Behind The Door

I love this small hometown of mine. I truly do. I love my childhood memories, the comfort of belonging, the safety of well-known places and sensations, the lifelong friends as well as the recent. I love the deep abiding sense of community. This place and its people have taken care of me and mine, and I feel honored to do the same for those around us. Perhaps, because of the depth of my familiarity, I am equally aware of the degree to which none of us can every really know one another completely.

None of us really knows or understands all of what unfolds behind the doors of other people’s homes. How can we? Even with friends and family we’ve known for years, sharing the heights of celebrations and the depths of challenges, there are always dimensions in other’s lives that we simply cannot be privy to unless we reside together. Frankly, even those with whom I have the deepest affection, I don’t spend much time wondering about the unseen aspects of my friends and neighbors’ lives. I trust that what they choose to share will be right for them, that it’s up to me to care, learn and pay attention, and that together we decide whether to be in relationship – and to what degree. As for what others know of my “behind the door” life, I am as honest as there is interest and sincerity. Since I’m a fairly average person, I don’t imagine that too many folks apart from my close friends could care less about the innards of my household, so it’s always a surprise to me to discover that my life has been the topic of a conversation among people who hardly know me. Wow, I think. Someone must be either really bored or really confused (as in, you think there’s a more interesting story here than there actually is). So – for those of you who fall into one of these categories, here’s a little bit of sharing about what happens behind my door on a typical day. Hope it scratches your itch, and let me just say up front, sorry to disappoint you.

We like pie in our family, so I’ll use a pie chart to explain a 24 hour cycle in my world. My three children have effectively divided their mother (that would be me) and my time into three portions. Here’s how is goes, more or less:

The littlest one (a nine year old), gets the night-into-morning portion. After her dad moved out last spring, my youngest daughter moved into the master bedroom. One night of needing a place to recover from a bad dream became a second night, and then a third….and now every night she lies on “my side” of the bed sighing deeply in her dreams and occasionally allowing me to curl into her small warm body. When I am lonely, I am tremendously grateful for the radiance of her small spirit next to me. When I am exhausted, I fall into the blankets hoping that neither of us will disturb the other.

She is a relentless morning person. I am not. She bolts upright and looks eagerly at the clock. I do not. She has a plan; right now. I simply wish to continue sleeping. Her plan always includes speaking to me; right now. She is learning to start off softly and gently (my grumpy threats about the necessity of being nicer to mom in the morning seem to be paying off); thank goodness. Each day, we take turns making the bed – comforter up, pillows in place, and the creatures (Chestnut the lion, Alice the elephant, Dexter the mouse, and Tommy and Dixie – the pigs) all assume their lounging atop the smoothed blankets. Yesterday morning, as I placed the menagerie against the pillows and surveyed the stack of children’s books on the headboard, I felt very cranky. Where is my adulthood? I gnashed. Where is the privacy of MY bedroom? I grumbled. It was a frivolous moment – some would say a “typical American mother moment” – of wanting “my space.” For now though, this is her major third of my pie – which I willingly give (while sometimes fearfully wondering if she’ll be there until she’s eighteen? Yikes!).

My eldest, my son – claims the banker’s hours (or these days, doctor’s office hours) of each day. This is the nineteen year old whom I thought had been successfully launched into his own life. Hugged, kissed and sent off to college a year ago, he was off like a rocket! Well, Houston, we have a problem. Launch delayed due to cancer. Most days we move in parallel. He has his routine (sleeping, healing, labs, doctors appointments, girlfriend, eating, more sleeping, distractions from leukemia – like video games, buddies, books and movies) and I have mine (waking him, making sure he’s eating, taking him to the appointments, watching-listening-questioning-advocating with the docs and nurses, arguing with him about the hours he keeps, worrying about him, feeding him – and his girlfriend, learning more about leukemia than I ever would have imagined in two million years. When his blood counts are dangerously low…and they are each month in between rounds of chemo, we really don’t know from one day to the next if he might be required to stay longer at the clinic for a hemoglobin, or red cell, or white cell infusion. He is vulnerable, and his body’s responses are unpredictable. These days we’ve found that making plans is a luxury we don’t get to enjoy since the best laid plans of cancer families are often dashed. We’re not in control. Period.

I was laid off from my job not too long ago, which is what makes it possible for me to devote myself to being my boy’s primary caregiver while he weathers the chemotherapy storm he’s been in since September and will be until February. This is my new job. I feel privileged to be here for him, to witness, love, hold tender and be fierce for him. I also feel scared, for him and his life, for his sisters and their lives, for our precarious financial situation, of all of the unknowns and this feeling that everything is out of control. On days that he feels well and strong, he ventures out to act “normal” in the light of day, and I do small freelance jobs from my office here at home. It’s quiet then and a little bit lonely, but peaceful.

My middle kid, gets the afternoons and evenings. This sassy high school freshman is my soccer player, swimmer, violin playing, youth symphony girl with nearly unflagging optimism and a nearly regular smile. Back before her older brother’s cancer, her intense schedule had us all panting to keep up. Now, she manages – mostly – to navigate it on her own, except for the times she needs a ride, or an audience, or her own special witness to the passions that fill her heart. She doesn’t ask for much, which makes me want to offer her that little something extra, and she’s more helpful than not, which makes me want to hold her closely – even when the day has been longer than usual. When she arrives home I want to take more than just a moment to hear about her friendships, inquire about the school day, listen to the radio songs she’s singing along with and watch the rhythmic way she moves around the house.

Dinner comes, and my son’s sweetheart is usually with us, and we all take our places around the table. This is it. Me – with four kids and a dog – at the end of the day. I sigh. It is a grateful sigh, a tired sigh, a “this isn’t what I thought my life was going to look like” sigh, a single mom sigh, and a blessing sigh. I actually wish I could give them each a larger slice, but I’m only one pie – no matter how hard I try to be more.

This is not a horrible life. This is a blessed and beautifully complex life. This is not an idle life. This is a full and multi-faceted life. This is not a life of mystery and mischief-making. This is pretty damned straight forward and honest to the point of discomfort life. This is a life infused with love between children and mother, as well as between family and friends. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t missing being more than a mother some days. At times, I’m hungry for the unique woman I am apart from the “mother-me,” and then my kids tell me that they love me, and I figure “pie be damned.”

If you see me out without my kids in this wonderful small town of ours – alone or with a friend – then you’ve witnessed a unique and fleeting moment in my present life. And if after reading this lengthy snapshot of the ordinary life behind my front door, you still think there’s some more thrilling version that’s not being shared – go ahead and ask me whatever it is you’re curious about, or better yet – come on over and trade places with me for a couple of days. I’d appreciate the short vacation – and I can promise you – you won’t be bored.

About Martha Phelps Studio ~ creative on purpose

...a meandering journal of a changing life and the unexpected graces it brings. Earlier posts may provide some history, but this series of writings aren't likely to follow a straight line as I explore topics such as raising kids, making choices, self discovery, the impact of change on a family and how to (hopefully) live with balance and purpose.
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