Wait for the Click

Reflections on Laundry, Mental Illness and a Steamy Patrick Wilson Sex Scene

I can’t imagine I am alone when I say I have been doing a lot of laundry lately. We are a family of 5 but judging by our hampers, my kids seem to have each grown 3 extra asses when it comes to the amount of underwear I am washing. (By hampers, I mean the floor of every room, the backyard, the porch, the front lawn and inside the sink, because my kids will leave their dirty clothes anywhere but the hamper and by underwear, I mean all clothing except underwear because all of my kids refuse to wear it.) What makes this laundry situation all the more confusing is that no one living in this house under the age

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In real time

of 8 will wear both shirts and pants at the same time and nobody at all is showering regularly and yet there are currently 19 towels and about a millionteen t-shirts waiting in the hallway to be washed.

I bring this up not because I think this situation is at all unique or even more than mildly amusing but because I now spend quite a bit more time than usual (ever) sitting in front of our front-loading washer waiting for it to be done so I can move it over and throw in my next batch of unsorted clothing including the rocks, leaves and microcars I do not bother to take out of pockets before washing. And while washers are amazing pieces of technology and have been shown to be useful for so many grown-up things (Have you seen that laundry room scene in “Little Children”? Good lord. It still gives me funny feelings.) I didn’t realize watching these machines in action could be so…meditative.

It’s the cycle I think. The repetition of the soak and the spin and the sit and the rinse. The very short but so satisfying click of the door when the work has finally finished. I wonder if the washer were a person, if this would be its sigh of relief. Maybe it would be the pfft of the couch cushion as it drops itself down after finishing its arduous tasks. Perhaps it’s the crack of a teeny neck joint as it stretches against a shoulder in a moment of hurts-so-good self soothing.

I realize that personification of a washing machine is problematic. A simplistic and childish attempt at literary technique at best and a warning sign for my loves ones to hide the Tide Pods at worst. But stay with me for a moment because I realize now, in no small part due to these laundry room reflections, that the washer – the cycles and the work and the fleeting moment of satisfaction just before the cycle begins again – that is actually a pretty solid metaphor for where I’m at in these days of self-quarantine. And being inside this cycle, the constant of it, the endless repetition, also has made me grow a bit mildewy from the static nature of it all. And how do we clean mildew? We air it out.

It occurs to me that I can pretty clearly explain my mental state over the last 7 weeks as a cycle. There’s the initial part, the rinse, where I am faced with a task – distance learning assignment, sink full of dishes, changes to my teaching syllabus, news to take in and process – and I immediately engage the step 1. Whatever Step 1 may be, I immediately begin the “doing”. As I am faced with the real dirt however, my anxiety kicks in. I begin to cycle through the assessment and adoption of worst case scenarios, to list in my mind the “doing” I am not doing, the stains that will be left even after my efforts, and I am filled with the familiar buzzing of panic. If you touch me at this point in the cycle, you will feel the heat and the vibration of the swirls of doubt and negativity and fear making its way through my veins and my organs and my skin. It’s a lot of work for this machine I live in. And it’s without ever getting to the actual work.

Enter the depression. The soak. Here’s the part where all of those moving bits of fear and self-doubt start to congeal. The buzzing is gone and replaced with a heavy soapy sludge. The heaviness in my chest lands, the exhaustion pervades, and I can do nothing but lay still. I soak in my own dirt, allowing it to penetrate the small pores of my inner fabric until it feels an inseparable part of my very being. It’s impossible to move in this function. Even on the inside. The reflective part of me that recognizes more complex feelings like insecurity, and the huge fear of failure at parenting or career, becomes so steeped that everything seems to register only as frustration and anger. Anger at myself and worse, at the people around me. Sitting in this part of the cycle feels scariest because it feels as if this is the forever part. The machinery has become undone and I wish only to be unplugged. It would be better for everyone to offload this broken junk.

I never have though. Unplugged.

Due to the deft hands of those operating the thing, my husband, my therapist, my chemical-balancing prescriptions, the next section of the cycle always begins. And so I rinse and spin some more. I do so forcefully sometimes – dragging my inner and outer self to do the work, to let go of the dirt. Sometimes, I am more gentle. I proceed kindly, with warmth and gratitude for this machine’s ability to make it out of the sludgy place and clean myself up and start again.

And then comes the click. The ding. The sigh of relief. To escape this troublesome metaphor, it is the sinking into the cushion, the small sloppy kisses, the warmth of the sun, the feel of my feet still planted firmly as I am emptied of this particular load. In the click, I know I will start the cycle again. But when I am here, I know I will finish. And I take a moment to hopefully tattoo on my broken brain, to send a message to my misfiring wires, that I will get through it again. I will not get stuck in the dark place.

This time of isolation, this time of fear I feel for the people I love and the people I don’t even know, the frustration at the mistakes made that will cost us all so much, the inauthenticity of the online experiences that have replaced our normal interactions, it makes everything more intense. The laundry pile is bigger and the machine works harder. And so do I.

But as dark as it feels with the door closed, I have to keep listening for the click. The click, I know, will save me. And I want to be there to see it when my kids start doing their own damn laundry.

Mom Made It Perfect. Kind of.

I love the holiday season. I love shopping and wrapping and cooking and hosting and stressing about the shopping and wrapping and cooking I haven’t yet done to be ready for hosting. I love feeling superior to the rest of the country because I can be in New York City in 30 minutes’ time and feel the energy and festivity and the completely exclusive sensation of being both freezing cold and sweating profusely at the same time in a crowd of people getting engaged and getting in family fights in front of a giant tree. I love drinking eggnog and watching other people be grossed out by my yolk-based cocktail. I love all of it.

I hate waking up on December 23 in tears because I dreamt my I missed my mom’s call. I hate finding the perfect present for her or watching truly terrible Hallmark movies that she would just love. I hate when my kids ask me why I am talking in my crying voice because just breathing seems a little too hard today.

It’s been 10 years without her. And we are doing fine. Really we are. But if we could have her back for just one day a year, this would be the day.

Christmas under mom’s watch was not textbook perfect. It was far from a catalog Christmas. My mom wasn’t Christian or Catholic or any Jesus-abiding religion. She was a Jew who grew up in Communist Romania under a dangerous regime. She celebrated as a child because it was safer to assimilate than not. (My dad, by the way, is a Buddhist from Japan who grew up eating KFC for Christmas day – an actual thing).

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Asking Santa for a fully-wrapped candy treat, probably

My mom “hid” gifts in plain sight on her bedroom floor. As we got older, she leaned into her arthritic hands and had us help wrap the presents (i.e. wrap my own gifts that I would get way before Christmas anyway because she was too excited to wait to give it to me). She served too much food for dinner buffet-style in disposable tins that stayed out all day so we could graze while she organized a family-wide cheat at Scattergories for the sheer purpose of making her rule-driven oldest daughter crazy. She forgot about stuffing stockings until late Christmas Eve and then dumped stuff in from around the house pretending it was purchased just for us. A half-burned candle. A chocolate bar out of the fridge. One year, I got my own toothbrush – my own used toothbrush.

In other words, it may not have been perfect but it was perfect.

I love the holiday season. I love it because my mom made us laugh with her Christmas absurdities. Sometimes she made us (me) cry when we (I) came out of the bathroom and everyone else in the room suddenly agreed that a country starting with the letter “c” was “Cashmir”.  She made us gluttonously eat. Then eat some more. She made us feel like a part of some crazy Christmas circus society. I love Christmas because I loved her.

And when I wake up with cheeks wet from tears, missing her so much I think it might crush me, I make myself get out of bed and wrap a half-burnt candle or a gift they forgot from last year because I am the mom now and I, too, will make this a completely imperfect perfect Christmas.

Prime Day

My mom was a super affectionate gift-givey person. My dad is affectionate in like a “I think I’ve met you once and you disappointed me” kind of way unless you’re his grandkid and then ka-Ching: the sky has opened and it’s raining CVS gifts and piggy back rides.

This all made for a great upbringing. My mom would buy us stuff and my dad would shake his head at how spoiled we were which only made it more evident to us how special it was that we could roll around naked on a pile of mom-bought cabbage patch kids like we accepted a filthy offer.

Balance is life, people.

As a parent though, this leaves me somewhere in the grey zone where I love to buy my kids presents almost as much as I love to hate myself for doing so. Like self-flagellating with a pool noodle. (Yes, another pool noodle reference. Do you understand now just how violent the noodle situation is? Also I dare you to type flagellating without first accidentally typing flatulating.)

Today is Amazon Prime Day. Which means I woke up sweating with twitching iPhone fingers at 3 am (midnight pacific, obvs) because my body knew THE DAY had arrived and my brain has long ago succumbed to the lack of will power in my frontal cortex. (Don’t fact check that.)

At 7:52 am, or 3 kindles, 4 pairs of swim googles, a food dehydrator, 6 solar-powered garden lights and 3 deleted and refilled carts later, I’m heading downstairs to see my husband, Mr. Reasonable (not his real name). My guess is he will approve the garden lights, question the kindles, toss the goggles and avoid the dehydrator because he knows his limits and our kids will end up better for it.

Or, we’ll have a pretty sweet garage sale in September when we are bored of all the aforementioned crap we haven’t yet broken or put aside to return but didn’t return because come on let’s be real nobody returns to amazon.

God, I love today. Happy Prime Day, friends. Be safe out there.

Playroom full of the crap

When I Grow Up

Sometimes my kids rebuff and resent my attempts to guide them into being healthy, kind, well-adjusted human beings who don’t pee on the floor or smack other people with pool noodles or show affection by farting in one’s face pantsless. (Because I’m an a-hole like that.) They cry and stomp feet and often they, particularly my 6-year old with the soul of a cantankerous aged neighbor weeding his garden, will yell, “I can’t wait until I grow up and I can do whatever I want!” And often, I will respond, “Someday you will be grown but for now enjoy being a kid. You can play and eat treats and cuddle your mom and not have to go to work or pay taxes or have playdates that you know are probably direct sales schemes.”

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When you’re a kid you can walk your babies until you don’t want to walk your babies and you throw them in a bush but honestly, adults get super judgy about me doing the same. 

But here’s the thing. My kid is right. Being an adult IS kind of awesome! I can see over most people’s heads at the movies. I can stand in the corner of my pantry and eat Halloween candy from 3 years ago without much worry of contracting a parasite because the alcohol has probably sterilized my gut anyway. I can make up excuses and cancel appointments and pick what I want from Whole Foods and cook with real fire and look at real estate on the internet and pretend I drink wine for heart health and have sex and use being tired to get out of having sex and pretty much all nature of things and take  a capsule instead of liquid medicine and find a career I love and leave a career I hate and have kids and try and make them good people and then write about it on the internet.

For now, though, my kids will get scolded for pool noodle violence and deal with me feeling superior to them because I don’t sleep in pull-ups. But, I am a grown-up. So I could if I wanted to.

 

Baby-Led Sleep: A Different Kind of Sleep Training

“Is she sleeping through the night yet?”
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It takes about 6 minutes post-birth before someone asks you this. At first, I assumed it was concern for my well-being, for my babies’ development. “How sweet!” I thought. “This stranger at Target really wants to have a dialogue about infant night-time habits!”

New parents, I am sorry to tell you that is a load of crap. There are two reasons people ask you if your baby is sleeping. The first is fear. There is a very good possibility that their baby is also not sleeping and they are looking for someone else with whom to toss around under-eye concealer recommendations in a 3 am group text when you’re all up rocking your babies back to sleep. You’ll recognize these people by their extra-large lattes, look of genuine empathy, and possibly mismatched shoes.
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The Real F Word: “Fat” Hurts More

My kid was at his two-and-a-half-year-old well-visit the first time he said, “Fuck”.

“How are we doing today?” asked the doctor in his Snoopy tie and smart wire rims, breezily entering the exam room where my naked-by-choice toddler squatted under the exam table looking for lost change.

“Good,” Toddler replied. “I don’t have to get a shot and I didn’t say ‘fuck’.'”

“Good, good, glad to hear it,” the doctor replied, as luckily, while his vocabulary has always been expansive, my kid’s diction was about as good as his set of manners.

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