AVK and the No Good, Very Bad, Terrible, Rotten Night

Right before dinner, Atticus asks me to grab his phone upstairs.  Foolishly, I leave everything out and return to the kitchen to discover Diva, our blind rescue dog, standing on the table, having devoured the sliced Porquetta I have proudly served. I yell at her.  She does not get off the table; there are too many dishes for her to find her way.  Atticus or Seth lifts her down.  I weep in frustration, wanting to slam doors and make a dramatic exit from dinner. 


I go back to my real life tomorrow, and the combination of vertigo—a new and unwelcome development—a summer of almost no writing, nursing Seth with his knee replacement, pork-eating dogs, and the idea that my holiday—such as it was—is over—makes me feel sorry for myself and then embarrassed that I am.  More pork sliced, we sit and I fuss at Atticus about his table manners for no reason except that I have veered out of control, so why not scold my son for slurping his noodles? I glare at Seth, who eats calmly, sipping dandelion wine that our friend, Andrea, gave him today for his persistent knee pain.  Atticus refuses the pork, saying he does not like its texture.  Then, he storms from the kitchen because of my correspondence with his soccer coach about pre-season.  I envy his pique and his escape, chewing mechanically, not even tasting my little pork roast.  I feel jagged, full of frayed edges. The storm I drove through this afternoon has settled inside of me, grey clouds lowering, rain pouring so fast I cannot see clearly in between the wiper swipes. It is not a great dinner. 


I take the blueberry peach crisp I’ve made from the oven and set it on the stove. Crashing around the kitchen, I bang pot lids because I can.  I will be the thunder. The crisp starts to bubble.  I have placed it on a burner that is still on.  I hate electric stoves. Upstairs, I pick up more dog poop—it has been raining for much of the afternoon and the dogs refused to go out.  Grim, I flush it and direct a few invectives at the dogs.  I drag my suitcase from a closet and lay it on a bed in a room no one is sleeping in. In the kitchen again, I toss the remaining pork—it has bad karma now.


“Why are you so angry?” Seth asks, helping me with the dishes..


Why am I so angry?


I have no answer.  I feel teary and bleary and childish, gripped in a fit of temper that holds me in its teeth.  How can I be a writer when I am not writing?  How can I lead a school when perennial challenges feel bigger than I am?  How can I plan Miranda’s wedding in this house when it would take me a decade to Marie Kondo it to my satisfaction? How can I face Seth’s next surgery in September when everyone says the recovery for a shoulder is much worse than a knee?  How can I leave Eagles Mere before I’ve seen the bald eagle, who perches in a dead tree on our side of the lake.  Each day, I promise myself I’ll remember to walk down in the afternoon to watch for him, and today it is pouring. 


“We have left undone those things we ought to have done.”  The words of this prayer I say each summer Sunday float up.


I don't like endings much.  And I don’t care for early August, and while we’re at it, I don’t like driving in the rain or the smell of cat food or dog poop in the upstairs bedrooms or the endless piles of dishes and laundry and leftovers.  I don’t like having my in-box cluttered or having the knot hole in the ceiling above my bed spin as I lie there and try to breathe through the vertigo. I don’t like that my sit-up regime lasted only until the vertigo began, with nothing to show for those two weeks of discipline.  I don’t like that piles of unread books reproach me.  And, as long as I am wallowing, I don’t like the obligation I feel to be positive, to look for solutions, to stay optimistic.  That’s my role in our family, in my life.  Moms and leaders can’t just give into self-indulgent temper—very often.


I want to feel like curdled milk, like the wet spot on the new rug that tells me Diva has found a way around going outside. 


“I’m going to my sister’s,” I spit at Seth.


“Okay,” he answers.


I walk toward the lake, mad that the days have grown shorter without my noticing and that the sky is already dark, the air cooler.


I climb my sister’s front steps, open the door and settle into a chair, listening to my niece read bedtime stories to my great-niece.  My wise sister reminds me I am juggling a lot, that it’s okay to vent. 


“I am venting to you and to Meg,” I bleat.


My sister relaxes back into the sofa. She knows how to offer refuge, how to make silence a comforter.  She doesn’t flood people with words as I do. I find a Kleenex, sniff, sip some wine, feel tears wet on my cheek.


“The fact is that I have no more to juggle than most women, and I feel so steeped in privilege that I feel wildly guilty for feeling anything other than grateful for the circumstances of my life. Self-pity is so unbecoming,” I think inside my squally self, and in my sister’s non-judgmental calm, my rage begins to melt. 


Often I tell teary girls in the school I lead, “Have your feelings.  They’re just feelings.  They will move and change.  No harm will come to you by feeling angry or stuck or helpless or mad or jealous or envious or spiteful.  It’s like the children’s book, Going on a Bear Hunt.  You can’t go under it; you can’t go over it. You just have to go through it.  All of it.”


Time to take my own medicine.  Summer is ending.  I am mad because of all I wanted to do that I haven’t done.  Mad I forgot to watch fireflies, mad not to have seen enough hummingbirds or to have de-cluttered the front hall.  Mad that my flip flops are wet through. Mad that the dogs will never really be housebroken.  Mad that people who are fifteen will sometimes be mad at their mothers—with good reason.  I walk up the hill in the damp dark, the silvery puddles reflecting street lamps. The lights on the first floor of our house glow golden against the dark wood walls, welcoming me home.  Seth is watching a movie.  Atticus returns, carrying our old gray cat.  We eat some blueberry peach crisp.  We watch the debate, candidates interrupting each other, preening like annoying birds, women being cut off.  I allow myself to feel worried, anxious, mad about the world.  Nothing bad happens. A little later, we go up to bed.  On the spool bed that was my grandmother’s, I prop myself up on pillows—a stranger at the Ben Franklin suggested it might help with the vertigo.  My yoga teacher daughter would not approve; she has taught me to sleep flat.  But up on the pillows, nothing spins. It’s okay to accept help from time to time. I sleep. 

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