I’m thirty. I’m sitting cross-legged on my closet floor, leaned back against the door. Hot tears are streaming down my face. Each of my three kids is sitting on his or her own bed in timeout. They’re probably scared for their lives right now after watching me throw a tantrum like that. They’re also probably wondering what just happened. See, they weren’t behaving any worse than they have in the past. They were pestering each other, whining about lunch, and refusing to pick up after themselves. Kid stuff. That’s nothing impossible for me to handle, but when I piled it on top of my mountain of worries today, it sent me over the edge. I’m a yeller. I raise my voice all the time. I grew up in a loud house, and I’ve never had trouble making myself heard. This was different. This was ‘mama’s losing her shit right now so nobody move’. This was ‘mama’s forehead vein might just pop’. This was ‘mama’s saying bad words and setting a terrible example’. This is why I’m sitting on my closet floor, reaching deep into the back of my consciousness, looking for a happy place.
I’m five. I’m sitting cross-legged in the grass in a backyard thick with dandelions. I’m ripping the fluff off of the stem and throwing it because it’s a more efficient way to get my wishes out into the universe. I’m sure my thorough reseeding of the dandelions was the reason they flourished in that big backyard behind that big old house. It might have just been big in the way that everything is when you’re five. I remember exactly how long the upstairs hallway looked when it was dark and scary and my parents’ room was on the other end of it. I can see those old hardwood floors in front of me. I remember how it felt to slide around sock-footed on them and to bump down the stairs on my rear because I had slipped too many times on those floors. I also remember looking down from the roof of the porch when I climbed out my bedroom window and into my sister’s room. I remember the look on my dad’s face when he caught us on the roof at 4 and 5 years old. I know for an absolute fact that he laughed before he yelled. I remember how the Christmas tree looked when it lit up the night in that big old house. I remember sneaking through the shared closet between my brother’s room and mine to wake him up on Christmas morning. I remember the big tree that stood beside the house, and I remember coloring on the floor underneath the dining room table. I remember the smell of the horses, and talking about all the possible names for the new bird dog. I remember where my dad kept his tools and I can see his calloused and dirty hands reaching for them. I remember the cracks in the sidewalk and what it felt like to run along in the sun without stepping on them. The memories come like snapshots when I need a happy place, all of them simple, all of them beautiful.
The thing is, I don’t remember my parents arguing in that big old house, although I’m sure they did. I don’t remember my mom being too tired to play, but I’m sure she sometimes was. I don’t remember eating bologna sandwiches when money was tight, and I don’t remember if that big old house was ever dirty. I don’t remember wearing clothes that didn’t fit or digging through laundry baskets when none was put away. I don’t remember my parents struggling or failing or exploding with anger even one time. I’m sure they did, but those memories are gone. All that’s left is the happiness.
That’s how I know I’m still doing okay. Failures are forgotten. Even as I’m failing, I’m giving my kids room to make simple, beautiful memories. We go outside, we explore, we play. It doesn’t matter what we have or don’t. It doesn’t matter if the laundry is washed or put away. I let them see me working hard and doing something I love everyday. I let them make memories together in this big old house they love. I’ll just keep giving them a happy place, and just keep hoping they forget the rest.