Today I scurried off to our local beach for a pre-dinner swim. I left my sons and husband to sort out hamburgers and a salad. It was a risky choice, in terms of actually getting a meal, but it has been a long week for me and I needed a break.
My husband’s family has been visiting. It is the first time that someone of our generation has hosted the whole crowed…nineteen in all. I have new-found respect for my mother-in-law, Lynne who has been hosting all of us for the last twenty plus years. Just dragging home the groceries to feed such a crowd is demanding. Thank god we have markets. At least we don’t have to “hunter/gather” and skin dead animals.
Having stripped, laundered and re-made the beds, reinstalled all the towels in the linen cupboard and dragged the trash and recycling to the curb, I thought I deserved some time to bob in the ocean and enjoy the last rays of the sun.
It was hard to leave. The kitchen was littered with household debris. The ironing board, poised in a corner, was ready to return to the cellar three days ago. Groceries, now unpacked from bags, randomly graced the counters. Crows had attacked the trash left momentarily by the back door. Could I leave such mayhem?
This is frequently my conundrum. Over the years I have struggled to maintain some kind of order in my house. Cleaning, cooking and laundering. Doing it again the next day. In the middle of the night tripping over the size twelve shoes left in the center of the family room to let the elderly dog out or a teenager in who forgot their key, etc. In those moments when I am ripping the last of my hair out and crying with frustration over the general disorder, my children have been known to point out that “people live here, Mom”.
I think it is their way of saying, “relax, chill, don’t be so uptight, there’s always going to be mess”. And I guess they’re right…existentially. But it’s also lingo for “stop nagging”.
I didn’t plan on being a nag. In fact, I didn’t plan on being a mother. I didn’t plan on a lot of things that seem to have happened despite other intentions.
I like to think of myself as a new-age kind of gal. I have a master’s degree, I work professionally. So why am I crazed about lights left on, doors left open to mosquitos, wet towels on the floor and dirty dishes in the sink?
As I was returning from the beach today after my restorative swim, I heard a woman’s voice loudly directing someone. She was hunched over the deck of their ocean-facing bungalow. Still in her “beach cover-up” she was earnestly wringing out bathing suits and towels and draping them over the railing. Her husband and young son, whom I had witnessed earlier returning from a fishing expedition, were fast approaching.
“How nice!” she said loudly. She smiled encouragingly and admired the two blue fish held aloft by her son. But, suddenly, her tone changed.
“They’re dripping”, she screamed as her son approached her. “They’ll drip all over the deck.” Raising her head to toward the husband lurking outside my view she asked even more loudly “Are they cleaned?” and, finally, at top volume, “For god’s sake, Larry, don’t put them in the sink. We’ll never get the stink out. We’ll lose the security deposit.”
I smiled. Here we go again I thought. Another woman trying to hold it all together. Another woman worrying about the security deposit, the ruined deck, the stink. Probably, at the back of her mind, she’s wondering if she’ll actually have to cook the fish. And then, will anyone eat them? How will she dispose of the carcass? What was quaint and charming and bonding to her husband has now become her personal burden.
I felt for that woman. Ostensibly on vacation in a breathtaking location, she was still carrying her load. Like myself, she seemed innately to be planning, worrying, organizing. Why? Why are women built this way?
Because we love the people we hold close to us. We want them to be happy. We want them to be safe. We want them to grow up and have good jobs and nice spouses and bring their children home to us so we can worry about (and love) them too. We want them to stay out of jail, drive safely, pay their bills, get exercise and vote democratic. Life is hard and we know that.
Our spiritual task is to have faith that we’ve done the best we can. And best is good enough. People do live here and they make mess. Physical, emotional, existential mess. When I say the serenity prayer each morning it’s because I’m a recovering nag.