“What does relax mean?” The Kid asked me, the latest in a series of questions about words: sad, hungry, angry. He wasn’t feeling well and I told him we should take it easy. Relax. Naturally, he wanted a description. I faltered, trying to find new words to describe old ones. Or was it old ones to describe new?
He’s asking so many questions, and talking about feelings, and these are two areas targeted by therapy that used to be weaknesses. Now, they are part of the daily dialogue.
The next day we were forced to rest. To relax. After a Saturday full of Peppa Pig and popcorn, cinema and mall, indoor playground and outdoor running, TK woke up in the middle of the night and ran to our room, then promptly vomited all over the bed, the second child to do so in a week. I went to the dry cleaner to pick up the duvet (doona here) that Little Brother had soiled last week and traded it for TK’s barf job. We skipped church. We lay around on couches and beds and watched videos. We wandered into town and ate brunch. Well, the rest of us did. We ambled over to the library, where I heard, “JAMES!” and turned to see one of TK’s classmates speeding toward us as he usually does Monday through Friday. Today, out of his uniform and with his family, he recommended books he thought TK would like. TK and LB fawned over his baby brother as they do during the week. The Husband and I talked to their parents about New Zealand. It wasn’t a typical Sunday–I missed the stained glass and the people, the singing and prayers, the ferry and restaurant–but it was a good one; I got laziness and the library, other people and different restaurants, and family.
I am always so quick–I believe the technical term is immediate–to fight against a change in plans, an adjustment to the routine. Whereas here in Sydney, our move has left us constantly doing just that: accepting the new in place of the old. Instead of fighting it, I have to accept it. Not only accept it, but call it home before I’m ready, before it feels like that. When the truth is that we are between homes, hovering constantly within the tension of missing one home and adjusting to another; traveling the nonlinear paths of depression and anxiety and home-making, where one day I can’t imagine being anywhere else and the next, I don’t know where I am exactly, or where I belong.
This past weekend, we were forced to rest. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve changed sheets and folded laundry, how much diarrhoea (it has an O here! How appropriate!) I’ve scrubbed from carpets and mopped from floors. What I can tell you, honestly, is that I’m not getting any happier about it. I’m not smiling beatifically up at the heavens as my hands touch live shit. What I’m doing, what I’m quite good at, is, in these mopping moments, engaging in a tournament of The Resentment Games, which is like The Hunger Games but more violent. I’m groaning against the role that my X chromosomes seem to shuttle me into: the default janitor and errand-runner and laundress and caretaker. I’m straining against what so often feel like shackles, then battling the guilt that comes with such feelings. Such ingratitude.
Spoiler alert: it’s not going to change. Not completely, at least. Not enough. Because there’s this thing called the flesh, and it pits itself against higher things like the spirit, and I’m told we only exchange the former for the latter in totality once we’re on the other side of eternity. And besides all that, allow me to say it again and again: I will never enjoy mopping up liquid shit.
I don’t think this makes me a monster. I’m pretty sure it makes me normal.
When we arrived at speech therapy last week, after a fecally-charged twenty-minute drive because TK seems to (like a man) hold his poo until he’s at home these days (home being…well, me most of the time), I had just huffed him down to the bathroom at the end of the hall, cleaned him up, and fought with him about it on all fronts. And this was a normal poo, pre-gastric explosions. We walked back up the hall together and into the waiting room, where his home therapist was waiting. I told her what had happened, and she gave me a look that said she had been there, then some words that assured me she had. “It’s funny what they’ll save for mum, isn’t it?” she asked. “What moments being a mum makes you available to–the good and the bad–because they’ll only do some things for you.” I sent him down the hall with her and waited, thinking about what she had said over the next hour. Thinking about all the things, good and bad, that this extra X chromosome makes me available for.
I feel like Carrie in Paris so much of the time, falling in literal and metaphorical ways, literal and metaphorical shit. Life is hard on a good day; throw in a large-scale relocation soaked currently in diarrhoea and it feels nearly impossible. But there is the rest that we are given, and sometimes forced into. There is the cafe where I take turns getting muffins with TK and LB. There is the fact that we have a dry cleaner now, and that I know where all the good bathrooms around town are. We have a library and a toy store. We know the village well enough to wander together, as a family. We have Netflix, and that has two of my favourite recent shows, and I have Missing Richard Simmons, and this all bring me joy.
I have every other Tuesday reading with TK and the kids and his class, and while it is tedious as hell, there are the moments: when Z, the one who brings toys he knows TK will like, imitated me reading “bird” for him with an American accent. Or when H, TK’s friend from the library, spotted a turkey in the school yard and chased it for five minutes, screaming “CHICKEN!” Or when E, TK’s friend who came for a playdate last week, giggled at a picture of a car and said, “James should get this book. He LOVES cars.” He is known here. We are all becoming known here.
There is the old being replaced by the new, and the new becoming old until its newness pops up in fragments rather than sheaths, and while even fragments can upend me, I am not torn apart. There are reasonable pours of wine and there are runs along the beach and there are the other, countless, gifts of grace, in which what is taken away is never stolen but is creating a space for more. More, an old thing that always feels new.