“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…” I hummed the familiar jingle from Mister Rogers’ old t.v. introduction.
Outside, the rain and wind hurried colorful leaves to the ground. The overcast morning caused several children to sleep in. I took the brief extra moments to plan chores and cooking. Rainy Autumn days just beg for soup to be simmering.
I dove into the day. Make food, discipline boys, change diapers, homeschool, discipline, clean up, color, make food, change diapers, yell, laugh, whisper, do laundry, clean bathrooms, read books, homeschool, clean up, discipline, clean up, nap time, read books, discipline, clean up, make food, discipline, discipline, clean up… We made it to about 4 in the afternoon without too much catastrophe. It was a good day, by all accounts.
But of course, the flip side of a rainy Monday is a lot of cooped up boys. They would happily have gone outside to play in the mud, but I opted for the cleaner choice. The t.v. babysat while I made the evening meal. The baby fussed, the two year old followed me around the kitchen. The older boys kicked each other on the sofa, unable to keep all their pent up energy in maintenance mode.
I threw leftovers into a pot for chicken soup. We had so many variegated carrots the boys had picked from grandma’s garden that I threw more stock into another pot for ginger carrot soup. It sounded ambitious. In a negative way. I hoped the many carrot colors wouldn’t make it turn out brown. Dishes started to fill the sink. The two year old helped me refill the k-cup collection stand so we’d have coffee available. I stood up to peel carrots. He emptied k-cups onto the floor while my back was turned. The baby fussed again. The others had started a sofa cushion jousting tournament. A loud one. It was all fun and games until someone poked someone else’s eye. I went in to referee. The noodles in the chicken soup overcooked. The two year old pulled the folded laundry out of the basket and tipped the basket over his head. “Woar,” he growled. “I’m a wy-on. Woar.” The four year old took up the roaring lion’s challenge and poked a plastic sword through the laundry basket bars. “You’re dead.” He announced without emotion. All in a day’s work. The lion screeched protest. I heard snickering in the kitchen. “Put the cover back on the salt shaker!” I hollered to the six year old in the next room.
I sighed. I had been at my sister-in-law’s house several days before. She had a baby even younger than mine. But her house didn’t smell like diapers. There wasn’t a ninja turtle climbing any of her houseplants with nun chucks . There probably weren’t used socks in her crayon drawer either. And I’d never seen a lego tower on her bathroom sink. I try, really I do. But my house just seems so darn full, I can’t seem to ever get it calm and pretty.
The carrot soup turned a burnished shade of brown. “It’s a beautiful day for a neighbor… Would you be mine?” Mister Rogers crooned in my head again. The two year old clambered over to my feet and hugged my ankles. “Up. Mom. Up.” He demanded. He’d been pretty cranky recently. Was it just having a new baby in the house? Or just being a two year old? Or did it mean he needs brain surgery? They’re all viable possibilities for him. I picked him up; he helped me stir the pot. “Smells good, Mom.” He commented encouragingly.
I’ve got lots of neighbors, Mister Rogers. I thought. They leave plastic power rangers in my fridge. Good thing they are cute. (My little neighbors. Not the power rangers.) I ran into the bathroom quickly to try to freshen up and smell less like sour milk before Daddy got home. (Why is it that the baby can smell so tantalizing after nursing, while I smell like curdled cream?) There was no toilet paper on the roll. I saw why. It was all in the toilet. I ran to the other bathroom for the plunger. After mopping up the floor, I remembered to wash my hands before hiking the baby over my shoulder and returning to the over-cooked noodle soup. Daddy walked in the door. Shoot, I had forgotten about trying to smell clean and look nice. He kissed me anyway. Minutes later, he was out the door again, guitar in hand. I went back to single mom mode, hollering orders and splattering soup on my lap as I nursed the baby and shoveled in brownish carrot broth with the wrong hand. “No weapons at the table!” I intoned automatically. A milk cup spilled. It dripped on me. Oh well, I already smelled like an old dairy barn. The four year old threw a few tissues on the puddle to sop it up and gleefully watched them disintegrate instead.
It often feels more like I’m taking an unguided safari though a war zone than parenting like they show it in the magazines. As my husband drove up our quiet dead end street later, most of the homes were dark, a light here and there, a television screen blue behind curtains. Our house, the one with the scooters parked haphazardly on the front lawn, was blazing with light.
Blazing with life. I tried to imagine it without this particular family for a moment. None of the infectious laughter of naturally cheerful children. No wilted bouquet of the last dandelions of the season on the dining room table. No little victories as a child practiced reading beside me. None of the uniquely personal cuddles with my infant in the dreamy stillness of night. None of the dancing music, the crayon pictures on the refrigerator, the laundry full of little jeans with hard-earned rips in the knees. The wind buffeted the house. It felt cozy inside with all my children around me, breathing sticky hot as we read bedtime books in a pile on the sofa.
This life, so full, so busy, so colorful it spilled over the lines, it seemed so unmanageable, uncontrollable, beyond my capabilities. “I love being the matriarch of this little family, but is this how it’s supposed to look?!?” I wondered in frustration. I sensed the big, warm hand of God on my shoulder. Glancing down, I realized it was mostly regurgitated milk the baby had just shared with my shirt. But the feeling of the sweet presence of God remained. “Child,” I almost heard Him whisper, “I’m the the Potter; you are my workmanship, my work of art. You think making pots out of mud is clean work? And I am the Builder, building you a house. Is good carpentry without sawdust?”
So my little plants are putting down colorful roots in the dirt. I considered it later, after they were in bed and I was finally getting to the dishes. Water swirled in the carrot soup pot. I know the Bible refers to children as olive plants, but I translated it into New England vegetation. Who wants monochromatic orange carrots when you can have a rainbow of roots? Yes, it makes for brown soup… Savory, full of health, the culmination of harvest from good dirt. Thank you, God, for brown soup.