Trying Times and Dirty Dishes

Trying Times and Dirty Dishes

From Chicken Soup for the Grandma's Soul

Trying Times and Dirty Dishes

The flower that follows the sun does so even in cloudy days.

Robert Leighton

I cleared the table and stacked the breakfast dishes on top of the dinner dishes still in the sink from last night’s feast of macaroni and cheese with carrot sticks. I braced myself for the cold, clumpy feeling of the dishwater, then plunged my hand deep into the sink, searching for the plug.

“Yuk! Why didn’t I do these last night?” I asked of who knows who. The only people around to hear me were my kids, ages six, five, three and two, and my six-week-old baby.

It wasn’t just the dishes. The dryer had gone out that morning and sheets were drying over every available chair and table—to the great delight of my sons, who were playing fort all over the house. I would have hung the sheets outside, but it was ten degrees and the path to the clothesline was under a foot of blizzard snow.

The living room was an explosion of toys, and the way

things were going it would be lunchtime before breakfast cleanup was done or we were even close to being dressed. The flu that had run through the family had finally caught me after six nights of little sleep while I cared for each of their needs. It caught me the same day my husband, recovered and healthy, flew out of town on a business trip.

The hot water bubbled up the dish soap and encouraged me a little. “I’ll have these done in no time.” But before I could finish my pep talk, my newborn began to cry. I turned off the water and dried my hands, doubting that I would get back to the sink before the water was heavy and cold again.

I changed the baby’s diaper, stepped over the basket of clean clothes that had sunk into wrinkled neglect, pulled one of the almost-dry sheets off the couch, swept away the full collection of my sons’ horses, and settled in to nurse my baby.

Idyllic moment? Hardly. As soon as I sat, my lap was tumbled full of books. My kids’ thought was that if Mom was sitting, she might as well read to us. So, balancing the four toddlers and protecting the baby from their commotion while trying to turn the pages with no hands, I began to read. I read over the phone ringing and over the TV set clicking on and off at full volume because one of them was sitting on the remote control that I couldn’t reach and they couldn’t reach under them to hand to me.

I read over my pounding headache, around the errant thought of what to make for dinner and over the doorbell ringing. The doorbell ringing! Oh no! All but the baby and me were off the couch and to the door before I could grasp a moment of hope that whoever it was would give up and go away, never to see me at my unshowered, unkempt worst.

“Grandma!” the children chorused while doing the Grandma-is-here dance of anticipated hugs and candy.

Grandma coming was always good news, but it couldn’t be my mother. It couldn’t be today. She lived three hours away. She never just dropped by. What would she think? I scanned the room and sighed. There was no way to recover this, no way to quickly put things right.

Cold, fresh air rushed in ahead of my mother, making me realize how stuffy and sick my house smelled.

“Cindy?” My mother called my name, startling the baby and making him cry. I wanted to join him. I heard my mother’s uneven steps as she navigated around and over the things on the floor.

“Cindy?” she said again before spotting me among the Spiderman sheets.

I was stricken. I was embarrassed. I had forgotten it was Thursday. I had forgotten that my mother had planned to stop in on her way back home from the city.

“Oh my, have things gotten out of control around here,” she surveyed the room and started laughing when she saw my nightgowns drying on the bouncing horse that was wearing one of my nursing bras for a hat, its ears sticking through the drop down flaps.

Her laughter filled the house with the first ray of sunshine to make it through the winter gray of the last mucky week.

I giggled, then laughed out loud before I teared up in my fatigue.

My mother cleared a space beside me. “Cindy, weren’t you raised in my home?”

I nodded, unable to speak around the choking of my tears.

“Was my house always perfect, always clean?”

I shook my head no.

“Did you think I was a failure as a mother or as a homemaker?”

Again I shook my head no.

“And I don’t think that of you. I have sat where you are sitting now.” She grinned, then she reached over and pulled a horse from under my hip.

We chuckled together.

“Cindy, I can tell you one thing and you listen to me.” Her voice became solemn. “These mothering days are the ones you’ll etch into your heart, and when the years have passed and your time becomes quiet enough to roam its memories, they are the ones you’ll hold most dear.”

I recognized the love and truth in her words. I wrote them on my heart and contemplated them when my mothering days were calm and sunny and when they were hectic and never ending.

Now the years have passed and my time has become quiet enough to roam my memories. It is the mothering days that I open in my heart and smile fondly on.

And when my daughters and daughters-in-law are pressed in and overwhelmed with the making of their families and homes, I tell them this story and say to them, “These are the days you’ll hold most dear.” And they recognize the truth and the love of their grandmother’s words, and they etch the memories into their hearts.

Cynthia M. Hamond

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