March 2011: Full
When I was a child, I couldn’t comprehend the statement that my mother frequently used to describe her life. “My cup runneth over, Gwen,” she’d say, sometimes with a smile and sometimes with a sigh. But until I was a mom, I was unable to relate to her experience.
My mom was a stay-at-home mom even amidst a rising population of mothers who decided to go back to college, learn a new trade and pursue their dreams once their kids were apparently old enough to fend for themselves. Not quite certain her children could survive on their own, my mom chose another path, one that was fulfilling, exasperating, selfless, harrowing, heroic, hectic and completely right for her.
I was the youngest and only girl, with two older brothers, Charlie and Aaron, who were always wrapped up in sports and friends and paper routes. My dad was an engineer, who in my eyes spent his days designing and building, and his nights loving all of us. It was a harmonious home, from the vantage point of the little girl within.
Mom did everything. When she was completely fed up with a laundry basket full of wretched, soiled, basketball clothes (my brothers were both aspiring Globetrotters), or a progress report came home with less than par marks, or my father had installed another hook somewhere in his effort to “home improve”, she would merely sigh and move on to the next item on her list. At the end of the day, though, when the family filed in around our small but cozy dining table and elbow-to-elbow, said grace, a contagious smile would accompany her declaration, "My cup runneth over." It was magical.
One day, I asked her what the saying meant and she stopped what she was doing, looked me in the eyes and took a deep breath. I couldn’t tell if I was adding to her feeling of exasperation or if she was frustrated merely from the items waiting on her to-do list. But I somehow knew deep down that when she recited those four little words, it was important.
“Gwen, you’ll know what I mean when you have your own family one day. You’ll see,” she said reassuringly.
And I trusted her, even though that statement was equally perplexing. Since the dawn of days children are told they’ll “understand when they’re older,” once they reach a certain milestone, or grow to a certain age. Although it’s true, it’s slightly embarrassing to contemplate your own adulthood (marriage – yuck, kids - what?, job, house!?) at age twelve. With that, I quickly turned on my heels and left it all there.
But mom was right. Most moms are, I suspect. Now that I have the title, I am unwavering in that fact. However, in an effort to blaze my own trail, I have abandoned the poignant biblical quote that will remain forever hers. I worry that my mother resents that my tarnished replacement “my plate is full” is a downgrade to her mantra, but for me, it does the trick.
That’s how I begin my Thursday. Plate full. Kids to rush off. Work to attend to. It’s March and we are slightly overwhelmed. Not because it’s March, really it’s a year-round dilemma. And not just my family – husband, three beautiful blessings: eight-year-old daughter, six and four-year-old sons – it is a community affliction.
We live in a suburban Southern Californian town with three elementary schools within two miles, a renowned sports park for endless soccer and T-ball games, pocket parks and walking trails...every imaginable amenity for a young and emerging village. We are a slew of well-intentioned, involved parents, outnumbered by children, activities and to-dos, all with cups “runnething” over, flooding us.
“Victoria, do you have your library book?” I call out formally so she understands the importance of recovering that book.
“Tommy, get your interactive journal and make sure daddy wrote in it…I think he’s brushing his teeth. Take him a pencil,” I instruct my middle child, hoping he remembers my three step directive.
“Noah, where are your socks and shoes? I thought I sent you to find your socks and shoes?”
My sweet four-year-old, dazed by his assignment, replies: “Mommy, I couldn’t find ‘em but I found you a sticker so you can remember me while you’re at work today, my lovely mommy.”
Sigh. Lost socks and shoes, forgiven. I swoop up my charming little man and give him a big squeeze trying to remember to store his sweet sentiment somewhere. I’ll call mom on the way to work and tell her what he said. That will memorialize it somehow, right? I think to myself. Just in case, I grab a note pad by the phone and affix my new Scooby Doo sticker-accessory to it and jot down: “To remember me.” ~Noah 3/17/11 What a love!
“OK, who’s riding with me?” Owen ambles down the stairs, short golden hair still slightly wet from his morning shower.
Dressed in gray pants, a blue, long-sleeve collared shirt, top button undone, sleeves rolled twice, gives my handsome husband a classic, yet casual look. He grabs his backpack among the four lined up in the overcrowded, buzzing kitchen, and heads for the coffee maker.
We have been married for almost fourteen years and he still has the power to make my heart skip a beat with just a look. He unleashes that kind of look at me now as he moves through the kitchen and greets the family.
“Hello wonderful little Masons, and mama Mason. Are we ready for a great day?”
No one can resist Owen’s happiness so we all soak it in and respond in kind: “YES!”
Noah, who’s lingering by my side, gives my leg an extra squeeze.
“Have a wonderful day my lovely mommy,” he purrs up at me.
“By my love,” I reply, heart warmed. “Tory, Tommy, have a great day at school. Love you!” I call out as they careen past me, eager to get to school.
I remind myself often that one day they’ll complain about school, feeling so blessed that today is not that day. We have enough on our plate.
As he collects his keys and wallet, my husband swiftly circles me and wraps his arms around my waist. Owen’s “Have a nice day” would seem like such a generic statement but he thoughtfully enhances it by moving my hair aside and placing one small peck on the side of my neck,, lingering to take in my scent. Swoon. Even after fourteen years, and all we’ve been through, he still takes my breath away, and I am grateful. Too many couples we know have allowed their intimacy to convert to companionship. Owen and I work at making sure our tenure doesn't pay the price for our passion.
“Come on kiddos. It's time to be in the car,” he calls, reluctantly releasing me. A common theme in our household, among many: there is always someplace we’re supposed to be, now.
I escort the gang out through the garage, grabbing jackets and lunch boxes on the way, like putting the final touches on the fancy dining table as you run to greet the guests at the door. Once they are all nestled in the car, I lean in Owen’s window and quietly plead, “Please call the doctor today.”
He nods and starts the engine. We’re immediately interrupted by Jack Johnson’s school-age relationship advice booming from the radio and the kids all shout, “It’s always more fun. To share. With everyone!” Snappy tune; one I’ll surely have in my head all morning. Owen kisses me through the open window and assures me he’ll call. I give him a concerned glance as he backs out of the driveway. I say a quick prayer. A warm wind accompanies me as I go back in the house to get ready for work, for a day of welcomed distractions.
I jump in the shower, eager to get out of the house. Getting ready always takes too much time. Not that I don’t appreciate the soothing effect of a steamy shower, or the peaceful calm in the early-morning, family-free house, but today, no amount of heat or quiet can ease my worry-du-jour: Owen.
We have been awaiting test results for just over a week. The few in our inner circle - our families, my best friends Karly and Melanie, my boss, Rose - reassure us that no news is good news. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. No news sometimes equates to a nurse who's called in sick to play hooky and take her kids to Disneyland or a doctor whose elderly father had a bad fall and is getting checked out at the hospital up the street. No news is no assurance. It is merely a potentially fatal delay.
Out of the shower, I press the crisp linen pants and heather gray sweater I’ve picked out for work. Even during the blazing days of summer my work attire rarely varies - the result of my biggest occupational complaint: a perpetual chill spewed by an irritating overhead vent. A quick glance out the bathroom window excites me as I assess the gloomy skies and grab a fancy scarf. Winter has merged with spring this year but I don’t mind the extended season. Despite the residual steam and warmth from the shower, my skin prickles. When the weather gives me an extra excuse to bundle up, I take it, gratefully.
Today, I choose my favorite scarf of the season: an extra long, black and gray woven, Parisian scarf, the ends embellished with hand-stitched flowers. It’s the type of accessory that attracts attention and I relish in the chance to say it’s Parisian, even if the journey and acquisition aren’t mine to boast. In fact, Melanie just returned from France with an extra suitcase full of fabulous finds like the scarf she presented to me last week. She was so excited she found it.
“It matches that cute gray hat you love, the one we got last time we were out,” she proudly stated.
Melanie, a fashion designer by trade, is always up on the current trends. She is extremely savvy in the world of apparel. Equally invested in her children, when her fourth was born she retired her pads and pencil sketches for Crayola water colors. We met at a co-op preschool when our girls, both three at the time, got in a fight over a princess puzzle. Neither of us the defensive, my-kid-can-do-no-wrong type, we discovered we had the same ideas on conflict resolution. After successfully helping Torie and Maddie master the art of sharing, we were immediately united.
Five years later, Melanie is the closest thing I have to a sister and she’s always available for a lunch date or some retail therapy. The cute gray hat with a shallow rim and a big flower was a result of such a trip. Her knowledge of my wardrobe is even more touching than her thoughtful Parisian purchase.
The house seems lonely when the hustle-bustle has left me behind. More often than not, we all plow out through the doors together, leaving the silence to unnerve no one. Occasionally, like today, I linger behind after the house is emptied and ready myself in solitude. It’s an almost eerie sensation, hearing the house exhale all the noise that goes along with my family as the garage door closes and they drive down the street. The silence can be unsettling.
I really shouldn’t be left with my thoughts on a day like today, a day when we’re waiting for test results, a day when worry overpowers rationalism, a day when vulnerability percolates on the surface of my soul. On a day like today, I find it hard to reconcile that some people lead happy, non-eventful lives while others struggle, and I wonder, is there some cosmic relationship between the content and their actions, or the plagued and theirs? Do we have the power to earn "happy"?
Standing in front of the mirror, as I comb through my wet and tangled hair, I find myself playing an illogical and disturbing version of the “what-if” game. During today’s match, I can’t help but wonder what it would feel like if it was really only me in the house – permanently. If in one tragic instance, everyone dear to me, the essence of my existence, was gone.
Then, maybe in an effort to see where my breaking point is, or maybe to diminish the possibility of such a shocking outcome, I go through them one by one. What if Owen was really sick and I lost just him. Would the kids and I stay in this house? How could I live without our nightly prattle, our recap, our familiar intimacy? I wouldn’t know how to move forward. I would be lost. My heart would break. Then it would shatter for the kids, losing their daddy. Reserved Torie, sensitive Tommy, sweet Noah, they would have nightmares. Would I have them all sleep with me? We could just have sleepovers every night, and that way I could keep them close, folded into my fortress built from the fear of more loss. Would it be fair, though, for the burden to rest on them to collectively be my proverbial blankie?
What if it was a child that we lost, or more than one of my children, all of them? What if Owen lived and they were gone? Could we survive that? Could we stay in this house while all the evidence of them remained and their absence severely palpable? I don’t think I could stay, but I surely couldn’t leave. I’d be frozen, immobile. How would we survive that? What a terrible fate to consider.
I realize then that stinging tears are trickling down my cheeks. It’s hard for me to breathe. My head aches. The pain in my chest is too much to bear. Then I look in the mirror. My reflection is a depressing semblance of me, frowning and pained. I’m ashamed, for more than one reason, even though no one has witnessed my tragic, unnecessary, morbid game of fictional loss. Sometimes the game feels all too real.
I close my eyes and say aloud, "It's not real. It's not real," and suddenly, I feel a warm draft envelop me. As I come back to the moment from my twisted imagination, I am reminded that my worry is a waste of precious time.
It takes roughly five minutes to talk myself completely off the ledge. I make every effort to get lost in my primping, to shift in focus from weariness to work, from ancient guilt to practical resolve. My shift is successful.
A few minutes later, hair dried and loosely curled, fancy French scarf in place, mug of mint tea and favorite lemon-blueberry scone in hand, I exit through the cluttered laundry room to pile into my Suburban in the garage.
There are at least a dozen things I could stop and do along the way: empty trash, stamp bills, check messages, fold towels, etc., but momentum propels me out of the house, worry left behind, and to Seaside City Hall - my place of employment since shortly before Victoria was born. Today is a work day and I can’t be late. There is much to do and I envision my list growing as I turn the key in the ignition. At that exact moment, I leave the mom-wife job at home and transition to Human Resources Specialist.
Before children, I was an executive recruiter with status, a company car and more airline miles than I could use, particularly since my career left no time for any real sort of vacation. Now, I am a part-time recruiter and trainer, employed by the City of Seaside in the Recreation Department. It’s my job to search for and train the finest parks and recreation staff around, stocking our city with services and resources for every resident. My move included a significant downgrade in hours and rank and a substantial upgrade in balance.
The drive is quick but scenic. Lush hills and an abundance of transplanted trees thoroughly nourished with recent rains, line my path. I navigate the empty roads amidst a thick layer of fog and mist creeping in from the nearby coast, and I am reminded of a scene from a Stephanie Meyer novel, sans appealing vampire coven. My music is turned up really loud, and lends to the mysterious mood as I steer through round-abouts and stop signs on my way to the main drag that will take me straight to work, albeit a little too fast.
Almost there I get a text: “Left message for doctor. Please don’t stress. ~O” With that, I attempt to let the worry go. I make my final turn into the parking lot, find a spot, turn off the car, apply a coat of pearly gloss to my lips and sing a few lines from one of my favorites by The Killers: “Let us be in love, let’s do old and gray, I won’t make you cry, I will never stray, I will do my part, let us be in love tonight.”
I leave my worries in the passenger seat and head out into the heavy drizzle from a sky that threatens rain. There’s no place better to escape than work. Or so I think.