I set aside these two hours this morning to write. Something, anything: a new blog post, the end of another blog post I started two weeks ago and never quite finished, bits of the new novel that’s slowly starting to take shape, even though it should probably get developed less slowly and more quickly, because, hello, Leah, time doesn’t stop just because the cat barfed on the carpet again. The girls are in school, and Cian is playing with two toy trucks and a plastic Olaf beside me on the couch, singing to himself and occasionally calling out, “MOM. Toot toot.” I’m trying to push the shoulds out of my head–the “what I should be doing” thoughts, which are everything from taking a shower, to switching out the clothes that are draped all over Quinlan’s bed, to sweeping the dried oatmeal out from under the table, to calling the doctor because why does my back hurt all the time am I really getting that old, to writing up a meal plan for next week because ugh it’s that time already, to finding music for Saoirse’s class Halloween party because I’m a homeroom parent and need to do such things.
Little stuff. What I should be doing.
Writing is something that’s still shoved to the periphery of my life. I don’t want to write that out loud, lest a writer friend or my agent or some magical literary being out there sees it and thinks, Aha! She acts like she’s not serious about this?! How dare she cradle this in her hands and ignore it because somebody shoved a lime into the drain and clogged the garbage disposal and she has to go dig it out? But it’s strange: the most important things in my life–the things that make it wonderful and special and, well, mine, are what’s shoved to the corners and fit in on as-can-do basis. Writing. Friendships. Exercise. People call life with small children a season, and I get it. This is a strange and huddled-down time. It’s hard to see two feet ahead of you when there’s usually a kid’s tiny hand in your face. And like pretty much everybody out there, I’m learning, it’s too impossible to stay on top of it all when there’s more of it and less of you.
I don’t want a neat life. I was thinking about this last night while David (who’s home after three weeks of travel. Home! Home! Home!) was getting Cian ready for bed, and I was sweeping (ha! always, always) the dog hair and bits of flotsam that invade our kitchen as often as I take breaths. There were crumbs scattered all under the table, there was a clump of Luca’s hair under a cabinet, and I found a sticker wedged into the side of a chair. And I was sweeping away, thinking: that dog fur is from one of the sweetest, smartest creatures I’ve ever known. Those crumbs are from bread I made with my own hands, that my family loved. That sticker is from my four-year-old, who is as as clever as she is mischievous, imaginative as she is needy.
My brain operates in a futile cycles: I put a lot of pressure on myself only to back away from it all at the last minute. For instance: we saw Food, Inc. a couple of months ago, and since then I, the primary food-provider of our family, have gone from “Oh, I try to shop organic” to real-food-nut-job, in that I make almost everything we eat. I shop primarily from the local farm markets, trying to ignore the fact that, say, the chicken I just bought still has its neck attached. Our milk comes from local cows, and sometimes tastes a little too much like freshly-cut grass. Our pantry is always, always empty, because everything we eat is fresh or just made. If that sentence makes you exhausted, yes. The good thing is that no food in our house is wasted: the bread that goes stale becomes soaked in (local, humanely raised, etc., etc.) eggs and fried for breakfast. The scary chicken neck becomes stock for last night’s soup. It’s all become so routine I really don’t think anything of it, except when I look in the fridge, find it empty, realize that I am not can not will not make one more trip to that damned market for a be-necked chicken with feathers still sticking out of its skin, and instead call Pizza Hut for delivery. Large pie, half pepperoni and mushroom, with cheese breadsticks, because if you’re gonna fall off the wagon, might as well make a big splat.
If you walked into my house now, you’d look around (after I gave you a cup of coffee and repeatedly apologized for the mess) and see the laundry piled on the couch. It’s folded, but still there. Upstairs, you’d see that the beds are unmade, because I plan to change the sheets later. Which is what I said yesterday. And the day before that. You’d see the oatmeal under the table because after Cian got down from breakfast whatever was clinging to to the hidden folds of his pajamas must have scattered to the floor like gloppy, glued-together confetti. Oh, and you must have just stopped by of your own accord, because I still haven’t responded to your email to make plans to get together. Not on purpose. I just…am drowning.
‘Tis my season.
My point is–and I am getting there, I promise–is that when I was sweeping together the newest annex to our municipal landfill, I realized that a messy life is one that is being lived. All of the frustration, and the odds and ends and bits–the laundry and the crumbs and the overflowing inbox–they’re all pieces of a life that isn’t perfect, maybe not ideal in many spots, but it is one that is being lived. My writing gets pushed to the corners because there are times when it’s all I can manage to hold down the family fort while David does all that traveling to pay for the fort. That’s our life. Those playdates aren’t being made because it’s already a challenge to schedule the day-to-day stuff around school pick-up and drop-off and soccer and errands. That’s our life. Many times the plans for dinner with old friends are never made because those friends’ lives have all spiraled into their own lives and spouses and, yes, new friends. Their lives.
It’s okay. It really is. Because we all have the good days, and we all have the weeks where it all falls apart. We all do. You keep telling me this, and I believe you. And right now, I will close the computer, and I will move on to the next thing. Cian is now laying on the couch beside me, his head on my arm, watching the words I type appear on the screen. It’s time to focus on him, and then whatever is next.
I said that I don’t want a neat life, and I do mean it. What I want is a clean house, yes. An uncluttered mind. A clear path. These may or may not happen, at least in this season. It’s a messy life, mine.
It’s a life that’s being lived.