I often dream about laundry. This seems odd to me, though it should not. In the pie chart of my life, the laundry slice could easily feed four or five. Last night, dream-me stood in the laundry room before a washer filled to the top with colorful, clean children’s shoes. I remarked to no one about how brand new the shoes looked, how well they had washed. This morning, real-me picked up my daughter’s mud-covered tennis shoes and threw them in the washer. They’d been sitting on the stairs for a week, at least.
My life is plain these days, and my dreams are uninteresting and plain. I spend my time washing, cleaning floors. Gathering the things we need to clothe and feed the family. Wishing I had better coffee and a little more freedom. Days like this, in Georgia, I might have taken a walk but May here in Santa Rosa isn’t agreeable for walking, and this holiday weekend, the pools, beaches, and roads are crowded with visitors.
Tired this morning, I sit, hot on the porch—hot coffee even so—swatting at mosquitos in silence. My head rings with words from somewhere.
“Are you looking for an exciting life? Stop it. Go the other way. Go through. Go in.”
I spin the words around, hoping the meaning will fly out. In and through. Go into the dullness—draw in like a mom must draw close to a needy, clinging child and not try, as is natural, to put distance between or get away. Go in and go through. Something so good is in there somewhere.
June is coming on, and June is my favorite month. This May ends heavy, the air steaming and sticky, the ground too hot to even water the plants without flip flops. School is out this Friday, and we will lay together, all seven of us, on the upstairs couch watching movies while we wait for the pulse of the year to slow.
This month, though, my anxiety runs high and I am worried about music, friendships, my toneless arms, kidnappings, aneurysms. These things cycle, I know. I watch the kids on the porch, glassy eyed, like I’ve had too much cold medicine, though I haven’t. These May days are short and frantic, and the children rush home from their many activities, dropping bags everywhere for me to unpack later. Stop, go through, go in.
We eat lime popsicles on the porch, and Jane’s melts quickly, leaving her angry. I wonder how to make this summer fun. Lego sets? A baby pool? New Play-doh? Getting out of the house sounds dreadfully hard. How will I do it? Everything feels messy and difficult. It’s a familiar sensation, and I hold on, hoping the children won’t notice, hoping for a quick ebb and flow. Parenting with anxiety and depression is like this—it’s so important that I don’t forget the ebb and the flow, how the downs always go up again. I don’t want to wish for an escape, just the grace I need to pass through and come out.
Stephen and I have been married seventeen years this weekend. We will celebrate by singing a wedding at our Church for a couple we don’t know, and then going to the rehearsal for the First Communion class I have been teaching. It’s perfect, actually. After so many years of marriage, I am finally seeing, somewhat, that love is just washing dishes, just cleaning bathtubs and children’s faces and tennis shoes. In and through the daily, we become less selfish. We do love, and we become love.
It’s a hot evening. Jane is sick. The oldest child has just returned from a school trip—in the middle of the night; we are all tired. Stephen and I take the children to morning Mass, then prepare to go alone to evening to Mass to lead the music. This is new for us. It has been a bumpy transition full of things I didn’t think of. How do we watch our kids at Mass and also lead the singing? What if someone gets sick? Liturgical music is also new terrain, in a way. Though I have been a passenger along this route for most of my life, I am suddenly driving, and I don’t know the roads.
As we leave tonight, already running late, the sky is mustering up a scary storm, and my oldest girl is nervous about the sick toddler and about the weather. We have to go lead even so, and as I stand up to lay Jane on the couch, she throws up. I settle her and the oldest girl, say goodbye to the middle three, and wipe the throw up off my dress. In the car, I note that the dress smells a little and I spray it with the teenager’s dry shampoo. I wonder when it became okay to go out in a dress with throw up on it, and how this is my life.
This is the uncomfortable spot where my vocation to serve my family hits hard against my call to serve my church, and I think of the Airstream for some reason, remembering how it scraped against a pine tree the first time Stephen tried to pull it into a campsite. The bark was shaved off and fell in an odd clump onto the parking pad. We will get this figured out. We will learn to lessen the impact.
When we were first married, Stephen and I were sure we would be full time foreign missionaries. I had spent time after college serving in missions in Mexico. Stephen was getting a medical degree. Surely this is how God would use us best. I think of St. Therese, my favorite saint, who wanted to be a foreign missionary too, but served all her life in a convent around the corner from her house and made her ordinary life into a string of acts of love for others and God. She became one of the Church’s most beloved saints. We are very ordinary, and having lots of kids offers me a neverending flow of opportunities to lay down my life in the most boring ways. There’s a fork at home with bent prongs, and I hate that fork, but so does everyone. So that’s the fork I get some nights when it’s clean. No one wants the “butt of the bread” (Why would they call it that?), so the momma eats the butt bread. Stop. In and through.
I wish, when I was newly married, that someone had told me quite directly what I know now, at least enough to tell others. Love is service. It is service, and it is charity, and it is so much of doing what you don’t want to do, because actually, the truest part of you does love and wants to love and do for others. It is a liturgy of laundry, a throw up on your dress kind of life—one in which you go in and through.