Karen Rivers

the lazy days of summer

Karen Rivers

The Bun needs to know some things:  How do you spell FICTION?  How do you spell UPON?  Why isn't the printer working?   Who used all the yellow ink?  

But wait, The Birdy has something to say, too!  She thinks toast is DISGUSTING.  And yogurt?  Are you kidding?  It is SO GROSS and WATERY she may just THROW UP like that one time at school outside the bathroom and Joan cleaned it up.  DON'T I REMEMBER?  She wriggles around in front of her food until her foot connects (how?) with her juice glass.  Juice everywhere.  Screaming.

GET PAPER TOWEL, they yell in my direction, frozen in a tableau of two-kids-staring.  HURRY FAST!  

I run around, sweating.  F-I-C-T-I-O-N, I say.   I swab at the red juice sprawling across the white carpet square.  "We have another yellow cartridge," I say.  "You can't trade in your toast for cookies."  I say,  "Please, I just have to work for an hour.  Just one hour."  I put on the TV.  I am a bad parent.  I deliver a self-loathing lecture at myself about TV.  I wallow in that for a few minutes, that feeling, disgust.  And then I add the layer of self-loathing you can only manufacture when your last year's shorts are too tight around the waist.  I sink into my white chair and I watch the wind from the fan pushing the dog hair around on the floor that I swear, I SWEAR, I just vacuumed, and The Bun says, "How do you spell PEOPLE?" and the phone buzzes and outside the dog starts barking and I look outside to see why or what and the weeds from the garden press up against the glass and mock my inability to keep up with them and a new plant, still in its garden centre pot, topples drily to the sidewalk.  And then instead of propping up the sagging middle section of the novel that I was hoping to be done last week, I write a blog post, tallying my failures.  

1, 2, skip a few, 100.  

1, 2 buckle my shoe.  3, 4 shut the door.  5, 6 pick up sticks.  7,8 don't be late.  9,10 a big fat hen.

Normally, you don't even care about your weight.  You aren't fat.  You are fine!  Just fine.  But then, there is your stomach and the waistband of your shorts and besides, shorts show the veins in your legs and your stubble because you forgot to buy razor blades again and how can you stand yourself?  Really, how can you? 

You are doing a terrible job of all the things.  

Is she watching Hello Kitty again?  Take them outside!  What kind of mother are you?  Why are they still in their pyjamas?   Did she really just eat a frozen cookie for breakfast?   What did he just say?  What?  WHAT?  But there is water in the pool and the sun is out and the bikes are hovering at the top of the driveway, waiting to be ridden.  There are sprinklers, for god's sake, and sidewalk chalk and bubbles and inside, your kids are lying on the dog's bed, hair-covered and pyjama clad, staring at Hello Kitty on the TV and WHAT HAS GONE SO TERRIBLY WRONG NOW?

The neighbour's kids are outside, on some kind of play structure that the parents built yesterday.  I feel like there was just a competition that I have lost and I hate myself some more because there is no better use of time, of course, than wallowing in self-loathing, words that are glued together.  There is nothing else you can do with self-loathing but wallow in it.   I am in it.   Here I am.  I will send you a postcard from self-loathing.  It will say...  Well, I won't get around to writing it because I will start but then someone will say "HOW DO YOU SPELL CONSTRUCTION WORKER?"  

And here I am, annoyed and twisting comically to glower at myself, still failing, in the mirror.  

I am someone I do not want to be. 

Right now.

It's transient.  It happens.  It's normal.  It's just a bad day.  It's [insert platitude here].

It's hard, it's true.  

Summer holidays.   Juggling.  Balancing.   Teetering.

Falling.

It's easy to get confused between real life summer holidays and the summer holidays unscrolling on Facebook, the picnics and joy and happiness balanced against the off-camera whining and disappointments and skinned knees and video games and uncombed hair and pyjamas after noon.  

I just wanted to take them for a picnic at the beach, but The Bun dropped his flip flop while we waited for the burgers and shouted at me in disgust for not PICKING IT UP FOR HIM and I made The Birdy an origami hat from a napkin and it fell apart and RIGHT NOW I should fix it, but my hands are full of milkshakes and fries and I don't have a free hand and everyone is staring and there it is, validation of how it's not good enough, it should be good enough, and then people say, "Enjoy them while they are young!" and you say, "Actually, sometimes they aren't that enjoyable."

The Bun trips and scrapes a tiny spot on his shin and screams, "CALL 911 SOMEBODY!  CALL 911!"  He howls like a cow giving birth to a breach calf.  And I walk away from him and sit down on a hot cement block, facing the sun, and contemplate the veracity of the claims that hell exists.  

He gets up.  "You don't even love me," he says.

"Yes, I do,"  I say, which isn't enough, because it never is, some days. 

Mummy, they say, I want ... How do you spell GIRL? ... and why can't you?  And I need to?  And can you PLEASE come to the bathroom with me so a skeleton doesn't... and I WANT TO WATCH TV and there is a IS A WASP IN HERE and HOW DO YOU SPELL SAID?  and what I can't hear ... and SOMEONE LET THE DOG IN.

And I say, "OK, you know what?  OK."   I say, "Right is spelled R-I-G-H-T."  I say, "One more time and then really, you have to let mummy get this work done.  YOU HAVE TO LET MUMMY GET THIS WORK DONE."

"Sorrryyyyyyy," they say.  

There is a pause.

"Mum?  Mum?  MUM?  How do you spell [mumble]?"

"What?" I say.

 "[mumble]", he says.

This goes back and forth.  Finally he screams "THIS!"

"T-H-I-S," I say, giving up.  Closing the computer.  Closing my eyes.  Closing my mind to all the possible things I should be could be and am not doing.   The weeds sway in the wind and The Birdy drops cookie crumbs all over the floor, the one thing that I managed to actually clean this morning and I want to cry, but instead, I pick up the laptop.  I move upstairs.  The hum of the fan drowns out the kids' and their ...

"MUM!" The Bun yells. "HOW DO YOU SPELL OXYGEN?"

A wasp crawls out of a crack in the ceiling and hovers threatingly over my shoulder.

Some days are like that.  They just are.  This is summer and this is what it is.  There will be hikes and swimming and photos of kids, laughing.  And in between the pictures, there will be writing, jobs finished, jobs started, frustrations, shouting, weeds pulled, bee stings, falls, failures, floors cleaned once and again and again and again, and that godforsaken laundry that never stops, and just try to breathe.  

I try to remember to breathe.  

"Enjoy them while they are young!" people say and I say, "I do.  I am."  And I am not lying.

I do.  I am.

In spite of everything, I do.  And I am.  

Can that be true?

Yes.

They are so much themselves in their entitled furies, their unflappable art, their unexpected shouting laughter when you expected tears, their gentle hands touching my shoulder and saying, "Would you like a massage?  Is this good?  Are you better now?" The way they say, "I love you!" And I say, "I love you, too." And they say, "I just said that because I forgot what I meant to say." And in between HOW DO YOU SPELL HOLIDAY? and SHE PUSHED ME and HE HIT ME and SHE SAID and I SAID and HE SAID and the weeds pushing through the dirt again and again and the pages unfolding and the lives unfolding, this is it.  Really, this is what it's like, this life, unfolding, crookedly, messily, with a muffin-top pushing out the top of last year's shorts, and encroaching wasps and weeds and varicose veins and missed deadlines and that sharp slicing fear of failure, of failing at all the things, creating a red rivulet of thread that ties the tapestry together, at the end, after all.  

Isn't it beautiful?  At least, sometimes?  Occasionally?  Enough?  

With the ravens screeching in the blue collapsing sky that magnifies our world of up-closeness and inflatable pools and bike rides and thistles rising out of the lawn, tearing at the skin on all our winter-tender feet?