In Praise of an Awful Time

Some days my life is reduced to a pile of tiny clothing, and all of it is inside-out. It will take me hours, I am certain, to pull all of these sleeves back through themselves, to flip a thousand tiny neck holes back through a thousand tiny waist holes. On these days, my older child transforms into the human embodiment of my own inner monologue. He perches beside me, holding the pieces of whatever menial task I’ve assigned to him — a toothbrush with a pea-sized squeeze of paste or the mismatched socks I heroically procured from the depths of our dryer. “I CAN’T do it, Mama. I CAAAAN’T,” he whines loudly, mere centimeters from my left ear. He flails around wildly, poking me with the toothbrush and smearing paste on my eyebrow. On these days, my toddler calls for me from the kitchen, pointing at our robot vacuum and demanding an explanation. “Bo-BAA!?!?” he yells in horror and disgust, “BO-BAA?!?!” He stands and stares at me in judgement. How did we get to this point? he seems to be asking. What, if anything, MAMA, did YOU do to stop it? I shrug my shoulders in shame, hoping he one day listens to “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and finds it explanatory if not exculpatory.

On these days I lift all 70 pounds of my children at once and drag them to the garage. They cry as I push boots on their feet, scream as I strap them into car seats. The older one just wants to stay home and play LEGOs, mom. The younger has not been given a satisfactory explanation for the aberration sucking cheerios from our floors.

Never mind these pesky children. They are coming with me because I am leaving. They will slow me down, undoubtedly, but they will not stop me. I am determined. I am committed. We are going out in search of an awful time.

You read that right. Not an awesome time, an awful time. If I were searching for an awesome time on days like this I would never leave the house. It is 39 degrees and pouring rain, but we are going to the beach. Or, the gale-force winds are transforming my sons from children in rain suits to waving roadside car dealership balloons, but we are following this goddam trail all the way down to the goddam lake. When it starts to hail, we will take cover under that cypress tree over there. When we reach the lake, we will turn around and hike back up immediately because I did not pack snacks. Alternatively, we will find some downtown pier, all but abandoned in the pandemic, and pick up every piece of trash we see. In this scenario, my older child’s chorus of I CAN’Ts reach a fevered pitch rivaling the aria of any 21st century avant-garde opera. My toddler wails in accompaniment. This continues until, all of a sudden, it doesn’t. My older son sees a plastic bag, blowing in the wind, and chases after it. “No way, plastic,” he shouts as he lunges toward it, “you’re not going into the Puget Sound! You’re not going to hurt an animal!” My toddler runs after him, laughing hysterically. He watches his brother jump up and grab the floating bag mid-air and squeals with delight. He is certain, at that point, that his brother is indeed the superhero he imagines himself to be, and that anything at any moment could begin to float that way, dancing in the wind. He sees a rainbow in the oil-streaked puddle on the street. “Bay-BOW!” he yells, smiling at me, “BAY-BOW!!!”

And when we finally reach the car, shivering and soaked, we laugh and all say “Phew!” in unison. We blast music and belt along with it the whole way home. When we reach the driveway we stop, together, to gaze upon our little home and smile the smiles of people who always knew they could do anything. I pull up the garage door easily with just one hand. It feels as light as the plastic bag we chased and glides easily on its tracks, welcoming us like the mouth of some ancient fire-lit cave. We each take off our own boots, knowing that our supremely competent hands were made for any challenge, and our Herculean legs propel us up the stairs in seconds. We choose our own snacks from the cupboard and the fridge and spread them out onto the kitchen table. We feed ourselves and one another as the sun finally breaks through the clouds outside our kitchen window. And after we eat we make ourselves a nest out of the pile of laundry on the bed and lay on it together, all three of us — exhausted, grateful, home.