Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cleaning Sister's room

Sometimes mothers blog about cleaning their houses. I'll admit to feeling perplexed and slightly jealous when I read these entries. We have lived in three houses since we started farming, none particularly tidy (except maybe the one we were borrowing and could only bring a few boxes' worth of possessions to). Though putting away our suitcases last month was a triumph, it didn't result in that room actually being clean for more than a day. I can't blame the special needs parenting, because farming and other things come into it too.

I have a grandma who makes it sound like cleaning your house is the most noble, enjoyable thing in the world. In her eighties she was still telling me how good she felt because she still scrubbed her kitchen floor on her knees every time (I do too, for the record). At her house, the dishes are always done. Mealtimes are the framework for the rest of the schedule. She knows everything that needs to be cleaned, organized, and erranded. She watched neighbor babies or children when needed for 60 years. All the kids around there would come and knock on her door for a cookie. And she seemed, as far as I could tell, absolutely proud and satisfied of her work in a way that I have never seen in someone without wrinkles. Most times when I talk to her by phone, I still hear something about her housekeeping and how it is going with her current health. I hold up her stories and sniff them, hoping that the essence will go into me and make a slight internal change. It does.

On Sunday, it was 80 degrees, and the kids had the most wonderful afternoon. John and Sister painted with tempera paint on the porch. They painted on fingerpainting paper and cardboard boxes. Sister earned two dollars for helping John with the paint, while I worked in the kitchen just off the porch. Do you know how long a little non-walking kid can occupy themselves painting a cardboard box and then lifting it on and off of a bench and studying it from every angle, including crawling up and down the front ramp between each viewing? I didn't either.

After painting, we put last year's wading pool at the bottom of the ramp. With duct tape, we made it useable one more time. Sister had the honor of holding the running hose (and thus the power to annoy and startle John in infinite ways). They spent a long time in the pool, and suddenly I realized that John had missed his resting period. It was so nice to see them absorbed in playing outside.

On Monday, John had a fever again, just a little one. I couldn't take him out, but he was still playing. We started to work on Sister's room. I told John that we would look for the red ball, an important ball from his hammer-ball toy that has never been lost until last week. John watched as I separated trash from toys, going through the room with two big bags. We rotated slowly around the perimeter of the room. Layers of papers, markers, crayons, plastic pieces from toy sets, and clothes had settled geologically onto every surface, somehow all held in their inertia by five flattened pieces of (!) bubble gum that I finally discovered on the wood floor. The bubble gum must have exercised an unintentionally-evil, downward force, causing it to be impossible to pick anything up in that room. When I got three of the lumps up, the spell lifted and the room almost looked like a room again.

We had to stop for the day before we reached the red 40 gallon bucket by the closet.

The next day, John's teacher was sick, and he still felt hot, so back into Sister's room we went with fresh bags. I took anything that was not trash but not easy to put away, and put it in a bag to hide and tackle on another day. The bucket was emptied and shooed outside, and we cleared the closet floor. Outgrown clothes were hid in another bag, for me to wash and give away on another sisterless fever day. I washed the closet floor and John played hiding-in-the-closet.

In about two more days, the room could have be really clean, with a trip for plastic containers and a long book and toy weeding. Instead, with another plan cancellation the next day, we moved on to the living room. I took the Santa, snowman, and nativity scene down. Because the nativity scene is fun to play with, the windowsill where it sat had turned into a surface to coat with other small toys. We came up with more places to look for the red ball, and in doing so put away John's toys. I scrubbed the fly spots off the fan pulls. I took all the little taped cutout toy pictures off the windows that Sister had put up to show Santa, and washed the window where she had written in window marker: "It is almost Christmas! My Christmas spirit is so merry and light!" and more words to Santa. The only thing on the windowsill that would stay was a ceramic pot with a small semi-succulent trailing plant that I received at the baby shower before Sister was born. When she was two or so, I had told the giver by email that the plant was still doing well and the pot hadn't yet been broken. She replied: That the plant and [sister] are doing well is a testament to your loving care of them both. I was surprised. Almost six years later, I remember but don't know if I understand those words.

When Sister came home from school one of those days, she not only found her clean room, but a package from the mail with a few new clothes that actually fit. I turned John over to his dad and invited her to the coffee shop. She must have either been relieved that she was finally getting the right amount of attention, or wondered if her real mom had been abducted by aliens and replaced. We found that the coffee shop was out of business, probably because of the economy. We went to the downtown of our little farm town to find an alternative. The bookstore and ice cream shop had also closed, so we went to a beer-heavy corner grocery to buy a packaged ice cream and we went to the park. Sister played on all the equipment and even came when I told her it was time to go.

Everything was cancelled for three days, and I temporarily pretended to be a normal mother, to both kids. No therapies. No paperwork day. I just cleaned the house, changed John's diapers, fed him, and cooked dinners. I only made four or five bureaucratic phone calls the whole time.

It's funny, because on Sunday, while the kids were still at church and I was home, I called a friend who is a mix of angel and a firm procedure-and-paper support. Not only does she say a lot of funny stuff, she's nice enough to laugh at many of the stories I tell too. I said: "I need someone's permission to discharge John from OT." I explained the situation and why it would benefit our family to take John out of one more therapy, just for a few months. This would mean we would be down to three therapies per week, from six last fall. She listened and gave her blessing. I told her I was almost ready to consider the possibility that there was a way to get caught up with my life constructively, instead of being enraged and underwater about not being caught up. It's funny, because I thought going down to three therapies a week was going to be so good, but instead, the very next morning, I got a taste of what it would be to have no therapies. Don't get me wrong, I find therapy and development fascinating, and I was vigilant in trying to find the right therapists for John--but I'm sorry to say how much I loved it. I'm so tired of fucking fixing everything.

I'm curious what will happen with this trend. Don't ask how much more there is to do around here. It is, or seems, about Mount Denali sized. Comparing supposed obligations to supposed resources, it seems like threading a mountain through the eye of a needle. Lots of people climb Denali and love it. Some don't make it. Would I climb that mountain voluntarily? No, absolutely not. Would I do it if I was set in the middle of it and there was no going down?

I think one of these days something is going to click, and the mountain is going to change. After all, first you see a mountain. Then you see there is no mountain. Then you see it really is just a mountain.


  1. Hi Leah,
    It's Deanna from Mito group! Lovely, lovely blog. I'll dig on it more, but gotta fly now!

  2. I'm new to your blog. Love the Donovan quote.