My husband and I have agreed on a common goal for our family during this time of pandemic, which is to keep everyone happy, healthy and above all else: keep the peace. Keeping the peace is not as easy as it sounds. KEEP THE PEACE. I want to shout it out loud, but that feels counterproductive. The challenge is to keep the peace when there is just so much each member of our family could be arguing about. It’s your turn to take the dog out. Don’t let the dog out! Don’t run away from him. Stop biting me! It’s my turn to work! Whose socks are these? Who didn’t flush the toilet and WHY IS THERE A FULL ROLL OF PAPER TOWEL IN THE TOILET? Who’s fault is that? Why does it matter? Who’s in charge here? Why are the kids on their ipads? Why aren’t the kids on their ipads? Get them outside – bring them in! What’s for lunch? What’s for dinner? I don’t want this! I don’t want that! It’s my turn. It’s NOT my turn. I wanted THAT. Here, take it – no! Who’s doing the dishes? Who’s watching the kids? Who’s watching the dog? What’s he eating now? Have they eaten? Who’s looking after the house? Where did this literal pile of dirt come from? Who’s making plans? What are the plans? I don’t like those plans. Who’s sleeping? Who’s awake? No one? BE QUIET.
The noise, these days. There is an abundance of noise in our house and in my head. The temptation is to S-CREAM…then everything goes quiet, momentarily, but that only leaves you feeling worse.
In the past week, I’ve begun my Master’s work. I am now officially a full-time student of creative nonfiction for the next two years, during which time I will produce my second book-length work of nonfiction, a collection of essays with a disability theme. I’m bursting with excitement over my course work and about my project. The challenge is finding the hours in the day to focus and let out that creative energy and get to work. I’ve got my eye on the wee hours of the morning. A writer’s life is truly one of solitude, and while as a mother and primary caregiver I’ve always had to balance my need for alone time to create with caring for a family – now, even more so.
I’ve been drawing strength from a remembered line of Brene Brown’s: we’re doing the best we can. Brene Brown eventually comes to this conclusion after being hired for a speaking engagement out of town, and then asked to share a room with what ends up being the world’s worst roommate. Her roommate smokes INSIDE the non-smoking hotel room in the face of Brene’s protest and manages to burn a hole in the curtains; then she pulls out her snacks and after getting chip crumbs all over the couch, she wipes her greasy, chocolate-coated, hands down the armrests to tidy herself up, to name a few of her unseemly transgressions. Yet even she is doing the best that she can, Brene Brown comes to realize. We must allow each other grace. Not be a pushover, but allow grace. Brene Brown comes to understand that the way to allow others grace is to set boundaries for herself. She no longer accepts speaking engagements where she has to share a room; that is her boundary to set.
When I want to throttle the being who put a full roll of paper towel in the toilet or the being who walked through the house with their muddy boots on after the floor’s just been mopped, or the being who sucked up all of my time to work, or who sunk their teeth into my calf or whatever it may be; I’m trying to remember my own deep breaths, while balancing the deep sighs of those around me. Each living creature in my home has needs, every day – surprise! – not surprised – and the responsibility of these needs boils down to two people, which actually then boils down to me as manager/CEO of household affairs. The temptation is to drop the weight so I no longer have to bear it; allow our lives to crumple at my feet. Fend for yourselves, I’M WRITING! I would snarl, but that isn’t really who I am or aspire to be, so instead, I pick my moments when and where I can. I will turn to dawn for solitude. On the day Dan and Louie have a day-long errand to run, I just let the kids be without the snarl, and they’re okay, and they learn absolutely nothing from me, other than that I have needs too, and I am completely, 100% okay with that. Nobody died. And nobody yelled. We each revelled in the here and now and the ‘just be’. We were quite content to leave each other alone for a day.
I found myself raising my voice a few too many times this past week, and not just at my own family. We are owed an exorbitant amount of money for a cottage rental cancelled this summer and by the time I’d reach my fourth phone call with the company, after waiting an unreasonable four weeks for a clear-cut reimbursement owed to us, I lost my composure. My argument essentially boiled down to, “Not my problem. You do what you have to do to GET ME MY MONEY.” This woman had no power to do any such thing, and I knew this. We both knew it. Even as I raised my voice to express my frustrations, I knew this. The woman on the other end stammered her apologies and then finally transferred me to someone higher up who was able to tell me exactly what is going on with our money. I took a deep breath and would later recoil at my own ugliness. To be rude or emotional over the phone with a complete stranger was totally unlike me, completely out of character. Though I can be pushy, this was beyond pushy. This was an emotional outburst. Well it worked. I’m getting my money back – but in exchange for what? I lost my inner peace.
There have been signs around me to slow down, take stock, find my way back to our mantra for peace.
In searching for publishers, I came across a promising one named Guernica. Intrigued by the name, I looked it up, and there was the painting, Picasso’s Guernica, named after the town in Northern Spain that was destroyed by German bombers in 1937 during the war. The painting has become a monument, a constant reminder of the tragedies of war, an anti-war symbol, and an embodiment of peace that has been dubbed ‘a plea for peace’. I also came across the book title Are We Done Fighting? Building Understanding in a World of Hate and Division by Matthew Legge, and I thought I could truly relate.
The feeling of peace being disrupted comes from the greater scenario at play in the background, but it also comes from my lack of solitude and the feeling that something is missing. Sometimes an odd sensation will come over me, that feeling of looking for something misplaced, like I’ve lost something important to me. The feeling comes over me most strongly when I’m online or scrolling through social media, trying to find what it is that I’ve lost; the irony is that it’s time and solitude, at a time when the others are sleeping and I am alone; I’m wasting what precious time I do have.
“Where is it? Where is it?” my scrolling finger and senseless wandering seem to demand. But I never find what I’m looking for.
I allow for one last sign to catch my attention beyond battles with the world and Picasso’s Guernica, my plea for peace. The sign appears in my day planner, of all places. I flop open its pages and there, staring back at me, is a simple inscription for the month of May. Five little words: Bloom where you are planted.
And here I am. Both feet planted firmly on the ground amid five other beings. There is plenty of love on which to grow here, it just needs to be cultivated and harvested. That takes grit and hard work. Our garden needs plenty of attention, and I’m not the sun, I’m just one measly watering can trying to cover as much ground as possible, watering our patch of earth to the best of my abilities, doing the best I can. Others are stepping in here and there, doing what they can, but I miss my full gardening crew and I bet you do too. Many hands make light work. We’re in a bit of a draught, but we’ll get by. I still hear the robins chirping; I know the gardener that holds me, and he’s okay. He’s better than okay. Our flowers will bloom, we will tend to one another. And the sun will shine high above us.