Monday, February 20, 2017

I Just Felt So Loved

In the wee hours of the morning on Valentine’s Day, I heard Clayton crying quietly on the other side of the bed. He had woken up with a sore throat and a fever and had climbed into bed beside Don, who had wrapped his arms around him but hadn’t opened an eye.
I fetched the thermometer and the Tylenol, while Clayton despaired of being sick on Valentine’s Day, what with all the valentines to give and to receive at school, and a Valentine’s Day party to boot.
“Well, at least we’ll get to spend Valentine’s Day together,” I said, casting around for some small consolation.

In my heart, I wasn’t sure how consoling it would be. It’s not exactly that I sense Clayton drifting away from me these days. We have our clogging classes together and the hours of Harry Potter on the couch. He says, “I love you,” every night when I tuck him in, and when I leave for work or fun, he lets me know he would rather I was home.
But when he’s hurt or sad, and I try to pull him to me, he wriggles away almost immediately. The girls I can still cradle in my arms; I can still believe that the mere fact of my body is a comfort to them. When I pull a weeping Sylvia into my lap, her face nestled against my chest, the effect is immediate and obvious: her body goes slack against me and her sobs peter out. But Clayton’s tears are both more defiant and more private. He’ll go into his room and lock the door, and even though he lets me in begrudgingly and tolerates my hugs, he doesn’t crumple against me as he used to.
And, of course, I am not his father, who plays basketball with him in the driveway and chase in the yard. I don’t show him funny videos on my phone or play chess with him at the kitchen table. Increasingly, in fact, Clayton’s and my ideas of a good time are at odds.
On the weekends, I want to do something. Go swimming or roller skating, to the zoo or for a bike ride. But Clayton wants nothing more than to stay put. He’ll happily pass the day at home, content with his books and the trampoline. He’ll tidy up the living room and the kitchen, and then head outside, pausing at the door to remind me, “Keep the house clean please!”
Always orderly with his own things, Clayton has become the enforcer of tidiness in our home. He neatly stacks the helter-skelter of library books on the coffee table and admonishes his sisters to put away their shoes, their pajamas, their toys. If I can’t find something I had just a minute before, I immediately suspect Clayton; more often than not, he has already tidied it away.
But this perfectionism only extends to household order. When I comment on his backwards “ds” or misspelled words, he bristles defiantly. As someone who brandished my eraser to excess, I cannot relate to this laxness, this lack of passion for putting things right. When Dee Dee devours the homework she has expressly requested of her teacher, I can relate. When Sylvia pours diligently over her dozens of sight words or insists on reading her night reader three times— because her teacher told her to!— I can relate. But when Clayton groans about his meager homework or works himself up to tears over some simple second-grade assignment, I despair, imagining how much worse it will be when it’s algebra or English essays that he doesn’t want to do or can’t be bothered to do well.

On Valentine’s Day morning, Clayton rallies to read his cards, then collapses on the couch. He doesn’t protest when I pull him onto my lap and hold him. After his sisters go to school, he lets me put him back to bed, and then later we read picture books together on the couch, just like in the olden days.
I’ve made an appointment at the doctor for mid-day, and I can sense Clayton’s reluctance, as always, to leave the house. But he goes uncomplainingly, and it’s almost fun, watching the fish tank together in the waiting room and hypothesizing about the crying babies as we wait for the doctor to come in. Afterwards, I stop to buy him a bagel— he has eaten next to nothing all day— and then we head to pick up his prescription. As we wait at the drive-up window, we watch the people bustling out of the store with their bouquets of roses and baby’s breath, red envelopes clearly visible through the thin plastic of their shopping bags.
“I’ll bet you a dollar and a donut those are for Valentine’s Day,” Clayton observes, borrowing his father’s stock phrase.
On the way home, he tells me again and again, “At least we get to spend Valentine’s day together,” and “It’s kind-of fun, running errands with you like this.” He sounds so sincere, my heart glows. It’s been so long since we’ve had a day, just the two of us.
Clayton is cheered by the image of his medicine attacking his strep throat germs like a miniature army; he is propped up with ibuprofen. But when his sisters get off the bus with their arms full of valentines and their tales of cupcakes and juice boxes, it is too much.
“I know we had a fun day together,” he tells me tearfully, “but I didn’t want to miss school!”
By the time we get home from the bus stop, the ibuprofen’s magic has worn off. Clayton slumps on the couch again, his face pale and gray rings around his eyes. Again, I get to hold him to me, while the girls sort through their valentines and dive into their homework by themselves.

The next afternoon, Clayton is buoyant when he gets off the bus. It seems his classmates were happy to see him again and let him know it.
“I just felt so loved,” he tells me as we walk home. “It sort of made me want to miss more days of school! And they really liked my Valentines! And that made me feel so good.”
I am struck, once again, by how astute Clayton is at discerning his emotions, how unabashed at giving them voice. Last week, when his less-than-perfect state reading test led to an afternoon of tears, he confessed to me, “I’m just worried you won’t think I’m smart!”
Then, too, my heart had gone out to him, and I realized in that moment that I cared far more that he could discern his own emotions so perceptively than that he could find “two details from the text to support his answer” on the test.
I don’t doubt Clayton and I will clash again soon, probably the next time he mewls about his homework, or provokes his sisters, or throws a wet blanket on my plans for some activity away from home. But all that seems insignificant when compared to the enormity of our bond. He is my son— loving and sensitive, discerning and kind. Plus, our house has never been so tidy. What more, really, could any mother ask for?  

Sunday, January 8, 2017

All I Want For Christmas is a Good Night Sleep

The week before Christmas I hardly slept. Every night I would wake up between 12:30 and 1:30 and that would be it; I wouldn’t fall asleep again until close to five, and then there would only be a sliver of time before it was time to get up for good. I went through the days in a daze of exhaustion, constantly calculating the hours until I could go to bed, only to wake up again in the wee hours of the night, unable to sleep.
The night of December 23 was the same. In the morning, I woke abruptly before six and immediately began to add up all the hours I might possibly have been asleep. It was the same thing I used to do when the kids were infants; if I could convince myself that I had managed six or seven disjointed hours―forty-five minutes between one and two could be added to the fifteen minutes I managed after the alarm had gone off— I couldn’t possibly be as tired as I felt.
On the morning of Christmas Eve, however, the calculations seemed futile. No matter how I added them up, the sum was simply not enough. But there was no point in dawdling in bed. I was awake now, my mind already racing down my mental to-do list, and anyway I was sick to death of being in bed.
It was the to-do list that saved me. Each task I completed— make up the guest room, clean the house, make the dinner—  seemed to keep my weariness at bay. Again, I was reminded of having a newborn, when exhaustion is so entrenched that you shouldn’t be able to function at all, and yet you do: you have no choice. You change the diapers and get up at three in the morning to nurse and haul the babies to their appointments with the pediatrician because you have to, and if you get a black eye from walking into the bedroom door in the wee hours of the morning or scratch the side of the minivan because you forget to close the mailbox, well, it’s hardly surprising, is it? But still your exhaustion is of no account: your children need you.
Christmas Eve presented the same kind of exigencies. Part of me wanted nothing more for Christmas than a night in a motel room— a quiet bed with no scratching dogs or thumping children, a bed with no memory of insomnia lurking in its sheets. But this was Christmas, the zenith of the holiday anticipation that had been building for more than a month. My kids were beside themselves with excitement; it felt unpardonable to damper their Christmas spirit with even the merest mention of how tired I was.
Is this just what mothers do? My own mom felt the first symptoms of diverticulitis on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. “My stomach is a little upset,” she merely said, and then proceeded to elaborately cook for and serve countless guests for five days. If anyone noticed that she herself hardly touched a bite, I was not among them.
I do not share my mother’s stoicism; I was not trained in the British stiff upper lip of silent fortitude. But still I knew enough not to darken my children’s day by harping on my exhaustion. Instead I told them I needed help.
“Can you three please sort those baskets of laundry?” I asked.
“But that’s not our job!” they protested indignantly.
But if ever there was a day to be good, this was it. Surely Santa must be watching as they sorted the laundry and cleaned their bathroom.
“Boy, this house has never been so clean!” Dee Dee said proudly.

Miraculously, by the time Don’s family arrived in the afternoon, we were ready. The house was tidy and mostly clean, the dinner prepared, the presents secretly wrapped. With only hours to go, I felt myself in the homestretch of an endurance race. I could make it! I coasted the last few hours. Christmas Eve dinner went off without the hitch, and then we all sank onto the couch to watch the Grinch and open the final windows of our advent calendars. That evening, the kids were almost as eager for their beds as I was for mine. I barely waited for them to be asleep before Santa came. My exhaustion had caught up with me and was pulling me under.
“We did it,” I told Don as I crawled gratefully into bed. Even to my ears, it sounded like Christmas was an ordeal to be endured, but that wasn’t what I meant. It was that this Christmas was a reminder to me of how hard we are willing to push ourselves for our children— for their survival, and for their joy. My first Christmas with Clayton, I was overjoyed simply to find that I was capable of keeping him alive. During those early days of motherhood, too, I lived life under a patina of exhaustion. This year, for one week, that feeling returned. Of course giving my kids a magical Christmas rich in tradition is a far cry from the treadmill of diapers and breastfeeding of their infancy, and yet the feeling it left in me was the same. My children need this; they deserve it.  I have no choice but to do it. I’m a mom; it’s my job. I’ll sleep later, or not.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Calico Critters

It is the summer of the Calico Critters. Gone are the days when the children demanded our attention the second we woke up, demanded our attention even before we woke up. Now they hide out in their rooms playing with their animal families until hunger drives them out in search of breakfast. If the long stretches of Calico Critter play were dashes, and the dips in our tiny swimming pool were dots, our days could be read in Morse Code. And what would the message be? This is summer. This is childhood. This is joy.
As with anything, there are bumps in the road. Dee Dee and Clayton inevitably clash at least once during the day. Most recently, both ended up in tears because Dee Dee had insisted on making a rabbit fly, a magical feat to which Clayton had strongly objected.
“Momma,” he asked me seriously later, “when you play with Calico Critters, is it supposed to be realistic?” Clayton is so determined to follow the rules, he looks out for the ‘supposed to’ no matter what he’s doing.
“You can play with them however you want,” I responded.
“Yeah, but are they supposed to be realistic?” he insisted.
“Well, they are animals that wear clothes,” I said, and we both laughed.

“I need a job,” Clayton told me dejectedly two weeks ago. He was sitting at the kitchen table, browsing the Calico Critter website and looking discouraged.
“Why?” I asked.
“I really want the Hopscotch Rabbit Family and I don’t have enough money in my piggy bank.”
In general, I am a proponent of my kids not getting everything they want (although I do find it hard not to spoil them, hence the Calico Critter double stroller I secretly ordered for them on Amazon). But at that moment I was cleaning blinds, with the prospect of scrubbing all the doors in the house still before me.
“I’ll pay you to clean the doors,” I offered.
For two days, Clayton stood on a stool with a sponge in hand and a bucket of soapy water at his feet. He scrubbed and scrubbed until his hands were sore and the doors gleamed.
“I feel like a servant,” he said happily. It was the first time I had really witnessed his work ethic. If I found a spot he had missed, he didn’t complain. He just soaked the sponge and went at it again. He did the math endlessly: “If I’ve cleaned eight doors and I need to clean twelve, that means... I just have four to go!”
If the objects of my children’s imaginative play were something else--army men, or transformers, or cars-- I think I would still look on it tenderly, but I doubt that it would wring my heart in quite the same way.
“Come on, Mom!” Clayton tells me. “I’ve got to show you something.” And then he leads me by the hand to the dollhouse, showing me how all the Calico Mommas are sitting on the couch, nursing their babies, or how Momma Dog is giving her son an especially sweet hug. Other times, he and his sisters load all their families up in a little car, those who don’t fit trailing behind on foot or in the double stroller, and then, here they come, out for a drive through the living room. My throat aches with the sweetness of it.
And then, of course, there is this: I have a seven-year-old son who would rather play Calico Critters than just about anything else. The dollhouse, a gift from Santa Claus several years ago, is in the girls’ room, but it is Clayton who sets it up so carefully, tucking the babies into their cribs, arranging the grown-ups around the table or on the couch. It used to be only Clayton’s room I had to worry about when we had other kids at the house; he lives in fear that his carefully arranged toys will be “messed up.” But now I see him keeping an eye on the doll house, too, and as soon as the guests are gone, he races to set it up again.
When we were at my parents’ house at the beginning of the summer, my mother ordered each of my children a Calico Critter family for them to keep in Florida, to play with in the old dollhouse my sister and I had as kids. Clayton’s family arrived in the mail a day or two later than the girls’; he spent the interim in barely contained excitement.
“My Calico Critters are coming today!” he told me as soon as he woke up on the day of their arrival.
But by the time his dog family arrived in the mail, so had his older, out-of-town cousins, both boys. He tore open the brown packaging eagerly, but as soon as the Calico Critter box was revealed, he immediately put it in his sister’s hands. The box was edged with pink, with a border of pastel-colored flowers. It looked, in a word, too girly; Clayton didn’t want his cousins to see him claim it.
In our family, we have a lot of conversations about marketing, gender marketing in particular. Years ago I read the book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, by Peggy Orenstein, which offers an insightful, critical look at the ways the culture of childhood has become increasingly gendered. Fresh in my mind is the “Aha!” moment I had when I read how simple the marketing ploy is that lies behind it. A ball is just a ball, and yet make one ball blue, for boys, and another pink, for girls, and you have engineered demand where there was none: girls can’t play with just any old ball, they need a new ball for girls.
These days I worry less about how the girlie-girl culture will “eat” my girls and more about how the strict gender delineations of toys impacts my son. What makes an animal family something for only girls to play with? Aren’t men part of families? Aren’t boys? Clayton has yet to ask,“Are Calico Critters just for girls, Mom?” and yet I feel the dreaded question there, lurking in the background.
I have suggested to Clayton several times that we invite a friend from school over to play, but he has been reluctant. “I just want to stay at home and play Calico Critters with my sisters,” he has told me more than once. That’s all he has said, but I am afraid that he feels that having a boy at the house would cramp his style, would make him feel that he has to disavow the dollhouse and his beloved critter families.
There is another conversation I think we need to have. The Calico Critter families are meant to be old-fashioned, with their suspenders and their aprons and their, well, calico. And they are old-fashioned. As we scroll through the dozens of families available on the Calico Critter website (the kids already have their wish-lists for birthdays and Christmas), it is glaringly obvious to me. While no one would deny that the “traditional” family in America is changing (a Pew Research Center analysis in 2014 stated that fewer than half of American children live with two heterosexual parents in their first marriage), it is clear that the paradigm of the traditional family persists in our children’s toys, and thus, I would argue, in their worldview. Until kids see alternative families populating their world of toys and books, they will continue to see such real-life families as oddities.
Equally dangerous, if not more so, is the way such a strict definition of family limits both their imaginative play and, ultimately, the way they imagine their future lives. Remember the uproar when Teen Talk Barbie said, ‘Math class is tough!’? No one wants a toy to prescribe the sphere or the scope of their children’s dreams. And I, for one, don’t want my children to get the not-so-subtle message from their toys that a family must be headed only by a mom and a dad. Because who knows what kind of family they themselves will one day want? It’s one thing to tell my kids that they can marry anyone they want, boy or girl, but how much do those words mean when not one of the families with which they spend hours playing gives any weight to that assertion? When I finish this, I think I’ll write a letter to Calico Critters and politely suggest that they get with the times.
Still, one thing is for sure: all stereotypes die hard. The other day Clayton rushed from where they were playing Calico Critters to find me in the kitchen.
“Momma!” he told me excitedly, “the Calico Critter moms are having a mom’s night out at the beauty shop! You know, they’re getting covered in mud! With pickles on their eyes and stuff!”
Ah, the epitome of feminine pampering: pickles on our eyes and stuff!

Home Sweet Home Away From Home

I have prepared for every contingency. We have water and snacks, two volumes of Harry Potter, a van-load of groceries, bathing suits and beach gear, and, most importantly, a print-out of the email detailing instructions for the condo we have rented at the beach.  We have everything, except--
“Unit number?” asks the woman who is working the gatehouse at the condo complex.
“Um, just a sec.”  I scan the printout in my hand again and again. Where is the unit number? There is no unit number! My stomach plummets. I grab my phone and punch in the condo owner’s number.
“I’m just gonna call Nick,” I say, trying to hide my rising panic.
“Oh, Nick Ferez?” says the woman.
“Yes!” Oh, thank God, she knows Nick!
“Yeah, I know Nick.”
I smile in relief.
“But I don’t know which unit is his.”
The complex has more than a hundred units. But Don, as always, is nonplussed.
“We can just drive around,” he suggests. “There’s probably not many units with a lock box.”
It is like solving a puzzle. We are looking for a condo that faces the ocean, on the ground floor, with a lock box on the door that opens with the numbers in the email.
“That way!” I say, pointing. I think I recognize the building, at least, from the picture on VRBO.
There are not many condos that are ocean-front, but every one of them has a lock box on the door! Don and I scuttle around, spinning the numbers on the lock boxes on each door.  None of them open.
Let me just pause here to say that if Don and I were at all with the times, we would not be in such a ridiculous predicament. I would simply have opened my email on my smartphone and found the original contract for the condo, and voila! Unit number.
But, alas, neither of us has a smartphone, which has, in only a matter of years, left us both feeling like unintentional Luddites.
I do, however, have my Chromebook, and we are close to our condo-- I can feel it. Maybe we are close enough that I can get on the WiFi. I scroll through dozens of locked networks, all with maddeningly long-winded names. Just as I am beginning to despair of ever finding WiFi network 239G23A283kiasdKFNNdqwagrlf9993fSIsf23r (to which I have an equally lengthy and senseless password) I am-- without explanation--connected. I open my email, find the contract, and there, sweet Jesus, is the unit number!
Ah ha! We were so close. Only moments before I had been furtively spinning the combination of exactly that condo, expecting someone to open the door at any second and demand to know just what, exactly, I thought I was doing.
“816!” I yell triumphantly to Don, realizing at precisely that moment that my son is in tears.
Now that I am no longer trying to find our condo ala James Bond, I feel better positioned to reassure him.
“It’s okay,” I tell him. “We know which one it is now. We’ll get in.”
But Clayton isn’t crying about that. He’s crying because this is not what he has imagined! Not the part in which his parents scurry about like thieves-- none of us have imagined that. What Clayton is upset about is that the whole picture--dozens of buildings, each with unit upon unit-- does not fit the image he has had in his head: a secluded cottage, alone on an empty expanse of beach, deserted but for a few cute babies and a kindly, bearded old man with a dog.
I try to reassure him that he’s going to love it as soon as he gets inside. Which, at that point, I assume will be imminent.
But try as we might to open the lock box, it will not open. For the next twenty minutes, we position and reposition the numbers again and again. We coax. We yank with brute force. We call and text and leave message after desperate message with the owner. Just get us in!
Nothing works. The kids are all crying now, sure we have abandoned them in the parking lot. Meanwhile, the ice-cream is slowly melting to a syrupy soup in the back of the van. Also, a terrible suspicion has taken hold of me, so terrible it takes all my courage to even say the words.
“What if it’s a scam?”
Despite the profusion of texts and calls and emails I have exchanged with the owner, it now seems too terrifyingly possible. Someone has cashed our check and sent us all the way across the state to a condo that exactly matches the pictures on the website-- but it is a scam. The numbers won’t ever open the lock box; we will never get inside.

We do get inside, of course. Ten minutes later, after the kids have changed into their bathing suits and Don has taken them to the beach to cheer them out of their tears, the owner calls back and walks me through the opening of the lock box. (I am so relieved I refrain from telling him that those precise instructions could have been included in his email, saving us all from unnecessary panic.)
Once we are inside, even Clayton has to admit that the condo is perfect. That evening, and every evening after, we have dinner around the small table on the balcony, mere feet from the beach.  And each night, after we put all three kids to bed, in various combinations, on the two bunk beds set into the small corridor, Don and I sit outside on the balcony, reading and talking as we watch the full moon rise over the ocean.
I know my friends have been skeptical: the five of us in a one-bedroom condo? What kind of ten-year anniversary celebration is that? But it is just right. The small condo is like a little nest, cuddling us together. With our lives pared down to such simplicity, we fit perfectly. Each day follows the same unhurried rhythms: meals together on the balcony, endless games of Calico Critters, swimming, sand castles, Harry Potter....
There is nothing unique to it at all; everywhere we look, we see families having essentially the same vacation. And yet, like every parent, I can’t help but be struck by how special my children are. Clayton, with his gentle spirit and boundless creativity, choreographing their elaborate play. Dee Dee, always so eager to learn and to love, reading anything she can get her hands on. Sylvia, sensitive and silly and always ready to make everyone happy.
The kids take their Calico Critters on adventures around the condo, or set them up in their ‘vacation home’ under a kitchen chair, and even when I stumble over them, I can’t help smiling. The little critters look so peaceful and happy in their home-away-from-home. In fact, they look a lot like us. And, lucky for them, they didn’t even need a key.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Sometimes You Just Feel Sad

“You make food. You make clothes. You make friends. You make love.”
It is my Wednesday morning tutoring session and I am explaining to my student, Ana, that the Spanish verb hacer can translate as both do and make, depending.
“Oh!” she says, paying close attention. “This is important!”
Gratified by her eagerness, I start in on do, but somehow the examples do not leap to mind as easily. We are always doing things, of course, but what, exactly, do we do?
“You do homework. You do work...” I hesitate, thinking.
“Laundry!” I say at last. “You do laundry! With three children, I do laundry every day.”
Ana has three children, too, so I ask, “Do you do laundry everyday?”
Lavanderia?” She nods. “Yes, I do laundry every day.”
I groaned sympathetically. “Laundry is my least favorite chore,” I say and immediately regret it, thinking that now I will have to explain least, too. “I don’t like doing laundry,” I explain, making a face and waiting for her to agree.
But Ana just smiles and shakes her head. “I like do laundry. I like clean bathrooms.” She gestures at the kitchen. “Thank God dishwasher. I like cook but no like clean....”
I gape at her. “You like laundry? What do you like about it?”
She holds an imaginary piece of clothing to her cheek and inhales deeply. I like how it smells, she says, lapsing into Spanish.
I tsk, tsk at her gently. “English,” I remind her.
In broken English and expressive gestures, she goes on. She loves breathing in the scent of her husband and children on their laundry. She loves how, holding her sons’ and daughter’s clothes, she can remember them when they were little and see so clearly how they’ve grown. Ana’s English is halting, but her answer is eloquent. I feel a little ashamed at the trite distaste I have just expressed for a chore that, in her telling, epitomizes all the poignancy of motherhood.
“That’s a good perspective,” I say. “I’ll try to see it that way.” In my mind’s eye, I see myself trudging to the laundry room with an armful of dirty laundry, breathing through my mouth. Well, maybe not the smell part, I think, but the other part....

Putting up laundry, more than any other chore, makes me grumpy. Because I dislike it, I avoid doing it, so the baskets of clean clothes hang out around the house much longer than they should. Unlike the grungy kitchen floor (which our new tile disguises beautifully) or the toothpaste stains on the kids’ bathroom sink (which I rarely use), they are a constant visual reminder that there is work to do which I haven’t done. And it never, ever ends! I can wash and put away every article of dirty laundry in the house, but then the kids strip for their nightly bath and the hamper is half-full again.
As I leave Ana’s house, I wonder if I could really change my perspective on laundry so drastically. That afternoon, as I hang the kids’ clothes out on the line, I try. I look at Clayton’s Scooby-Doo underpants and notice how sweet they really are. With a pang, I wonder how soon he will insist on abandoning such little boy things.
Then there are Sylvia’s pretty little dresses, Dee Dee’s shorts and t-shirts. Dee Dee has abandoned dresses only recently; they do not fit her new self image. “I’m not a girly-girl,” she tells us indignantly, groaning as she consents to wear a dress to the “Manners Banquet” at her preschool. Sylvia, on the other hand, loves her clothes. She will spend long minutes in front of the mirror, admiring herself from every angle, while Dee Dee bustles through her project-packed day. Both girls recently started soccer. But whereas Dee Dee actually enjoys the sport, Sylvia mostly likes the outfit. “I’m pretty cute dressed up as soccer player,” I can almost hear her thinking.  
When the laundry is hung, I feel proud of my effort, but I’m not convinced. It seems unlikely that I will now see the eternal basket of clean laundry as a vehicle for nostalgia or an opportunity for reflection. And do I even want to? I admit that I’m a bit attached to the sympathetic noises Don makes when I complain about the laundry. What kind of martyr would I be if I actually liked doing it?
I also find myself reflecting on the very notion of emotion. If I can make myself like laundry, can I also make myself feel happy when I don’t? Fake it ‘til you make it, people seem to say a lot these days. Pretend to be happy, confident, secure, and-- low and behold-- you will be!
But what about the darker side, I wonder. I was raised to listen to those not-so-nice feelings. Are you feeling anxious? Jealous? Sad? That’s okay. All you have to do is put your finger on what’s wrong, then put it into words. I took that message so much to heart that when I was ten years old, I sat at our piano and, knowing absolutely nothing about music, composed a little song. “Talk about your feelings, and they will go away,” I sang, proudly showing my parents the musical staff where I’d colored in the notes. Later, when my sister’s best friend tried to play it, actually reading the notes I had drawn, I was indignant. “That isn’t how it goes!” And anyway, the tune was not the point!
This emphasis on discerning emotions and then voicing them has stayed with me, sometimes to a fault. With nearly ten years of marriage behind me, I am slowly learning that not every wounded feeling must be paraded out and discussed. Still, I’m not about to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Clayton, for example, is prone to moodiness. He can be exuberantly joyful at times; frustratingly morose at others. When he follows me around the house, moping and lamenting, I sometimes lose my patience. “What is wrong?” I ask him. “There is absolutely nothing wrong! Just be happy!”
“But I just feel sad!” he cries out, bursting into tears.
And it is this simple statement, so much more than all his empty laments, that makes my sympathy rise at last. I know what that’s like-- just to feel sad. Everything is fine. You have a comfortable home and a beautiful family, good friends and a job you enjoy. There’s absolutely nothing wrong, and yet....
“Oh, sweetheart,” I say, hugging him. “I know.”
It is a relief for him to say it, I think. When he says things like “There’s nothing to look forward to!” it is too easy to disagree with him. Of course there is! But-- “I just feel sad!” Well, that’s the truth of it, and who doesn’t understand what that’s like? And maybe it’s the tears, or maybe it’s his mama’s hug, or maybe it’s the naming of it, but pretty soon he’s back to his cheerful self again.

Probably this has very little to do with laundry. But I do know this: I am going to try to enjoy doing laundry a little more. For that matter, I might as well try to enjoy the grime and chaos of our home as the by-product of five-- make that nine-- living creatures leading full and busy lives. Still, I’m not going to be surprised when I look at the baskets of clothes that still need to be sorted and put way and feel something other than joy.  Because, let’s face it. Sometimes laundry is just a chore, and sometimes.... Well, sometimes you just feel sad.