Today I Vacuumed
Today I vacuumed.
It’s getting close to Mother’s Day. This year my middle daughter’s 7th birthday is also on Mother’s Day. As a mother of young kids I’ve learned to love the handmade gifts and the crafty ways they show me they appreciate my special brand of momming.
My first divorced Mother’s Day was a disaster. My kids were dropped off to me (although it wasn’t my day) so that I could “celebrate with them.” I had an awful cold, cramps and low grade fever. My ex-husband unceremoniously delivered them to me. He didn’t say one word to me. I couldn’t believe he didn’t even acknowledge me with so much as a flippant “Happy Mother’s Day.” We have 3 kids together. But I had no time to really dwell on that because what hurt more was the kids had nothing for me. No construction paper flowers, no half-wilted dandelions, no pasta necklaces. Nothing.
They informed me immediately upon arrival they were hungry and hadn’t eaten and that they wanted to celebrate with a “fancy Mother’s Day lunch”. My nose ran clear and hot onto my flushed face. My period was heavy and uncomfortable. I had wanted to stay home but they were relentless and so I reluctantly walked the few minutes downtown to take them to lunch. One that I could not afford. They argued during the entire meal. I wanted to nap, I wanted to do laundry, I wanted to do anything else on that Mother’s Day than be partner-less with my whiny, complaining, expensive, bickering kids. I sat on the stone wall near the little waterfall by my apartment during our walk home and I cried quietly while my kids walked ahead of me arguing and I thought, “This sucks. This whole thing, this whole life I’ve made. It just sucks.” That Mother’s Day was the worst; I felt sick and depressed and I needed mothering myself, but instead I was alone and I had to mother. It was one of the few days I really felt like I didn’t have it in me. I counted the minutes until they were picked up.
The second Mother’s Day was way better. I know this because I barely remembered it and had to really think before I could write this. So it must have been pretty good. I bought myself a great necklace from The Dollar Store as a special treat and I no longer cared who did or didn’t wish me a Happy Mother’s Day. I had just started dating someone a month earlier and I was able to sneak away for a walk and glass of wine with him in the afternoon because my sister had graciously offered to take my kids for part of the day. (After all the best Mother’s Day gift for many moms is alone time. Plus, my sister brought them back with Mother’s Day cards and gifts that were adorable.) Anyway there I was on this sunny day, with this man I was just getting to know, and he greets me with “Happy Mother’s Day!” and surprises me with a gift: a sterling silver star fish necklace and the message under the starfish read Unwritten because “my story was far from over,” he said.
Turns out I did care who wished me a Happy Mother’s Day because that moment overwhelmed me so much I seriously considered dumping him right there. To be valued as a woman and a mother, to be desired and seen as still having potential. It was the exact opposite of doubt and hopelessness I felt the year before. It was so unfamiliar.
This year I am still in that relationship, and I find myself wanting for a Mother’s Day nothing more than a clean home. My apartment has become a dumping ground for my girls. The pace of life is too much for me to keep up with. My little one at 4 years old is a special kind of mischief maker, a true vandal. The group of us are just out growing the space and the calls to please clean up, put dishes away, put clothes in the hamper, scrape a plate all fall on deaf ears. It’s exhausting. Today all I wanted to do was gift myself the ability to vacuum. To vacuum large sections of carpet without hearing tiny Lego pieces suck into the canister, to not have to vacuum around shoes and backpacks and socks and underwear on the living room floor. So I asked my girls to please pick up. And they did a little here and there, a few books back on the shelf, some shoes put away. No more underwear in the living room. And when their dad came to pick them up and the cacophony of 3 little girls that had overwhelmed my ability to think clearly most of the day was gone I broke the deafening silence with the roar of my vacuum.
I vacuumed my less than perfect home. In the living room I vacuumed around one knee-high sock; a remote control that floats around and yet seems to control nothing I own; a book; a foam block; and a stack of completed first grade homework that has been on my living room floor for the better part of a month untouched but declared by my middle daughter as “too important to ever throw out.”
I vacuumed the tired, previously-white carpet under the dining room table and I sucked up pasta so old and hard and dry that it clanged as it went into the canister; the corner of a peanut butter sandwich from this afternoon; a piece of green apple from breakfast; crumbs of a chocolate protein bar; scraps of paper. I stopped for a minute and grabbed scissors and got on my knees so I could cut hard, sharp, crusty nubs of dried Elmer’s glue out of the tips of the carpet and then I sucked those up too. I vacuumed pink and blue sequins; and part of what looked like a crumbled and dehyrated super ball. In went the tiny Legos; a pink hair elastic; a yellow pencil-top eraser; a petrified blueberry, one piece of popcorn; feathers from my throw pillows; a beheaded owl sticker; and a round Band-Aid.
I vacuumed with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. I actually love a clean house so all this mess has been killing me but then I paused and thought to myself, “I am sucking up their childhood.”
The last time I vacuumed Cheerios off my floor was 2013 and my littlest was only 1 year old. I won’t ever vacuum Cheerios up off my floor again. And if this were 2010 I’d have had to pick all the gravel stones up first because my oldest was convinced every small grey piece of rock she could find was treasure and I’d find them on the floor, under the couch and in all her pockets. And if it were 2007, or 2011, or 2014, I’d be yelling because I’d be finding long, thick pieces of hair as I vacuumed since each of my girls went through the “I’ll cut my hair and hide it from mom” phase around 2.5 years old. And then I realized not only am vacuuming up their childhood, but I am sucking up the phases of my motherhood.
The speed of life comes quick and the struggle to keep my kids cleanish and fed and to explain why mommy can swear and they can’t is a daily one. And all the while we move so fast we don’t realize that we are in what is no doubt the hardest ‘hood there is: Parenthood. A phase full of such intense, quick growth and inner conflict and self-doubt that even the simplest thing like enjoying the day you are celebrated for being in the ‘hood comes with questions, reflection and concern. A ‘hood that offers such a tremendous mind-fuck to the participant that even vacuuming becomes more meaningful. But that’s the beauty of it I guess.
We as parents worry more, think more, plan more, stress more but we also get to, if we can slow down just a bit, cherish more, giggle more, reflect more, and learn more. So today I vacuumed. And that was enough for me.