Over and under

Having kids can put life over the top. Overworked, overstimulated, overwhelmed and overboard, which is where a mom often wants to jump. Simultaneously she feels very much under it all. Underappreciated, underpaid, undermined and under water, which is where she’d be if she jumped.

Is there any middle-mothering between over and under? The truth is, most of our days fall somewhere inbetween. It’s just that having kids, being a mom, can toss us to either extreme in a flash. We know it, and we fear it.

In our family, each time I became pregnant, I puzzled over how another kiddie-commitment could possibly fit into our over-the-top lives, especially the part about stretching the love we felt for the ones we already had, to cover over another.

But children, when they arrive, seem to come pulling a wagon load of the extra everything that will be needed, an over-abundance of flexibility, of energy and especially of love. It’s one of motherhood’s wonderful surprises.

As we plug away at mommy-hood, riding the waves of over and under, we can sometimes be overtaken by good things, too. Overworked and overwhelmed might morph into overflow, i. e. an abundance of whatever we need at the moment. Underappreciated and undermined can transform into understanding, i.e. wisdom of how best to handle a confusing situation.

Whether children are newborns or fully-grown, our challenge to sink or swim as moms will always be with us. When we get nervous about that, it’s good to look for those positive overs and helpful unders. If we see them, the wild ride of motherhood becomes a joy, sometimes even making us overjoyed.

Looking at porn

A couple of weeks ago I saw a pornographic movie. It was entirely by accident, but that wasn’t the worst of it. Our 19 and 21 year old daughters were next to me, and I’d bought the tickets for them, rewarding the girls for helping me organize the basement that day.

I try to stay away from “R” movies, but that night it was either “G” or “R”. We questioned each other before we went. “What’s the “R” for?” I’d asked.

“Probably just a little bathroom humor, Mom.”

We should have done our homework and hunted for a review, because before the first ten movie-minutes had flickered past us, we were gasping with shock and turning away.

“Let’s get out of here,” I whispered. But once we were on the front sidewalk, our disgust bubbled up like vinegar on baking soda. “How dare they try to pass off that movie as acceptable in a family-friendly theater,” I raged. The newest Harry Potter movie was showing at midnight, and children filled the lobby. “I’m going back to find the manager.”

A smiling twenty-something asked how he could help, and I gave him what-for. Polite and calm, he used his headset to inform the front desk we’d need our $23.50 back. “But that’s not the point,” I fumed, feeling a wall go up between us. “Have you seen that movie? It’s raw porn.”

Still smiling, he said he hadn’t had time to view it but had fielded other complaints about it. Then he played his trump card. “We have to show what corporate sends us.”

Buck-passing is always ugly. “This movie has spoiled a mother-daughter evening. How do we get that back after being assaulted in your theater?” I pressed.

Security hovered a little closer. “Feel free to fill out this complaint card,” he suggested, sliding a form across the counter. His eyebrows went up with optimism when he said, “It’s got pre-paid postage on it and everything.”

Trying to burn the look of anger and frustration from my eyes into his, I couldn’t come up with words that would either convince him or change the outcome, although I did have the urge to leap over his granite-topped desk and shake the daylights out of him.

And so we left, complaint card in hand. The girls and I had a good chat on our 25 minute drive home. Although all of us felt betrayed,  the one positive was having had an opportunity to show the girls its ok to walk out of a movie, should the need arise again.

I didn’t sleep well after our disturbing experience and started the next day’s morning by filling out the complaint card, and I do mean filling it. Covering every inch of space with comments, I ended up needing an envelope and forfeiting the pre-paid stamp. It will be interesting to see if we get a response. I’m fully expecting one, because the youthful manager assured me, “If you mail the card, corporate will read it.” We’ll see.

Surely the house will sell NOW.

When a house goes on the market, it’s common for the owners to sign a 90 day contract with their realtor, and that’s what we did. Once the “For Sale” sign went up, I methodically moved down a to-do list:

  • clean the oven
  • pack the 182 photo albums
  • organize the crawl space and label those boxes
  • match up the sheets and pillowcases we want to save
  • box up our hundreds of children’s books.

There were 86 items on my list, including miscellaneous repair projects, with which I needed help.

Ninety days passed. Then 120… and 150. I was up to #54 on the list but had slowed my efforts considerably, having lost any sense of urgency. Although many people came through our front door accompanied by realtors, nobody was buying. “Your house is quite old,” our realtor observed, “and that’s bothering people. You’ll need to fix it up in some significant ways.”

A month later we had hired a basement sealing company to put in a new system, making our musty cellar dry. We’d destroyed wooden shelves throughout the basement, because we were told they were moldy.

We tore down a wall that divided two small bedrooms, making one large one. (This was our realtor’s idea: “Most people want four bedrooms. Five can be a study or guest room. Six is too many.”) We painted the upstairs bedrooms and washed our 52 windows (each with a storm window) and spiffed up the gardens, planting new flowers.

We de-cluttered. Knick-knacks disappeared, and table cloths were put away in favor of polished wood surfaces. We did such a good job at this that one realtor said, “Oh, I see you’ve already moved out.”

We put new carpet in all the bedrooms and replaced an old toilet with a new stylish one. In a different bathroom we yanked out the cabinet base, sink and countertop, replacing them with new ones. In all the bathrooms we had the grout scoured and dyed, removing all stains.

Our 100-year-old farm house looked better than it had in decades, and we were sure it would sell NOW. After all, the entire country was still on the real estate ride of quick sales.

Then Mom got sick. They told us it was lymphoma, but she wanted to fight it, even at 92. Life picked up speed as we escorted her to doctor’s appointments and daily radiation treatments. And then winter came to Chicago.

Our realtor’s counsel was, “If you take it off the market for a few weeks, when it comes back on, it’ll be a new listing that’ll draw fresh attention.” She, too, was frustrated when the house refused to sell.

House hunting traffic had thinned anyway, so we took her advice and terminated our listing. It would be a relief not to clean like a maniac every time a potential buyer came. Our high school girls breathed a sign of contentment. “So the house isn’t for sale anymore?”

“Not right now.” And that was that.