I crave the satisfaction of being able to check something off of my to do list. Anything. I am bouncing around the house trying to pick up the scatter of clutter that easily accumulates with each passing minute, while never quite rejoicing in the victory of having an entire room clean. There is still one thing left to do that leads to another and another. I cleaned the babies’ room, but the mess of clothes is still sitting on the dresser; I cleaned the kitchen but there is still a rack of dishes to dry and put away. I sit in my room, trying to get into writing mode. My headphones are in tact, cancelling out the chaos that is my husband and my children trying to navigate a world I am absent from, even if for just an hour. My headphones block the after school chatter, the toddlers demanding to watch TV, Josh taking over the kitchen and I am hiding from the chaos. All of it – centered on our disorganized family in our disorganized little life. What is it like to have four kids? Complete fucking chaos, all the time. My corner of our house, my room, is a complete cluster of clothes that I keep putting off organizing – just like everything else.
To be absolutely clear: I need to write like I need to breathe. Inhale and exhale the words onto the page, a release of expression, aaah so freeing. I say anything I want. As I am still navigating my way through this new life, I take pride in the evolution of the process. But seriously, how do I ever find any time to write? I actually get this question quite often. I have four kids and as many jobs, and routine dedication to writing is an ongoing attempt to manage my sanity, to compress my anxiety and filter out the toxic thoughts. I fear the person I will become if I don’t write. (The person I was). Write in the morning. I tell myself. Write at night. Write while the kids are eating lunch, write while they are playing outside. In reality, I scamper through my house with my notebook tucked under my arm, trying to jot a few things down, hopeful for a prompt for later or a feeling that just needed to come out.
I am suddenly very aware of my hair. I tilt my head to the side and run my fingers through it as my thought process begins to rev up, like an old car on a snowy morning. I twirl a strand around my thumb and slide my index finger around the smooth edge created by my knuckle. The rhythm of writing begins as my pen dances along the page in the same speed of twirling hair. One hand writes and the other twirls hair. That is how I think, how I navigate through my cluttered brain. I imagine my mom is sitting in her chair watching reruns of King of Queens doing the same thing. Thinking. Twirling. Thinking. We really need to stop doing that, she says out of habit for as long as I can remember. I am suddenly very aware how long my hair has gotten. It is always getting too long, it grows way too fast. I am ready for a cut, a change. It is a scarf, a means to hide things, a security blanket I have been wearing for a while now. I stop writing for a minute and make an appointment at the salon.
Toddler Vs. Teenager
Layla: Jackson Stop!
Jackson: DA! DA! DA!
Layla: Oh my God. You are so annoying
Jackson and Cece fight pretty often. I am used to their fights. They usually start with food or toys. Jackson has it, she wants it, and he won’t share. She, now quick and agile, manages to outsmart him and get it. He screams. I grab it and hand it back. She throws herself on the ground in defeat. I split the food or find another toy and they calm down only to repeat this scenario five minutes later. My day is filled with meltdowns. Trying to be one of those moms that limit their kids’ TV time to a responsible eight hours, I have had enough of fire fighting dogs and high-pitched mice, and I turn it off. Meltdown. Jackson yells “NOOO my Paw Patrol. My TV.” “NO! Paw-po-tay!” Cece echoes as they turn the meltdown toward me.
Layla and Liv fight pretty often. I am used to their fights. It usually starts with “she is hurting my feelings” or “she won’t talk to me.” It turns into hushed hissing at each other and sometimes full out wrestling. I am often a character in their bickering. “Look you hurt Mom’s feelings” like I am some delicate little flower that can’t handle their little spats. (Some days I am). Honestly, all I really want is for them to unload the dishwasher. When they aren’t fighting they are really weird and giggly. Like they have a million inside jokes that I just don’t get. They are sitting on the couch, laughing, and watching some YouTube video. They are talking back and forth so much and so fast I can barely understand a word they are saying. Are they talking about people at school? Or a show they watch. “She has had like four ex boyfriends since the beginning of the year. But he is a pure child. I was starting to like them, and ship them but…” gibberish to me. Jackson and CeCe are playing on the floor. They have a little game of looking at each other and yelling “DA” followed by hysterical laughter. I sit in my recliner, the perch of motherhood, smiling at the chaotic life that I created.
The Running Dead
So I run now- it is four days official as I continue this path to some sort of self-discovery. Or I am on my first of many a midlife crisis. I keep trying to come up with these organic opportunities to release all the stress, negativity and toxicity that tend to creep up. After failed attempts to join a gym, get to a yoga class, find an at home workout program or diet that I can actually stick to, I decided to give this approach a try. If anything, I get a toddler free half hour out of it. I shut the front door to my house tucking my phone into the front of my sweatshirt ready to start this new challenge in the misty chill the beginning of December brings,
The air is preparing for snow as I start my warm up walk through my neighborhood. The last reminisce of fall still cling as dead leaves are piled on the curb and crunching under my feet. A few pumpkins remain on front porches finally starting to rot (mine included). The loud hum of the main road becomes more and more distant as I near the cemetery at the end of the street. Yes, my neighborhood backs into a cemetery. A literal “dead end” we like to say. (never gets old). I was a skeptic about moving right next to the dead but as Josh pointed out “at least they are quiet”.
“Begin Running” the Ap instructs. I pick up the pace entering the cemetery. There is a brisk and damp mist in the air that press against my face. It wasn’t quite cold enough to hurt yet. I wait for my body to reject running and make up excuses to start walking before the ap advised. Oddly, it welcomed it like an old friend, one I haven’t seen in years. It had been at least four years since I last attempted to be a runner again. It started with a decision (over alcohol) to run a half marathon. With just over four months to learn the craft, I was able to run for ten miles without feeling like I would explode. Then I ran thirteen miles, which ended my serious running phase. Running and I broke up after that only to have the occasional flame rekindling over the years.
“Begin Walking” she says again as I slow my pace and take the path that boarders the woods. A squirrel is sitting on one of the gravestones fumbling with opening a nut not knowing a life is buried under it. The old stones paint pictures of the lives they represent. Abigail: wife of Jonathan, mother of Peter and Elizabeth. Aged thirty-six years, two months and three days: February 3, 1892. I love to read and pronounce the names out loud. As saying it somehow brings them back to life if just for a second. So many stones, with one-line phrases that represent an entire life. Grimes: I told you I was sick.
“Begin Running” I welcome back the old friend. This time I am a gazelle; light on my feet gliding along the path. The rustling of the trees reveals a little smirk. Abigail is rolling her decomposed eyes in amusement. Ok, I admit. Probably more like a T-Rex; my elbows firmly tucked as I stomp along the path, trying not to put all the weight on the back of my feet.
“Begin Walking” My arms still swing like wide scissors darting out of my shoulders. I am getting the stride as I rhythmically walk to the music -Band of Horses (as always). The melancholy tone of the music mixes with the melancholy grey fall day reminding me of why the typical “workout” mix wasn’t motivating me. I start to sing along.
“To the outside; the dead leaves lay on the lawn. For they don’t have trees to hang upon. At every occasion I’ll be ready for the funeral. At every occasion once more its called the funeral”
I sing with the comfort and confidence that no one is around to hear and pause to smile at the obvious irony between the lyrics and my surroundings. If I can awkwardly run then I can awkwardly sing. I convince myself satisfied with the stretch I gave my voice.
“Begin Running” I position my inner gazelle again, tightening my posture. With twenty pounds of baby weight left to lose, it is impossible not to feel like a bloated version of my former self. I am trying to love my new squishier body but the closet of clothes I can’t wear is not cooperating. There is a fight between my leggings and my jeans. My leggings are telling me to accept and love my new size while my jeans are telling me to work harder and lose the weight. I am running, and appreciating the stress and anxiety release I was so desperately craving. I decide I need variety in my wardrobe, jeans and leggings working together not against each other. I don’t care about the weight. I am so tired of the years of self-body shaming. It started when I started “developing” in the fifth grade and has been the enemy of my self confidence ever since. I am not a T-Rex! I tell the dead.
I continue through the series of running and walking and start to feel the calming. This too shall pass. I ritualistically remind myself. I am surrounded by reminders of death: decaying trees, crumbling tombstones and the community of people buried beneath me. I am also surrounded by life: birds flying overhead, squirrels scampering about and an obese mushroom growing on the side of a tree. There is a newer headstone decorated for the season. I small Christmas tree with bright bulbs and garland sits in front of a giant wreath. “Dad” one of the many words used to describe the person under the decorations; and an Ohio State logo to further paint the image of the life that some family valued so much.
So I run now: through the cemetery a few times a week. It is for a lot of health benefits: physically, mentally and spiritually. Maybe I will stick with it this time. Maybe I will lose weight. Maybe I will finally just accept whatever size I am. I pass a group of women as I exit the cemetery. “Looking good!” one of them yells out. “You too! All of you.” I say smiling.