Countdown

I looked out of our living room window at a beautiful blue sky and tried not to be depressed.  A sunny Saturday morning in springtime should be spent outdoors having a picnic – maybe doing a little fishing if you feel like it.  Instead, we were going to be replacing the skirting around our mobile home.  I was trying to look on the bright side and remind myself that at least we’d be outside, but I was having some trouble maintaining that sense of optimism.
Optimism had become an endangered species in our home.  My husband and I were closing in on our third anniversary, and we were both hoping our fourth year as a family would see some improvements…in a lot of areas.  We’d been struggling financially, and it seemed like every crisis that passed brought another one in on its coattails.  Compounding our stress was the premature birth of our second son in January followed by months of wondering if he would live. 
The stress and anxiety had pushed me close to the edge, and my strained relationship with my mother-in-law wasn’t helping.  From the moment we’d been married, it was clear that my husband’s mother didn’t like me and it wasn’t long before she wasn’t even trying to be subtle about it.  Still, I’d been holding out hope that things would change, and for that reason I resisted my natural inclinations toward sarcasm and tried to “turn the other cheek” when a nasty or hurtful comment came my way.  After turning the other cheek so often during one Sunday dinner that I considered offering an entirely different cheek just for variety, I started avoiding family events. 
I was so far from my own family – I craved a relationship with my mother-in-law the way some women crave chocolate, but things had gotten so bad that I was actually having nightmares about her.  I would wake up in the night, unable to draw a good breath, my voice stuck somewhere in my chest. 
As stressed as I was at that moment, I could really only be thankful that she never came to our home so I wouldn’t have to deal with her while we worked on the house.
I walked into the bathroom, and stopped dead in the doorway.  Standing in the middle of the small room was Aaron, my oldest son – every inch covered in white powder except for his hair…which was covered in white paste.  The room itself had also been dusted in white powder, so the only color was my son’s bright blue eyes gazing at me in surprised shock.  I could see the bottle of baby powder in his pudgy, three-year-old hands.  Baby powder someone had given us ages ago, but which I never used since it wasn’t supposed to be good for a baby to breathe it into his lungs.
“Hi Momma!  I squozed,” my angel (in appearance, at least), explained.  I tried to focus on how well his speech therapy was coming along, but my mind kept veering back to the very white child standing in a very white room, and the fact that my husband’s father would be coming to help with the skirting soon and I still needed to start breakfast.
“Hon?” I called to my husband.
“Yeah?” he called back from the next room.
“C’mere a minute, would ya?” I called.  I heard him mutter a little through the thin wall separating our bedroom from the bathroom, and then his footsteps were in the hallway.
“Yeah?  What’s…oh my God!”  He stopped next to me and stared at Aaron and our white bathroom. 
“I squozed,” our son chimed again.
“Squeezed,” my husband corrected absently.
“Yep, that,” Aaron confirmed.
My husband looked at me.  Before he could speak I jumped in, “I’ll clean up the PowderPuff boy…you get the bathroom.  And work fast, your dad’s supposed to be here in an hour.”
I reached for my toddler and caught him just before he made his escape down the hall.  “Into the tub, squeezer!”  I stripped his powdery clothes off…an outfit I’d put him in less than thirty minutes before…and turned on the water to fill the bathtub.  Just as I finished scrubbing the last of the white paste out of his hair – apparently he’d tried to wash it out himself – I heard our youngest chattering in the next room.  I passed our wet son over to his father for dressing and hurried into the baby’s room.
Mikey lay in his crib, bouncing the bells on his feet with quick, jerky movements and giggling.  I knew before I looked into the crib that he’d wet through the cloth diaper I’d just changed him into.  The only thing double padding the diaper seemed to do was make him look like a bow-legged cowboy with too much time on a horse.
“Munchkin, I’m gonna have to wrap you in plastic!”  He grinned at me as I reached for him, halfway to tipping myself into the crib with him.  (Cribs with high sides weren’t designed for short mommies.)  I sighed as I watched the plastic pants over his diaper experience containment failure and leak all over the bedding.  Once the drips had stopped I carried him over to the desk that functioned as our changing table and stripped him, dumping his wet outfit into the plastic hamper with the other two outfits he’d wet through earlier in the morning.  I pulled a couple of homemade wipes out of the plastic tub and wiped him down from shoulders to toes, and then reached for the folded cloth of a fresh diaper.
As my eyes moved away from Mikey, I felt liquid hit my shoulder and dribble past my shirt collar to pool in my bra.  My eyes snapped back to the baby and he grinned at me again, clearly pleased with the quality of his aim.
“Thanks Mikey, that’s exactly what I needed this morning.”  I sucked it up and wiped him down again, this time leaving a folded diaper over the pertinent bits to avoid a repeat performance that I knew full well he was capable of.  Freshly dry and dressed I handed him off to my husband and headed for the bedroom to change.
“Got you again, didn’t he?” Dan called as I walked away.
“Bite me.”  No doubt, the stress and lack of sleep (stupid nightmares), was starting to affect my witty repartee, and that was the best I could do.
I dug halfheartedly through my closet and pulled out a ratty pair of sweats and a t-shirt permanently stained with God-only-knows what…the wardrobe of a stay-at-home mom on laundry day.  I glanced at the clock and hustled into the bathroom for my own wipe down and change into dry clothes.  My father-in-law was due to be there any minute and I still hadn’t started breakfast!
The sound of my father-in-law’s truck pulling up in our driveway propelled me into the kitchen where Mikey was happily relaxing in a baby swing and Aaron was sitting in his high chair with a biscuit.  I decided scrambled eggs was my best and fastest bet, so I pulled out the copper-bottomed skillet that was part of a set we’d gotten as a wedding gift.  That was when I heard her voice.  
There was a moment of disorientation – at that point in our marriage, my mother-in-law had been in my home once before, and only once.  We had always been the ones to go to their home for dinners, family occasions, and holidays.  I had a second to paste a smile I didn’t feel on my face before she was standing next to me in my kitchen.
“How do you expect to ever get anywhere if you can’t be bothered to pay any of your bills?!” I was only barely able to focus on a collection of envelopes she was waving in my face as I turned away from the stove, skillet still in hand.
“What?”  I looked past her to my husband who looked equally confused, and Aaron, who looked fascinated.
“This!!  Look at these, they were due months ago!”  She waved the batch of envelopes in front of my face again, and I struggled to focus on them.  I couldn’t figure out how she’d gotten our mail out of the locked mail box at the entrance to the park, and I could feel my face heating as her shrill voice scraped on nerves that were already raw from the stress of the last several months.
My patience was ebbing away, but she finally held the envelopes still long enough for me to see them.  They were bills, yes.  In fact, they were bills that had been populating the floorboard of my Bug as it sat in their driveway for the last several months.  My sense of relief was brief – they had been opened.
I opened my mouth, and then closed it again when I realized how close to sarcasm I was tipping.  I took a breath and counted down from ten, picturing a little clock in my mind as I struggled for control.
“Those bills are months old, and they’ve long since been paid,” I replied in my calmest, humor-the-crazy-lady voice.  “Look…this one’s for our electric…”
Don’t bother lying to me!” and the envelopes were back in motion, fanning my face but not cooling the heat there.  My eyes shot to my husband, who had been shocked out of his frozen state by this last exclamation from his mother and was moving forward in slow motion.
Red clouded my vision – I was back in my nightmare, with my voice stuck somewhere in my chest.  My fury was strangling me.  I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think.  Fury, more than I’d ever felt before or since, filled me entirely.  It was a crescendo of heat that started in my chest where my voice was trapped and spread with liquid fire to every inch of my body, only to race back and leave my hands and face ice-cold.  I heard the control I’d leashed my anger with for three years snap, audibly.
I don’t care to be called a liar, particularly in front of my children.
My hands tightened into fists, and I realized I was still holding my bright, copper-bottomed skillet.  A vision flashed into my mind, red and hazy and violent.
I turned slowly and set the skillet down with a crack on the heavy metal trivet that covered the gas burner I hadn’t turned on yet.  My hand let go of the handle reluctantly and I turned back to see Dan  was now between me and his mother.  I took a breath.  I counted down.  The red fog didn’t recede.
“Get…her…out.”
Before the last hoarse consonant cleared my burning throat, Dan had guided his mother – her mouth and eyes matching circles of shock – to the door of our home and out.  Aaron, typically in non-stop motion and chattering constantly, was sitting silently in his highchair with a biscuit halfway to his lips.  Mikey had stopped bouncing in his swing and was apparently deciding if crying was an option.
When Dan returned ten minutes later I was calmly scrambling eggs in my shiny, copper-bottomed skillet, newly customized with three dents identical to the corners of the trivet I’d slammed it down on.  Aaron was happily scooping squishy bits of egg from his plate onto his spoon with his fingers, and then carefully guiding the spoon to his waiting mouth.  Mikey was gnawing on a biscuit and his fist at the same time and dribbling most of the biscuit down his chin.
I turned to my husband and smiled, “Do you want some toast with your eggs, hon?”
The Happy Family!

This post is a response to a prompt by The Red Dress Club.  Please feel free to leave comments and criticism – while I still have my beloved copper-bottomed skillet complete with dents, I promise not to brain anyone with it!

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9 thoughts on “Countdown

  1. I also enjoyed the other cheek remark haha! Nice imagery – I really felt like I was there and wanted to take a swing with that skillet myself! Did anything change after that? After I stood up to my husband's stepmother, she has been sweet as pie ever since.

    Visiting from the red dress club 🙂

    Like

  2. You so captured the intensity, the frustration, the anger, the exhaustion, and yes- the fight!

    Love the frying pan and the brutal honesty. My favorite line: “The red fog didn't recede.” -your word choice is simple, concise, poignant here.

    Like

  3. Love love loved this. Hilarious. I sat laughing for a few minutes after reading it. I had a woman I once thought would be my mother in law EXACTLY like this. I could have brained her with a skillet – and she had some nice iron caste ones too!

    Love this line: “Mikey had stopped bouncing in his swing and was apparently deciding if crying was an option.”

    You can see that moment in a baby's eyes and I can imagine you coming out of a fog suddenly and recognizing these things in your children before being aware of anything else – it's a mommy thing.

    Funny and true to life.

    Like

  4. my favorite part ws how realistically you can go from white hot seething rage to calmly stirring eggs. yep, been there. you did a great job with this prompt!

    Like

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