Friday, October 1, 2010

Living Between the Lines

I stumbled upon this while I was reading Janelle's blog. It hits so close to home. Really made my week.


I never thought I’d spend an hour coloring in my daughter’s coloring book, alone. Looking back now, I see how that hour changed my perspective of the little things that color my life as a stay-at-home mom.
When our second car broke down, I felt a piece of my independence disappear. My husband worked from home when he could, which allowed an occasional escape to the grocery store or library, but the option of getting the girls dressed and just going somewhere was gone. A few weeks later, my computer crashed. It was my last window to the outside world except for our television. And then, as if there were some electronic conspiracy against me, the TV took its last breath, and died. I had become a hostage within my own home.
There was an eerie silence in our house as I tried to piece together what I had left to keep myself sane as a stay-at-home mom. Within a few weeks, I had lost my freedom to plan my day without coordinating my routine with my husband’s work schedule. Checking my email or updating my blogs during nap time was no longer an option. And, perhaps most importantly, I didn’t have Disney as back-up entertainment during that crazy hour of 5 to 6 pm when I needed to make dinner, tidy up, or just sit down.
It was a Friday and the clock showed 4:08 pm. My three year-old was still napping and my one year-old was circling my feet, wanting to be held. I dug out the crayons and a dinosaur coloring book and opened up to a cheerful Triceratops chasing a butterfly. I tried to get my daughter to color with me but after about five minutes her fleeting attention span left me to myself. I considered getting up and doing another load of laundry, but lost the energy as I saw the previous load heaped and unfolded on my couch. I stared at the collage of toys, library books, shoes and the occasional diaper scattered across my floor and decided to gather a family of plastic vegetables into a small crate. As I was digging a potato out from under the couch, my daughter dumped the entire thing onto the floor again. I collapsed back against the couch with the potato in hand as she giggled and gave me the empty crate.
I returned to the Triceratops who seemed to be waiting for his finishing touches. My daughter sat next to me, pulling out the crayons one by one. I reached down and picked up a light brown, rolling it over between my fingers until I saw the small black title, Raw Sienna. I colored the smooth round rocks that dotted the grass, feeling more settled amongst the mess on my living room floor. I even felt a sense of pride once the entire drawing was complete. I slowly turned the page, peeking up at my toddler who was diligently tearing the paper off of a crayon and dropping it onto the floor.
The next picture showed a smiling Brontosaurus grazing in a field of flowers. I leafed through the pinks, settling on Razzmatazz and slowly traced over the dark lines that formed the flower petals, making sure the outer edges were shaded slightly darker than the middle like I used to do in elementary school. I found the sharpener on the back of the crayon box and sharpened a half-eaten Asparagus for the dinosaur’s tall, curved neck. I became addicted to my task until everything was given a color. I even filled in the sky with a pale Periwinkle. The entire process required the sharpening of three more crayons, but I didn’t mind. It felt good to complete something that was somewhat permanent, like a trophy for my escape from the routine. I was tempted to tear out the page and hang it on the refrigerator.
As I stared at my work, my daughter reached over with a dark blue crayon and colored on my completed page. Instinctively, I blocked her hand to protect my artwork. She looked up at me surprised, with a scrap of Crayola paper pasted to her chin. I smiled and slowly drew my hand away, allowing her to scribble across my tidy fuchsia flowers. I turned the page again.
I remember feeling trapped when I was a teenager. No car, no savings, nothing that belonged entirely to me. I wanted so much to own something for myself. When I was fifteen, I saved my money and bought a solid wood nightstand that I still keep in my bedroom, twelve years later. It was my first real possession. When I got married, I worked as an editor for a small publishing company and would get defensive any time my husband corrected my grammar. That was my talent. He was great at a number of things, but I wanted to be the proficient writer and grammar guru. (It didn’t help when I slammed him in Scrabble with the word “militia” and pronounced it “muh-lit-ee-yuh.”)
I do not have ownership over time, the physical state of my living room floor, my bust size, or the length of my kids’ naps. It has become a constant quest to discover what things I can actually claim as my own, besides my full-time title as “Mom.” I have never regretted my choice to stay at home with my kids, but I have had to work hard to maintain a true sense of self. I don’t receive compensation for my hours at home or get recognition for calming a hot temper without losing my own. But only I can decide what to do during those in between moments when I’m alone and the house is quiet. Time to myself is rare, and what I do with that time defines me more than I ever realized.
The next day was Saturday. My husband took the kids outside to play and I knew I had at least an hour to myself. I ran through that mental list that is always looming in my brain: clean the bathroom, finish the dishes, organize the office, scrape off the food that has fossilized on the floor below the high chair. And then I saw them; the crayons were lying on the dining room table conveniently close to our stack of coloring books, politely inviting me back. I walked over to the window and watched as my husband showed our oldest daughter how to throw a basketball. Then I slowly closed the curtain.
For the next hour, I sat alone at the table, coloring a giraffe reaching up for a mouthful of leaves, a playful pull-string duck, and a plump goldfish trapped inside a round, glistening bowl. As I finished each page, I flipped through the book until another caught my eye. I loved outlining the waves beneath the slim legs of a flamingo and highlighting the white in the eyes of a doll. I discovered the contrast between Dandelion and Vivid Tangerine and the cool touch of Magic Mint. With each picture, I promised myself it would be the last before I’d get up and clean something. But after a while, I surrendered to the calming effect of sitting still and doing nothing more than coloring between the lines.
Some days I know exactly who I am during those quiet moments I have to myself. Other days I feel fruitless and expendable. I’m sure I’ll never be perfect in this mission of motherhood. No matter how hard I try, there will always be sticky spots on my kitchen floor and stains on the front of my kids’ tee shirts. But if someone were to ask me today what it is that I do, I might give a little more color to my response. Instead of the simple, “I’m a stay-at-home mom,” I would tell them that I am a keeper of secrets, a gourmet grilled-cheese maker, walking napkin, body pillow and memory conservator. I have rescued jewelry from the fated flush of a toilet and searched for swallowed pennies and balloons in places I’d never mention. And I can color a mean Triceratops.
I never thought that by opening my child’s coloring book, I’d find a piece of myself that was missing; the piece that dismisses guilt and embraces reality. It was the part of me that’s okay with who I am and isn’t obsessing over whether or not I’ll pass or fail in the future. Losing the car, the computer, the TV and, so I thought, my freedom taught me a lesson I’ll never forget. If I’m too busy digging a potato out from under the couch or scrubbing stubborn strawberries off of my floor, I might miss something more important—like the chance to just sit down, pick up a color and fill in some of the space in between the lines of my own life.
And for that I would definitely choose Mauvelous.

1 comment:

Brie Wheelwright said...

I agree with you, Brooke. It really makes me feel better knowing that I'm not the only one out there who's not perfect. Thanks so much for sharing that!