Thursday, July 16, 2009

Caroline Ingalls, How Did You Do It?

The difficulty level fluctuates. "Captain, we have a fluctuation in the difficulty level!"

Some times, like now, this is a pretty fantastic life. Eight am, I have coffee and am sitting at the kitchen table watching the chickens scratch under the bird feeder, where a goldfinch is having his breakfast. The sun is shining and the house is quiet except for the kittens wrestling in the mud room.

Other times, the responsibilities are overwhelming and I miss Gabe so bad and the kids are driving me insane and I just want to burst into tears and run away. Yesterday early afternoon was like that. Jez woke from a very short nap, crying and cranky as usual after nap, and Noelani brought her out to the garden and tried to hand her off to me. I had barely started weeding the empty bed where I planned to belatedly plant some potatoes, and had just been looking around in the garden at all the other things that needed to be done up there. More raspberries to pick. Tomatoes to stake. Grapes to whack back.

I slouched out of the garden and gathered the kids to me, sitting on the grass on the side of the house next to the huge pile of crap I'd removed from the van earlier: tons of wet camping gear from the rain at Burning Beast Sunday night, plus clothes, shoes, and the other usual car detritus (I'd vacuumed the van out that morning). I proceeded to inform the kids, specifically Noelani, just how much work there was to do and how I was not able to keep up with it all and feeling overwhelmed.

"Everywhere you turn your head, there are things that need to be done. Here's this pile of stuff to be dried out and put away. There's the garden with more berries to pick. The front yard is strewn with toys, clothes, and Jezebel's discarded diapers. [She still hasn't stopped taking them off every few minutes.] The kitchen's a disaster, the house is a mess, and there are piles of dirty laundry everywhere."

Noelani sat quietly and looked at me. I'm not sure what she thought I was trying to tell her. I didn't realize until writing this that I wanted comfort: I wanted someone to say "It's ok, you're doing your best, you're doing a good job [ha ha], you'll get a handle on it, don't worry." Noelani didn't say this, and I guess that's best; when you're down to having your 10-year-old reassure you that you're doing a good job, that's pretty low.

I keep thinking of two books: Little House in the Big Woods and Little Altars Everywhere. Laura Ingalls' Ma could raise three kids AND keep house, make clothes, grow veggies, cook, clean, milk the cow, make butter and cheese, and a zillion other things in the middle of nowhere with no friends, no family, no help, no blog, and no relief in sight. Here I am 150 years later and I can't do half that shit.

When I look around with that overwhelmed feeling like I can't breathe and the kids are screaming and I don't know where to start or how to do it, I think in fear of the mother in the other book: Vivi. She washed away her housewife and motherhood stresses with plenty of gin and pills. Ok, don't freak out, I'm not doing that, but I still feel like I've got to keep a death grip on my basket or I may drop it.

(In the book, Vivi has a breakdown and is sent to an institution; she later refers to this as the time that she "dropped her basket.")

What am I saying this for? Just documenting the difficulty level fluctuation? I don't know.

In other news, Gabe bought a truck. It's a 1966 Chevrolet pickup truck which has recently had all new everything put in: new transmission, brakes, and new engine with just 15,000 miles on it. The clutch is so tight I can barely shift, and overall the tranny is just about the exact opposite of the Tortuga's, which means it'll take some getting used to.

The Tortuga's for sale, and we've had quite a number of bites on it so far. Of course, we had to get the diesel leak fixed first. That's costing a grip. It's still in the shop getting that done, so of course I can't show it or sell it til we get it back; on the other hand, we can't pay for the repairs til we sell it. Catch-22.

Gabe stayed in the city Tuesday night and will stay tonight too. He's sleeping at Terrill's, which is very convenient to the new shop. But last night when he drove home in the new truck, audible long before it was visible, the kids went running up calling "Daddy, Daddy!" before he even had the door open. Then they wanted to sit in back.

Oops, quiet morning's over. Jezebel's siren call.

1 comment:

  1. Your frustration got me to thinking, and I think you're being too hard on yourself. First of all, in Caroline Ingalls' day, the kids would have been fully capable members of the household from a very young age. None of this precious, precious childhood we now offer. Noelani would have been doing the laundry and baking the pie for dinner and hauling the water from the crick a half-mile away. And she'd know better than to dally long enough that she had to be *reminded*. Rhone would certainly be old enough to feed the chickens, pick the berries, and put the laundry away. The school year was designed with farming season off because the kids were needed at home, and come fall, they'd close school for harvesting days too. Beyond that, Caroline and Pa and the kids probably lived in a house 1/4 the size of the one you're living in, and with about 1/100th the amount of stuff to tend. When you each own the equivalent of 2 dresses, 2 petticoats, a pair of shoes and a pair of boots, there's very little laundry. And the laundry gets done weekly, not daily. Pa didn't go off to Microsoft for 10-12 hrs every day, he was on the farm tending to the livestock and repairing the barn. There were few toys, books were almost unheard of outside of the family bible, there were enough plates for each person and maybe a guest, and meals were simple and, depending upon the season, likely spare too. So unless you're going to return to the prairie simplicity -- and you're planning to *really* put the kids to work -- you have a lot more to deal with then Caoline Ingalls did. And we thought all those appliance were going to free us.