From Chicken Soup for the Working Mom's Soul

Mustaches on Cherubs

“I’m leaving you,” said my husband. Moments before, he had taken me into the small study at the far end of our rambling farmhouse, away from the ears of our young son and daughter. I knew he had something important to tell me, but I didn’t know it was earthshaking. “How will I ever support my children?” I wept uncontrollably.

As a stay-at-home mom, my life with the children had been storybook material. I loved the shrieks of young voices buried in heaped piles of autumn leaves, the whoosh of the horse-drawn sleigh packed with bundled kids in the falling snow, the race for the chocolate bunny hidden in the hollow of the old granny apple tree, the shouts of kids dangling from the large spreading chestnut branch.

Then three little words, “I’m leaving you,” and everything changed. Moments of joy departed and mountains of work took their place. It seemed like things couldn’t be worse, but I was to find out they could be.

Bloom where you are planted, I told myself. I put out the word that my farm was available for use. Neighbors came to board their horses in my barn stalls, and a horseback riding instructor arrived to teach in my split rail paddocks. A young couple transformed my small cottage into their home, and eager townsfolk turned my enclosed pool into a swim club. The farm bustled with activity.

Relieved and grateful, albeit tired, I gathered up the checks from my tenants and paid my mortgage and bills.

Yet the challenges didn’t stop. The wooden roof on my 1733 saltbox house leaked. The occasional drip quickly became a trickle.

Fortunately, my farmhouse was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, so I applied for a government grant. Workmen turned the drip, drip, drip of rain into the tap, tap, tap of hammers, and we were dry at last.

But cold. With little money for heating oil, summer turned into the winter of our discontent. When the kids and I put on a second layer of thermal underwear, it occurred to me that I own a forest out back. Why not use it?

I purchased a wood-burning stove on credit and found a state forester to mark our trees for cutting. A sharecropper split and stacked the wood. The kids and I carried in the logs. Cozy, cost-free heat soon filled the family-style kitchen. The grate I put in the corner of the ceiling allowed heat to drift up to the children’s bedrooms. Perfect.

Encouraged by success, I pushed myself to the limit, picked blackberries, plucked Concord grapes, gathered apples, dug carrots, dried herbs, tapped maple sap, milked goats—labored thirty hours a week as a home care physical therapist.

Slow down, I heard an inner voice say. Rest—but I didn’t, until a forest fire behind the horse barns got my attention. I raced top speed to the house phone, only to collapse on the threshold. Crawling to the receiver, I made two calls, one to the fire department and another to my doctor. Thankfully, the horses and barns were spared, but my heart took a terrible beating, literally. Diagnosed with arrhythmia, I was forced into the rest I had refused.

I wondered how I would ever pay the bills while flat on my back. But a peace came over me from who knew where, and I learned to meditate quietly. In the weeks that followed, the tenants’ rental money still arrived, and the food stored up in my freezer and on my buttery shelf never ran out.

When my strength improved, I flung open the doors of the oak-beamed great room, previously used for festivities but closed to save heating expenses after my husband left. With a burst of extravagance, I piled our finest white birch logs into the spacious brick fireplace and set them crackling. Our collie shook fresh snow off his back and curled up by the warm blaze. Nestled in the large wing chair, with a child tucked under each arm, I read Tales of Uncle Remus. My lips contorted to capture the dialect, while the children squealed at the clever antics of Br’er Fox and Br’er Rabbit. Yellow candlelight flickered a message through the diamond-pane windows that all was well within.

Before bed, I gave each child a glass of rich chocolate milk. Dark brown mustaches incongruously painted themselves above pink cherub mouths and made me chuckle for the first time in months.

I became aware that work had possessed me. Mother Teresa said, “It is not how much you do but how much love you put into the doing that matters.” Special moments with the kids again became my top priority.

As seasons passed, the kids and I responded when the drifting snow sighed for the old sleigh, when the granny apple tree flaunted her pink blossoms for a bouquet, when the swaying chestnut branch beckoned kids to climb, and when the swirling autumn leaves insisted we dance with them.

To my surprise, the work still got done, more easily than ever, and the expendable chores that were left undone were never even noticed.

Margaret Lang

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