Family pile

I rarely sew, but today I was attempting a simple construction that involved 4 straight seams. While I was attempting this, my daughter was playing in the room with me and my son announced that he was going to ‘mop your floor, mommy, since you cleaned up all the clothes and stuff.’

So we were doing the ‘Leave it to Beaver’-perfect-Americana thing, until my daughter pulled a piece of fabric off the sewing table and dumped about 500 straight pins on the floor. I stopped my sewing and got on the floor to help her pick them up, hoping that we would get them all before she or my son stepped on any of them. Meanwhile, he came in and announced that my room was closed while the floor dried, and then he went back to his ‘job’.

When the pins were cleaned up, she went in to join him and I went back to seam construction. And then, the sewing machine broke. Just broke. The bobbin holder just popped loose. I fiddled with it, cursed a bit, tried a screwdriver to unhook the plate…but all with no success. Sighing, I went in my room to get my phone to call a friend, hoping I could borrow her machine to finish my simple project.

And that’s when I smelled it…opened the door and saw it. All over the floor. My beloveds had used a homemade salt/ olive oil body scrub and a family heirloom shoe brush to clean the bedroom floor. A pint of it. There were blobs of salt and slime everywhere. And two smiling children in the midst of it.

I could see the streaks on the floor, not permanent but drying stickily. I could imagine the length of time it was going to take to clean an oil based product from the floor. I could feel the chunks of salt under my bare toes and wondered how long I would be tracking them around.  I could hear the slippity-clunk as the kids tried to walk across the floor and fall down. And I could see two bright brown eyes and a gap from two missing teeth beaming at me. ‘Do you like it, mommy?’

No, no I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the mess, the clean up, the frustration. I didn’t like the talk that we were going to have to have. I didn’t like the long evening that was shaping up in front of me. I didn’t like the anger that was boiling up inside of me, when all they wanted to do was help. I didn’t like any of it.

But his little brown eyes are so much like my own, that through them I could see back in time thirty years when I wanted to clean my mom’s car really thoroughly, so I used Pine Sol. I can still see the swirls of stripped wax on the dark gray surface. I can still see the flames of anger in my dad’s eyes. I can still hear my mom’s preparatory explanation to him. I can still feel the imbalance of doing a good surprise deed and asking for permission to help.

So I said, through tears of my own, ‘It was a really nice thing for you to do, buddy. It was really kind of you to want to clean my floor. Next time, let’s just stick with water, though.’

Because my husband had come home, I sent the kids downstairs with him so that I could clean up the mess and have a little decompression time. And when I finished and went downstairs, they were all cuddled up on the couch looking at a book about boats. My son asked my daughter, ‘Which boat do you want to be in?’ My daughter squeezed her dad’s arm and said, ‘Whichever one daddy’s in.’ When my son realized I was standing there, he exclaimed,  ‘Look, mom, we’re a family pile!’

‘Family pile’ is a term we use when we’re all piled up together on the couch. And I realized that the evening could’ve turned out a whole lot differently. There could have been yelling and crying and taking away of privileges. There could’ve been impulsive reactions instead of slow, thoughtful ones. Rather than wanting to be on the same boat together, we could’ve all wanted to sail far away from each other…and the pain that we had caused.

I am not a great parent. I know that. But tonight, I’m a happy parent. We will have to discuss some boundaries within the coming days. We will talk about what is acceptable to do when mom’s not around and when permission is needed. And even those rules will get broken. I will yell and I will make my children cry another day. I know that. But tonight, I didn’t. Tonight, we are a sloppy, messy, sticky, loving family pile.

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