The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Overwhelm July 17, 2012

I don’t know when ‘overwhelm’ became a noun, but it’s probably a useful thing. I could just as easily say “I feel overwhelmed”, but I will defer to the cultural climate of the day and say instead “I feel overwhelm”. I’m not besieged with some clinical sort of ADD, but I may as well be today. I am faced with the post-vacation, post-big dump project of sorting all the detritus of our trip and putting it away.

The first day back it was nearly 90 degrees in our little house, the humidity was just as high, but I was too. High on our success, high on the fact that we’d pulled it off and returned home safely. Like a robot I waded through laundry – that from before our trip and that from after – sheets towels, clothes, the gamut. And I’d sorted paper from stuff, toiletries from mementos, books from books on tape. All table space has been occupied the past two days with endless piles. Now… to put it all away.

My birds needed food this morning. Six a.m. I lay in bed, still tired, but my mind swimming with things to be done. The chickens were hungry and depended on me. As if sleepwalking, I rose from my bed and went to the car. Gone are the days when I can carry a 40 pound bag of feed to the bins – now I must drive them. I discover both the feed bin and lid have been covered in fresh, goopy chicken poop. Really? I douse them as best I can in the water left from Max’s pond. I do my best to get things squared away. The shell collection from the Cape gets unceremoniously dumped on the floor of the car and I use that bin for the bird’s calcium. Mental note to transfer it later to the correct bin. Mental note to fill water bins, replace nesting box perch. Ich. It’s this little shit that zaps me of my forward movement. I am ready for bed and I haven’t been up ten minutes.

I can’t complain – I mean, how can I? You, my friends, have just made this amazing trip possible. There’s no way I could have gone without your help. I am a lucky, cared-for woman. And yet, in moments like this, I’m tending toward a smidgen of self pity. I mean how can one person deal with all this? My son needs something to do – and it’s just me. Not only am I pooped at the thought of all yet before me, but then I have to tend to him on top of it all. I wish he had a friend. In the end it really is just the two of us, and there’s so much grownup work to be done. Guess it’s another day for the great babysitter of YouTube.

See, I have other things besides just the crap to put away. (Btw – the laundry’s done, yes, and most of it folded – but put away? Hardly…) I was the unlucky recipient of some little surprises while I was away which I need to deal with as well: I’d bought us some ice cream cones the day before we left – before the donation money had cleared and was safely in my account – and that little charge of $4.50 caused an overdraft that cost me $25. Guess I should be glad it wasn’t $35 as it usually is with my credit union. Then a few more hit too after that – my chiropractor deposited the check I’d asked them to hold for a week – and boom. Another fee. Ok. Guess that’s ok. Keep your chin up, I tell myself. It’s just money.

Then there’s the ticket thing. So there I am, literally seven blocks from the Holland tunnel, following the car ahead of me through a green light when it stops in front of me. I try to inch forward as much as possible, for the cars on either side of me slid through with no problem. My lane’s not moving. Oh well. I inch forward as best I can and watch as the commuters snake through between our bumpers. Ugh. I notice the truck I’d asked for directions that was next to me seconds before is now halfway up the next block. That’s ok. We’ll be out of here in minutes. Then there’s a tapping on my window. It’s a young cop. I roll down the window. “Can’t block the box”, he says. ?? The only other use for the word ‘box’ I know of is an off-color reference to a certain part of a woman’s body, and instantly my mind races back to the 80s on the west side of Chicago. (Anyone remember the south side’s ‘Copherbox’ II Lounge??) I look at him quizzically. He repeats. “You can’t block the box.” I finally get his meaning. “I’m not trying to block the intersection” I offer. “I’m trying to get through. The lanes on either side of me did, I naturally thought I would too. This is not intentional.” I’m not sassy. I’m not even pleading. A passerby, carrying a large light fixture under his arm, stops to assist me. The cop asks if the man is ‘trying to tell him how to do his job’ and tells him to move on. I try to convey my thanks to the man as he leaves. The young cop has already written my ticket and points some beepie thing at the sticker on my windshield. My heart sinks. “How much?” I ask. “You can read the ticket,” he tells me, then adds how lucky I am that he didn’t put any points on my record. (This business of points in New York is still new to me.) Thanks for the big favor, I think. He leaves me with this floppy scrap of paper that will cost me $115. My heart sinks again. But I will not let it get to me; we’re almost out of the city.

Or not. It literally took us three and one quarter hours to get to and through the tunnel. Seriously. Now – now – I’ve seen everything. And I’m proud of us – we didn’t fight, we didn’t get cranky, and thankfully neither one of us had to pee. Rather than let it ruin us, we stayed merry, listening a second time to a book on tape, playing the alphabet game (Inside the car, that is. Elihu can’t see the signs outside. Clever, huh.) and doing our best to keep things light. Our family mantra is that everything happens as it is supposed to. Hours later a heron flew over our car. “See Mommy, this is why we had to get stuck in traffic! To see this heron!” Lemons into a sweet, summery beverage indeed. Good boy.

Ok. So we’re home. Then I check the mail. I’d forgotten about the speeding ticket I’d gotten last month on the way to pick Fareed up at the airport. (Don’t those just bother you? Everyone is going ten over – but you get pulled over. Sheesh.) There’s another $150 shot. Man, I’m working hard just to stay afloat, then this. Will there be a second leg to our trip? Will we get to Philadelphia at all? Doesn’t look it from here. I try to set it aside emotionally, and I wonder deep down what the hell it is that I’m supposed to learn from this. Seriously, I must have some deep-seated, karmically installed money issues. Keep goin, I think to myself. Although I haven’t bought a new pair of shoes in years, the Aerosoles catalogue has a particular sting this time. Can’t even rationalize fantasizing about getting a pair. I don’t even bother to find the recycling bin. Into the trash it goes.

So I guess that brings me to this moment, as I sit in my chair, wondering if I might be able to lie down again for a few minutes before the kid wakes up. The piles are everywhere. I can’t help but wonder how everyone else does it. Families with more than one kid – how is it possible? I can understand how my childless friends deal with physical crap – I managed my own for years. Daunting before and after a gig (women have not only gear and charts to deal with – but makeup and clothes and jewelry – that adds a whole nother layer to the potential chaos) but I could still stay on top of it. But right now I think I’ve lost it. Unless I can find Elihu a playdate I don’t know where I’ll get the resolve.

Wait. I remembered something. When we stopped at the convenient store our first day back I got one of those little energy shot thingees. Yes. Yes? Was that what fueled my insane initial cleanup? I think so… Seems like it. Wow, and I’d never had one before. Can’t make it a crutch, but sounds good right now. I begin to see some possibility here. Ok. Kid’s still out. I think I know what I need to do… I need to overwhelm my overwhelm. Back in five minutes. I’ll let you know…

 

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