The very first thing I do when I open my eyes is squint to see the clock. It is 6:38AM. I have enough time to shower and still get everyone out the door by 8AM which sounds pathetically indulgent. I take care to do an above average washing job – probably a B+, but don’t have enough pride, energy, or desire to even consider shaving my legs. When I am finished and standing in front of the mirror, I decide my left armpit still smells. I can’t decide if this is because the new natural deodorant doesn’t work or if there is something sinister happening on the left side of my body. I decide to rewash and google “smelly left armpit” for later.
At breakfast we are low on food which is an important item that is necessary for this time of day to actually count as breakfast. I find enough expired egg whites, 3 slices of cheese and last week’s bread and cobble together some egg white omelets and toast for the kids. The coffee maker is hissing at me in a way that seems urgent and sinister but I cross my fingers and hold my breath that whatever is malfunctioning will wait long enough to serve me today’s coffee. I pack lunches hastily yet efficiently, all the while filling water bottles and writing in the home school journal at 7:59 when I had all weekend to do it and yelling at everyone about everything. At 8:15 the bus arrives. End scene.
I fill my cup of coffee and look at it like a forgotten lover, someone I once knew, that I am desperate to know again. My youngest, who is inexplicably not wearing pants, declares it is time to make puzzles. Not just a puzzle, but all the puzzles. Inside, I wonder if I have made enough coffee for this. She finishes the first one rather easily but then moves on to the life-sized Sofia the First puzzle. I curse under my breath because this one is frustratingly hard when your brain has been atrophying for approximately nine years. I try to talk her out of it. Nevertheless, she persists.
So I’m trying to figure out where Sofia’s skirt ends and her purse begins when I knock over my mostly full coffee cup. I blot and Resolve the area and feel slightly jealous at how confident my carpet cleaner claims to be. I keep trying to put another puzzle piece down but every time I do she pulls another one out and I keep trying to put them back until I realize in a true mothering existential crisis, why am I fighting so hard to make the Sofia the First puzzle? I need breakfast. Also, she needs pants.
I accomplish both of these tasks. I also manage to unclog two different toilets and fit in a load of laundry. I feel the world’s saddest level of satisfaction. At 9:22AM on a Monday morning at this stage in my life, I am now a person that counts stuff like this as cheap wins. I manage to get us to My Gym with at least eight minutes to spare before circle time and I’ve remembered socks. When I put them on they appear to be completely destroyed. They are so worn there is literally no bottom to them. Just a shell of a toe and a heel and a few threads of the sock that used to exist between these two areas. As I stare at my holy feet, I pray that God will grant me the strength to finally clean out my underwear drawer.
My mother in law agrees to watch her so I can sneak off to the grocery store which again feels remarkably satisfying, and a strong undercurrent of both joy and sadness sweep over me at once: joy that I get to grocery shop by myself, mixed with sadness that such an activity gives me actual joy. I wander the aisles and run into parents of other children and friends and we talk about things like our kid’s classes and Cub Scouts and tick repellent and K cups and all of it seems very pretend grown upish, like the kind of stuff we might think grownups talk about if we were actually children and weren’t sure and were just pretending. It strikes me as hilarious how much we are all cartoonish versions of our adult selves.
By the deli counter, two old women with pristine white hair embrace each other warmly. It is a rare moment of honesty and humanity. I find myself lingering with my low sodium white American cheese, so struck by how lovely it is to see two people connect so genuinely with each other, to be so utterly pleased to see one another. Human connection is vastly underrated.
I rush home to unpack the groceries and back out before the school bell rings for the older two. As I make my long, slow walk up to the building, I pass minivan after minivan, each well adorned with the trappings of our respective children’s lives – the soccer and football and baseball stickers, the local gym, the candidate we voted for. More than anything, it seems to me that the rear end of our giant cars are the surest reflection of our suburban existence. We are who we say we are according to our bumpers. We are highly engaged in the lives of our very scheduled children. Also, we occasionally workout.
We approach the part in the sidewalk where there are two paths and my youngest takes off to walk by herself. She must always prove to me that she is capable of branching further and farther on her own. Watching her tiny body walk away from me feels completely wrong and anxiety producing. I squelch the thought that tries to creep in that all of them will do this someday. That they won’t come back, and that this is right. What a stupidly nonsensical thing all of this is. To love people enough to let them go.
After school, my son pulls a tick out of his hair and flings it across the room at me in a moment of panic. I feel relieved that he has gotten the tick out, but now it occurs to me that somewhere in my house there is a live tick. I decide to never sleep again. The girls decide to make bracelets but the beads keep falling on the floor and the littlest one keeps clearing her throat in a way that is equal parts musical and annoying. All I can hear is the rumble of her throat clearing interrupted by the constant ping of beads hitting the floor. It feels as though my brain is full of marbles and someone keeps rolling it from side to side.
Soon, they will want me to feed them again. It is almost dinner. Though this shouldn’t come as a surprise, I feel panicked.
I reheat and serve the hot dogs from two days ago while I pick at some leftover corn. During their after bath television show, I chase my corn appetizer with the remaining whipped cream in the Redi Whip container. I have about three Weight Watchers points left for dinner and this seems like a fair calculation. Daddy comes home and everyone screams with glee and even though I am screaming with glee on the inside, all I can manage to do is point to the child in the nightgown with messy hair and grumble Mom caveman speak: Hair. Teeth. You. Brush. I wonder how he can still love me when I can’t even make full sentences anymore, and have such dry feet.
At 9pm I pry the book away from my oldest. When he asks how I can deprive a child from reading I explain that I am under no obligation to be nice to him past 8pm. I have well exceeded my kindness window. I retreat to the sanctuary of my bedroom, and by sanctuary I mean a space with a bed and billowy mounds of unfolded laundry. I prepare to unwind through very spiritually fulfilling activities like laundry folding, Twitter scanning, and The Bachelorette. One of the Bachelorette contestants is telling me how hard and anxiety producing all of this is, not knowing what will happen. I feel an unusual kinship with this single man who is dressed like a penguin and looking for love through reality TV. But if he’s willing to trust the journey, I suppose I can too.
I do one more bed check, counting and kissing heads. Then I climb under the covers, and wrap myself in the comfort and blessings of this mundane existence.