“Mommmmmmyyyyyyyyy! Look at me. I can do a split!”
One foot up on the coffee table, the other one of the couch, Erin, clad in nothing but a red bikini and socks, was eating black olives and chocolate pudding and trying desperately to get my attention with her latest gymnastic acrobatics. Like the bikini and the olives weren’t enough.
In my arms, Jeremiah wailed. The microwave beeped. The phone rang. The TV blared. I juggled baby and splitting three-year-old while trying to pour and construct a bottle. The whole Gorman world was literally falling apart. In the driveway, Pat was hoisting a refrigerator from a borrowed pick-up truck into the garage. Erin, in her bikini, shook her hips and waved to him from the front door. I think I could actually hear the neighbors whispering about us from across the street.
In my defense, we had just got in the door from Target. What started as a quick trip for one pair of summer sandals for baby turned into an all-day shopping excursion that yielded summer bathing suits for the whole family, a couple of packs of pudding, a can of black olives and a refrigerator, of course. Believe it or not, unpacking all of those wares was actually the hardest part of the day.
“Everything ok over there?” my mother asked when I finally answered that ringing phone. “It sounds a little hectic.”
Hectic. Good word.
“Yes. Hectic,” I said. “Can I give you a call back?”
At 11:45 pm, after baths had been taken and bowls of pudding pried from little fingers, one kid fell asleep (sans bikini) on the couch and the other in his car seat. So I started the nightly ritual of sifting and tidying the mounds of toys and dishes before I passed out myself. As I was chipping flecks of orange Play-doh off of the coffee table, I remembered that I never returned Mom’s call.
Tomorrow, I said. If anyone understands, it’s her. And as I scooped up all 35 pounds of Erin, settling her in bed before ushering little chub-rock into his cradle, I dropped kisses on both of their foreheads and thought about how many times my own mother had done the same thing at the end of an insane day.
After all of the messes and madness, we always ended the marathon days of our childhood with a kiss and I love you. No matter how chaotic things got – when my sister spread peanut butter on the living room table, when I flipped over my tricycle and slid down the driveway on my two front teeth – she never lost her cool. To this day, I cannot recall ever hearing her shout, yell or even threaten. Instead, she was our best playmate, our closest confidante and teacher of those colossal daily life lessons.
And at the end of the day, we always had fun.
She let us jump on the bed. She let us hop in puddles and taught us how to make mud soup when it rained. When she hung the laundry on the clothesline in the backyard and we ran through the sheets and wiped our messy hands all over the towels, she ran with us. We played cops and robbers in the big bed. We enjoyed crazy roller-coaster-esque rides in the Supermarket shopping cart.
She held our hands, closed her eyes and spun us around until we all fell dizzily to the floor. She danced with us in the living room like no one was watching. And we laughed. A lot. In all that she did, she showed me exactly how to be that same wonderful mix of playmate and teacher for my own kids.
As I finally crawled into bed sometime after midnight last night and considered all of my own chaos – the bikini dancing, the crying, the Play-doh and yes, even the pudding – I thought of mom and how effortlessly she always handled all of those disorderly moments in such a completely composed fashion.
Yes, this was a good day. But tomorrow, I will spin and dance and make things even better. For that, I thank mom.