A Short Story:
The gray morning starts with a half-awareness of sleeping in too late, and knotted cramps pulsing from her pelvic area. Blurry-eyed she looks at the digital alarm clock. An 8:05 jumbles and eventually comes into focus.
"I should have gotten up earlier" is, of course, her first fully-formed thought of the day. Still optimism, stubbornly sticking around, like the electric bill that can never quite get totally paid off, pipes up:
"Yeah, but the house is still quiet".
And so it remained for nineteen more seconds.
Little Caroline, her blond mass of fair hair, always mysteriously teased out around her face and head without the aid of hair products, strikes Leah how much she resembles "Thing One and Thing Two" from Cat in the Hat.
Early morning bathroom formalities would have to wait.
The toddler stretches out little arms and Mama immediately stoops and obliges. Leah lets out a sigh of relief, as in one deft move Caroline gets placed up on her hip- tiny strong legs clamp down around her stomach and back. Caroline's blue underwear-ed butt nestles into the familiar bone of her hip and, for a pleasant change, it IS NOT wet and foul smelling.
This is a bonus.
Down the still darkened steps they stiffly go.
She flicks the lights on in her stuffy kitchen.
Starbucks and generic- brand fruit loops must be promptly addressed.
Leah smiles holding the glossy highest-priced coffee in her left hand, and the cardboard box of absolute-cheapest cereal in her right.
"Well I deserve it" she says out loud.
Before the coffee is done sputtering and dripping, three other underwear-clad blond girls of various heights, developments, and early morning temperaments noisily spill into the tiny kitchen. This kitchen was never meant to contain five persons comfortably.
It's loud. The kitchen she spent so much time cleaning the night before so she could have that distinct pleasure of seeing a clean kitchen first thing in the morning is a mess within minutes.
Also within minutes, Leah makes the sudden and pivotal decision to tell Isabelle and Sophie, her 4th and 3rd grader prospectively, exactly what PMS means. Followed up by a pleading, tired request:
"So could you please keep it quiet, and help out a little today. Daddy is getting home late and I really need your help".
Two hours and six breakfasts later, Leah trudges back up the same dimly lit stairs to start a load of moist pee- soaked pink sheets and quilt. The musty pile has been sprawled out on her bathroom floor in front of the washing machine since yesterday morning. The cursed machine is not working properly again. Leah needs to take a gamble that if she divides it into two smaller loads maybe it will actually spin out this time.
She opens her bedroom door to find her eldest standing, wide-eyed just inches from the threshold.
"Whathca' doin?" Leah asks, eyebrow raised, scanning her daughter's face for clues. She can't quite read Isabelle's face. It is not guilt, exactly. Any mother worth her salt can instantly pin that look down.
Its a quick-chirped reply. She then rushes past her, grinning.
Peering into her bedroom it is instantly obvious that something is amiss:
The bed is made.
Done better than the three times her husband has attempted.
A sunny bright card and jaunty glass vase of garden flowers sit proudly, angled just so, on her night stand.
From down the hall, the watching and waiting gift-giver announces loudly:
"The other beds are done too!"
Leah later discovered upon yanking the dryer door open that Isabelle took out and put away the last load of laundry. (You know, the one that never gets put away.)
Leah is amazed. And touched. After the "thank you's" ,"I love you's", and hugs, the day; in its routines, its common tasks, continues, as days must.
Later, Leah is once again in her bedroom. Card and bouquet still smiling at her. She begins to feel that pang of guilt. She should do or say more. After all, that was a lot of work; and done with so much heart and tender compassion. Over praise and excessive affection has never been a tendency that she has indulged. (Excessive praise and mush leads to children thinking the world revolves around them, she tells herself). As such, Leah knows that there have been times when she should mush a little more.
Mulling this over she mindlessly puts Caroline's now clean and weighty quilt on the clothes-line. It is strung just outside her bedroom window. Then the phrase passes through her mind:
"What Would Evelyn Do?"
That little phrase started as a little joke between her and her husband, as both of them read the inspiring memoir of Evelyn Ryan. A plucky mother and writer of catchy poems and jingles, raising ten children in the 1950's. She would take a typical domestic/parental issue, whether funny, horrible, or horribly funny, and creatively spin a clever jingle, poem, or anecdote out of it.
And then, after the last inch of soft cotton gets pinned to the clothes line, Leah walks deliberately into her daughter's cluttered, still childish bedroom.
She writes her a thank you poem using some lined paper sitting atop her tiny, glitter-encrusted writing table. She spends time sizing and centering it to another piece of floral decorative card stock, also lying on her table.
After all; pretty matters.
The words, simple and rhyming, came easily.
Reading it over again and satisfied, she props her ode in the soft worn arms of "lamby", Isabelle's favorite plush lamb, that has belonged to her literally since birth.
With in a few minutes this is what Isabelle found and read:
My Isabelle Dear,
today you made sweeter
because you were here
My Isabelle Love,
today you made neater,
you took that forgotten load
and gave it a good shove
My Isabelle Extraordinaire,
you are my sweet big girl
who does everything with flair
Simple acts. Taking the time. Drinking it in. Tiny, almost in-perceivable flowers that bloom among all the mire and muck of housework, laundry, and toddler excrement. The privilege of being that guiding hand to humans who so want to be taught, who want to please. Little un-finished people who need the feminine potters' hand to smooth and pour, break and create.
That is divinity, disguised in the common.
That is a Mother.
* The memoir mentioned above about Evelyn Ryan is from the book The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan.