind me of that other world outside my little messy farmhouse. I have a choice whether or not to turn it on and a new debate begins in my head about whether I can, in good conscience, ignore the gripping, horrifying news-feed the blinking blue light delivers. Shouldn’t I join the national mourning and offer my tears and grief? Is there anything else I should know about the tragedy? Have any of those highly paid pundits found the exact right phrase that will allow me to begin the healing process, putting the events in the exact right perspective so that I can breathe again and go about my life again, without pain and fear? No. They can’t. They aren’t that smart. So I leave the TV dark and silent.
I’m lucky to have the choice and it makes me feel guilty and I know the debate about whether I should look at it or not will continue in my head, maybe forever, but for this minute, I cannot look, and, because I have that choice, I will not complain.