Because I said so, that’s why.


I sat on the back porch swing and watched fireflies chit chat while the bluetooth case of my IPhone occasionally flashed hello in return. At least I’m hoping it was a hello. I’d hate to think I’d confused them.

My Kindle screen had gone dark several minutes ago. The Dude played basketball in the driveway, and I searched for subtext in each thump. My husband said the child hadn’t left the dinner table angry. That made one of us.

It was a stupid argument. His room is a yawning pit of entropy. I’m expecting those British ladies with swabs to show up any minute now to detail how many types of bacteria are festering in his carpet.

I asked him to clean it. He could have said “Sure,” ending the conversation. He wouldn’t have even had to mean it. I’m smart enough to know that an affirmative response only means he heard words coming out of my mouth. As far was listening to them and heeding them, I know there is no guarantee.

He said, “I’m busy.” I suppose it’s true at some level. He hasn’t been up before noon all week, and he disappears every afternoon to play basketball, then hangs out with his friends. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for housework.

Informing me that he was too busy to clean his room, however, felt like a kick of sand in the face. The Dude has been extremely resistant of late. Not that he ever does as I ask. He’s usually not so hostile about it.  I’m usually not so hostile in return, either. He gets around to things eventually. Today was not one of those more reasonable days.

“Maybe I’m too busy to give you the keys to my car until your room is clean.” Take that, you little shit.

With my response, dinner was over and he was gone.

I told my husband that it was about respect. I was not his slave. He’s not above cleaning his room, and he can’t just expect me to do everything for him. What a load of hooey.

The firmament my son and I stand on is dividing, like one of those cartoons where the earthquake splits the earth in two sides with a deep crevasse between them. He is going away to college and I don’t get to come along for the ride. I don’t even want to. That doesn’t make the change in the power structure of our family any easier to navigate.

I remember the summer before I went away to school was much the same. My mother and I argued. She complained I was never home, there was so much to do to get ready for school, and I was being snotty and disrespectful. I thought she was being controlling, stressing over details that I didn’t care about (I mean really, do you really need to comparison shop a shower caddy), and overreacting to my supposed overreactions.

I hate it when lessons I learn as a parent result in an apology for my own adolescent behavior. I’ll add this one to the ever-growing list.

Come fall, I will be a mother without a child to mother, but for now dammit, I’m still in charge. Who told him he was his own master?

Oh wait. That would be me.

I find it ironic that after years of warning that he’d have to take responsibility for his own stuff without my supervision and now that he’s doing it, I don’t like it. It makes me feel…. irrelevant.

It doesn’t bother my husband so much. I guess there’s a reason they call them apron strings and not suspenders. He is more prepared to let go. He is also not the one that will have to don the bunny suit and clean the boy’s bedroom and bathroom after he leaves for college. Just because I’m realize the argument isn’t about the Dude’s armpit of a domicile doesn’t suddenly make it clean.

As the day faded away, so did my anger–enough to let it go and move on. When I came in, the Dude was busy watching television. I could have cleaned my own bedroom. Instead, I sat down and watched along with him.

These next few weeks will be difficult, but I’ll make it a little easier by giving up the idea that I have control over anything, least of all my son. When the time comes for him to leave, we can fall into the crevasse, or we can use the time we have to build a bridge. As long as his bedroom stays on his side we’re good.

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It’s a relationship of convenience, but it works for me.

roombaI swear it’s love. All I have to do is push a button, lie back, and you do all of the work.

Call me a giver.

Oh my darling Roomba. How you’ve changed my life.

Can you help me out here? I’m stuck under the dresser. I got in. There has to be a way to get out.

Some people say you are just an appliance, but what we share is so much greater than that.

What the hell is that?! I don’t want to know. Repeat the mantra. Don’t look, just sweep. Don’t look, just sweep.

Thanks to you, what was once sullied is now clean. Chaos has become harmony.

Thanks to you my tank is always full. Really, my tank is full. Could you empty it already? Honestly, how are your cats not bald? I could knit a sweater with what I pick up your bedroom alone.

You even put yourself away.

Speaking of the cats, where are they? Just when they think they’re safe under the bed. Hel-lo kitty! It never gets old. I swear I have more intelligence than they do.

I never knew it could be like this.

I’m glad you’re happy. Seems like all I do is run into walls. I’m tired. Crap. Extension cord. Let go, you Neanderthal.

I’ll tell you what. When you’re done, I’m happy to push the dock button.

How big of you. Our relationship is a little unbalanced, don’t you think?

I’m not sure what I can do about that.

Lock me in a room with the cats. And dress them in shark suits.

Can I watch?

You’re a sick woman.

If that’s true, perhaps you could bring a few friends into our little love nest? A drone that dusts, perhaps, or a Zamboni that picks up all the stuff my family leaves behind?

Yeah. I’ll get right on that.

Just make sure you keep me happy.

Is that a threat?

Have you seen the Fitbit lately?

No, can’t say I have.

Neither have I. Let that be a lesson for you. It talked smack once too. Anything else you’d like to add?

Do-do-do-dooot! Your room is clean.

Oh Roomba. You say the sweetest things.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph, “Roomba” by Juliette Culver © 2010 courtesy of Creative Commons/Flickr

 

 

Walking in Martha’s Wellies

welliesI read one of those “you know you’re a writer” lists this morning. It contained items like note-taking during conversations, a plethora of books and common use of words like plethora.  Many of the items had to do with avoiding housework.  I take this part of writer-dom very seriously. As I write this post, the Roomba hums around the living room and I am at peace.

Still, I like lifestyle Becky Homecky magazines like Martha Stewart Living. I like to imagine I live in these calm and peaceful spaces, where I change the decor each season and have massive flower arrangements in every room. I’d love to have a plank table in my barn/outdoor kitchen and a vegetable garden that looks like Versailles. In my imaginary world, I’d do nothing to create these spaces. They would just exist, perennially clean.

This kind of life is far too much work. I know this because every month I walk through Martha Stewart’s calendar. In each issue of Living, she provides a two-month view just before the table of contents. She is preparing to start her annual and perennial seeds in her greenhouse. I am not.

According to her schedule, I am behind, no surprise. Saturday, I was supposed to be enjoying the winter weather by taking a hike. I personally enjoy the winter weather by going someplace warm, like Florida. That isn’t going to happen, so I’ll settle for hibernating in sweats until April.

In fact, I don’t undertake most tasks on Martha’s calendar, like rotating my mattress, baking brioche or fixing tears in the burlap around my boxwood bushes. I do not get rid of damaged firewood. How exactly can firewood be damaged? It’s already dead, right?  I’m sorry, this wood is too flawed to burn. Okay. I do not need an entire day to walk my property, or monitor my citrus trees. And don’t even start with servicing the snowplow. My husband creates enough work for me as it is.

So what is it that draws me to this calendar month after month? I suppose it’s like writing. For the time it takes for me to drink a cup of coffee, I can live instead someone else’s head. What are her priorities? What makes her tick?

Do I think this is Martha’s actual calendar? Not one bit. Her true calendar is much more crowded with a lot more pressing duties than Make Valentines with Grandchildren. But the fact that she chooses this item to show tells me something, just like letting us all know her dog’s birthday is in February.

My calendar looks more like write, write, practice, run, write some more and cook dinner before Orchestra rehearsal. Tomorrow will look very much the same. I will sic the Roomba on another area of the house. I will have coffee with my favorite people on the planet. I will Tweetchat with my writer friends about our goals for the year, and I will avoid housework. Just like Martha, my life is full.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I must go make chicken stock and mend my sweaters. I need to finish before I can force my forsythia and crab-apple branches to bloom. What’s on your calendar today?

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph, “My Wellies” by Rivacrekennels © 2007 Creative Commons/Flickr

You can always turn around

chicken brothMy son got his learner’s permit in late October.  It has created an interesting shift in responsibilities. The dude chauffeurs me around for a change. Of course, he still wishes that we had a cooler car than a Prius, but beggars can’t be choosers. He keeps debating what kind of car his father and I should get him. He doesn’t seem to notice that he is only debating by himself.

I have to admit, the dude is a good driver. I was kind of worried what he’d be like. I’ve seen him play Need for Speed. I should have known, however, that his need to follow rules and regulations would trump all in the end. So now, he points out every time I’m speeding. He knows I can’t very well complain. I guess it’s better than having a reckless kid that sends my blood pressure soaring every time he get the keys in his hands, but he doesn’t have to be so self righteous about it. Apparently my husband doesn’t use his turn signal. My son is also a tattle-tale. It makes me feel better, so I don’t discourage it.

He was driving me to Dunkin’ Donuts on Saturday morning. This is a favorite destination of his. It takes us down a multi-lane road, generally filled with traffic. It’s good practice. As we’re driving home, a car slid over from the right lane into a barely car-sized slot between my son and the car ahead of him, then over into the left turn lane just as a the car ahead of us was merging into the same location. They avoided an accident, but my son was rattled by it.

“When you are driving,” I said, “there is little you can undo except for an accident. There’s always another route, and worst case, you can always turn around. It may take time, but burning time doesn’t hike your insurance rate and put you in traction.” I told him to take a deep breath. “The calmer you are, the more options you see.”

Later that day, as I was cooking dinner, distracted and stressed, instead of picking up my wine glass, I picked up the measuring cup and took a swig of chicken broth.  In the grand scheme of kitchen errors, this one was more unpalatable than disastrous. I can’t help but think, however, about my earlier advice, to just slow down.

Sometimes I wonder if we feel so rushed not because of how much time we spend doing things, but because of how we spend the time. If we were to relax and breathe through the moments of the day, how much less would we really accomplish? Perhaps even more. I certainly would know the difference between a measuring cup and a wine goblet. I didn’t know I could execute a spit take.

I want to accomplish a great deal this year. I have big plans. At the same time, however, I want to sow serenity. I don’t think they have to be mutually exclusive. One is a matter of “what” and the other is a matter of “how.”

I’m not saying it will be easy. I move at a fast pace. I talk fast, I work fast, I move fast. I don’t walk, I run. Even when it hurts. It gets me home sooner. It also got me a mouthful of chicken broth.

There’s always another route.

You can always turn around.

The calmer you are, the more options you see.

Take a deep breath.

Dream big, take it slow, and look before you drink something.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by William Jones © 2009 Creative Commons