There are moments when words fail me and language becomes what it’s always been, this ghost of my experience. On one particular Saturday afternoon just such a moment left me speechless and not just because I was suffering from a cold and had no voice to speak of, but like a phantom, the words vanished into thin air and I was left with nothing but the backside of a locked bathroom door and a roll of toilet paper (two-ply) to console me.
It was the way Tatum came running into my bedroom, where I was taking the afternoon to convalesce, being husbandless for 3 weeks by this time, having only recently finished writing my finals and being in the usual post-semester bodily melt-down (which usually consists of a cold and laryngitis). She said with hurried worry, “Mom, you need to come see this”. Looking back I think it was the just the way she said, Mom, like a felled tree dropping and disturbing a quiet forest floor or the axe that turns it to winter wood-piles. That one syllable fell from her lips with a weight causing my sinus-infected, well-furrowed brow to do what it does best. And then she stood there. And I took a moment. And there we were hovering beneath the words she had uttered, each awaiting something more from the other.
Now it should be noted that I am generally fond of surprises. I love a surprise bouquet of just about anything or finding love notes scrawled with precious immature dexterity; I love that day I happen to wander into a store and that one dress I’ve been eyeing for a month is on clearance and my size; I’m fond of unexpected rain-showers and the day the tulips bloom. But this day, in this moment, I knew this was not a surprise I would either like or want. And the fact that Tatum wasn’t disclosing any more information was not boding well either.
“Just tell me something, anything,” I struggled to squeak out with my broken and
breathy voice. “Prepare me for it.”
But she said nothing. And I followed.
There was an immediate scurry about me. It’s a bit of a fog now, but I’m quite
sure that the four of my children multiplied into several hundred and they were moving about me quickly, equally curious and terrified of my reaction, deciding finally to dash out of sight; this only exacerbating my uneasy anticipation. And so I blew my nose and pressed on, certain that neighbor children were stopping and bracing themselves for the mysterious unveiling.
As I followed Tatum into the front yard I saw it. Spray paint. Blue spray-paint, a hue somewhere between Superman’s tights and a blue-raspberry Slurpee. Blue spray paint blobs and blotches here and there throughout the driveway. The red van tagged with a swirl on one side, a swish on the other and a swag on the hood. The truck, a small blue stripe; the mailbox swizzled blue; the shed, both blue and white in a streak cutting its brown façade horizontally into two; the black metal fences still dripping blue and even a tree did not escape the spray-paint make-over.
By now Tatum was saying something. I don’t know what, I can only make out the name “Eli”. I wheeled around nearly falling to the ground with my heavy-aching head and looked for him. I tried calling his name but whatever voice there was left was so loaded with emotion, nothing came out. I walked into the house and there he stood. His guilty fingers baring blue evidence and his fearful eyes looking to beg for a pardon. And that is the moment the words failed me.
Again, children scattered, parting like the red sea for Moses, perhaps knowing their mother was at the end of her rope. I moved past them and into my bathroom where I began to cry. Not because anything precious had been ruined and certainly not mourning the marks to an already over grown and neglected front yard. It was just a moment that reminded me that I am imperfect, as a mother, as a woman, as a human being. I can’t do it all. I cried because despite my daily effort to somehow master my many imperfections, I am flawed. And as the tears flowed a furious amount of texting to my sisters commenced because surely, they could help me laugh, and I needed desperately to find a way to laugh about the whole ordeal. For the next ten minutes little love notes were passed under the bathroom door, children asked what they could do to help and even offered to make dinner. And all this 20 minutes before we needed to be at a piano recital. Necessity required me to pull it together.
Four days later a nice man came to install our new internet connection and asked me to come see where the box was being put on the back of the house. As I walked through my back patio I discovered the last little piece of evidence left behind by my 8 year old vandal. When I say little, I mean big. There scrawled across the 70’s yellow brick and concrete of the house next to the sliding door was the word MOM with a little heart sprayed just beneath it. There was that word again staring at me with all its urgency and need and warmth and breadth and undone wholeness. I could hear the din of the installer-guy grumbling something about kids these days but I listened to none of it. I only heard my children’s voices and the weight of that word coming down once again upon me. And I laughed.
We’re making efforts to clean and paint over the blue whirlwind that splotched our home but I’ve decided that the MOM is going to stay. Sure it makes the back of my house look cheap but it’s these little (and sometimes big) imperfections that give my life depth. It’s a reminder of the weight of that word and what it means to me. It’s a souvenir from this moment in my journey and imperfect as it may be, it is my life. And I can laugh about it.