“Mom, do we have to clean today?”
“Nope, no cleaning. I mean, no extra cleaning. We just have to tidy up after ourselves–like if we eat, we’ll clean those dishes,” I explain nonchalantly. It’s a bit of a lie, and by now all of us know it. Because somehow this cleaning up after ourselves seems to take most of the day. The summer is more than half over and I’m still mystified by how much work the four of us create. No sooner do we clear the couch of one load of laundry than the next fills the cracks between the cushions. Lunch dishes crowd out breakfast dishes that are nesting in last night’s supper pots. This kitchen was perfectly clean at five o’clock yesterday I’ve been known to say, hoping everyone else will realize the gravity of the situation and acknowledge the mess we make. But I don’t expect them to understand it because I certainly don’t. I’ve been looking after myself for at least 20 years now (running a household with children for the last eleven) and still don’t understand the math of household maintenance.
I do know green beans are part of the equation. Each time I pick them I feel incredibly grateful to be growing our own food. I also feel incredibly sweaty and itchy. The mosquitoes ascend like plumes of smoke, attacking my neck, wrists, and ankles as I swish through the plants. Swatting and blowing them out of my face I remind myself that this, too, is one of the benefits of gardening. It’s called appreciation. The next time I open up a plastic bag of store-bought beans and dump them into my pot I will be thankful. Instead of balking when the cashier tells me the total for my groceries I will wonder how such a great amount of energy can come so cheap.
It’s not just the beans. The ruby-red siren song of cherries, raspberries, strawberries, and tomatoes are factors in the formula we never seem to balance. For the last six weeks I’ve kept a stack of empty buckets at the back door so we can fill them at a moment’s notice. Which, of course, leads to other urgent jobs, like stomping cherries for wine. Another reason our days at home get hijacked by nagging and the tiresome task of looking after ourselves is because it’s hard to keep up while we’re at the beach. Which means I have no right to complain about anything.
When babies reach their first birthday it’s cause to celebrate. According to me, all the hoopla should be for the parents; the ones who give up so much to ensure those helpless, seven-pound, naked creatures survive. In Vivian’s case, it wasn’t just her parent’s lives that were turned around. Her sisters’ world changed too. Which is why her birthday party was more about them than Vivian. They planned the games, bought prizes, and helped with the cake. It wasn’t baby-friendly either. No healthy rice cakes here to mark the occasion. No siree! We served New York style cheesecake with cherries—because that’s what we like. I didn’t get the obligatory picture of Vivi blowing out the candles, and I don’t even know if she tasted it. Did I mention this was more about us?
I’m not sure what I would’ve done without Belén and Susanna this past year. Susanna seems to have extra patience when mine runs out. Like her dad waiting for fish to bite, Susanna sits quietly by Vivi’s crib humming lullabies while Vivi tosses and turns, making sure she’s asleep before she tip-toes out of the room. Belén is the one who hates for her to cry, who hears Vivian screaming while I’m giving her a bath and appears at my side with graham crackers. While the tap water pours off Vivi’s head and body, Belén plies her with crackers and soothing words, anxious to stop her tears. And though it’s probably not best-practise to stuff your baby with treats while bathing, I don’t tell Belén to stop. It’s hard to argue when the baby is happy.
But, despite all this care, something has happened to Vivian lately. I think it has to do with becoming human–like she’s got a brain of her own or something. Imagine! Never mind that she can’t talk yet, she’s got opinions alright. She probably has political preferences too, we just don’t know them yet. We noticed all of this because of the way she throws her head back and cries now. It’s not a hungry baby cry, but more of a I-need-my-way wail. It’s the way her limbs turn to wet toilet paper when we want her to stand and the way she stiffens them like iron when we want her to sit. All of this makes me think she really is her own person. At first this was disheartening, realizing she won’t be perfect or even what we projected onto her infant-self, but I’m coming to terms with having another complex human around here. So much for sweet baby Vivi without personality. Here’s to the real Vivian. Happy birthday!
PS. The math of household maintenance got a whole lot simpler with Stan’s parents around for the week. There are good reasons why three-generation households are common in many cultures.