My foot hits something hard and crunchy on the floor as I finish my breakfast. I look under the table and find several parts of dried up waffles littering the carpet. I’m ashamed, but only slightly. The little one swings her feet in summertime freedom as she munches her morning meal. I stare at the wall. My thoughts, they ARE there, hovering- it’s just so hard to harness them, as they swirl in and amongst the to-do lists, the constant demands and requests, the baggage of life. Motherhood. Survival. Which one came first?
Dishes clink together as they go into the sink. I take another long drag of cold coffee and lift my tired body out of the chair and nearly slice my left foot on a week of dropped breakfasts. I need to get the vacuum out. It sits in the middle of the living room for three whole days- a witness to my domestic failures, chastising me, at the end of every day, as if she’s keeping score.
And she’s not the only one.
I am keeping score too- of how many sacrifices I have made today, how many solo trips to the bathroom I’ve had. How many band-aids I’ve had to locate and apply, loads of laundry I have NOT done, how many questions about bats I have promised to YouTube…You see, I’m no martyr here. And I do actually think I’m kind of mad. I’m mad because I have things to create, words to write, important thoughts that need to be brought out into this world. “I have so much potential!” I lament outloud to the vacuum, as she and I stare at each other from across the room. Heavy sighs- those waffles are not going to pick themselves up.
I realize quite quickly that I really should vacuum more, getting lost in the monotone of the machine, more of a quiet roar than a hum, she blocks out every other sound or question that would demand I drop my immediate and fullest of attention. Here, in the song of the mundane, I can actually THINK, I discover, and be alone with the person I miss the most-
Maybe, I’ve found a friend.
With uncharacteristic diligence, I clean the cracks and the corners, the stairs, moving to closets and behind furniture. The crackle of crumbs as they are sucked up into the device, become a rhythm, a beat, to which I am beginning to enjoy.
I start thinking about how difficult it is when your head gets out from below the surface of the waters of life. It seems counterintuitive because when you are in survival mode, that’s ALL you can think about. But that’s the beauty of it- and the secret to enduring it, I suppose. There is no space for thinking anything else other than just ‘Stay ALIVE!’ It’s fight of flight, at its most basic and domestic of levels.
But I’m not there anymore. The gulping and gasping for air has transitioned as the muck of babies and up all nights and changing dirty diapers has been replaced by a gentle bobbing, that in the end surprises me, as it proves to be more exhausting and ultimately frustrating, because I don’t feel like I am ever making any progress-I am just treading. In the gasping and grasping years, it’s enough success to just keep everyone alive and be able to say, “Hey, I got a shower today AND I brushed my hair!” That’s an accomplishment of extraordinary proportions when you’ve got babies.
But now, as the intensity is easing up, I realize:
I want more.
I am greedy.
Surviving just isn’t enough.
I want to get to shore. I want more than just to float and bob and tread in a big beautiful sea of blue.
But float and bob, I do. Going under from time to time, because I’m always in it with these two little people, who are genuinely trying hard to learn how to float by themselves, but quite naturally, just aren’t ready to swim out there on their own yet.
I wistfully wonder, looking around. When am I going to get there?
I see it- it’s so close, the shore, where I think I need to be, but my energy feels like it’s too far away. My body knows it can’t make it.
And what IS ‘THERE’ so to speak? And why do I want to get to it anyway?
The crack of something that shouldn’t have been sucked up, snaps me out of the water and back into my living room.
All this while vacuuming?
Last weekend, just as the sun was coming up, warming the Earth, in that end of summer kind of way, the four of us set out, doing what we love most in the world- hiking through trails of ancient leafy trees, along gurgling rivers, with the promise of a waterfall and a picnic lunch to end our hard work and beautiful day. Big Brother, unusually vocal about his dissatisfaction at his current situation, expressed the singular, most asked question echoed all over the world by traveling kids, set out to exponentially annoy their parents:
“When are we going to be THERE?’ He whined, draping himself over a huge moss covered rock. The river was rushing beside us, the ground was firm and beautiful beneath our feet. We were all healthy and strong, we had coffee and candy in our packs, and as I gulped in the fresh air and the smells that only Nature can make, I spewed out in exasperation:
“August. We ARE THERE. THIS. This is THERE, all around you. We are already and always will be THERE.”
He looked at me, didn’t say a word, made the decision to keep going, albeit begrudgingly, and kept walking. Typically, three minutes later he became distracted by the wonder of a millipede and excitedly called me over to look. Stooping down to inspect the crawling creature, I felt my throat close up with tears. I realized how he had just acted out what I do daily in my head.
My mental whining and incessant complaining: “When am I going to get there?”
Wherever THERE is.
When am I going to get to the point where I can really focus on writing or my career or figuring out who I AM or who I want to be, after trauma and survival, motherhood and other stuff?
When will I feel like I am swimming instead of just treading water all the time?
Making progress, headway….when will a full night of sleep be enough? When will I…….
The list is endless and not comprehensive.
And now, I’m sort of wondering, who ever told me treading water was a such a BAD thing? That it’s NOT enough. It’s exhausting, that’s for sure, but also toning and strength building, necessary for that EXACT moment in time, when they are ready to set me free.
Tears will mingle with the water as they use me to push off, and my hope is that we’ll all swim together, back to that ever illusive shore, laughing and splashing, capable and strong, because we allowed time to take what it needed to take, and I finally gave in, relaxed back into the water, looked up at that big beautiful sky, and decided to breathe.
There are places to go, but that is for then, and I’ve surrendered.
Here for now.
Contemplating my cleanish floors, I recognize, with satisfaction and understanding, if only for a single fleeting moment:
Keep treading water.
It’s worth it.
Because I am already there.