I woke early, heart racing, dark dreams prickling – my own version of a global thriller, complete with missing mid-century masterpieces, a chase scene through a foreign airport, running for my life across an unknown border, and the face of the enemy in pursuit.
Frankly, I kept waiting for action hero Jason Bourne to pop up. Was this the latest in his series of films? Would I manage to save myself and my children? And what of the fact that I saw my enemy, when that has never occurred in my dreams before?
And I don’t know why.
I woke, then dozed into a second state of strange slumber. I was cleaning and organizing; I was a housekeeper, padding up the back stairs of a stately manse – very Remains of the Day. I left my tattered coat and scarf on the landing, tip-toed to the room where I would don my apron, and began preparations for a long stretch of tidying and sweeping. And I don’t know why.
Yet in a few days, my son has resurrected two dead computers, taken apart the fossilized lawn mower and tried to fix it, while in and out of the house covered in grease and muttering about fuel injection and other things beyond my ken. As for additional broken things? There’s enough to keep him busy (and entertained) for months, but he’ll only be home for another week. But the cleaning? The organizing? The unsolicited assistance? The caring camaraderie he has exhibited for his brother, still stressed as he pushes through the last hard days and nights of Junior Year?
The level of kitchen time (and maternal cooking) has ratcheted up, but so has the degree of mirth around the dinner table. And I know exactly why.
As for the prodigy artiste, since painting three walls of his room (and considerably sleep-deprived), he is the poster child for the adolescent variant of menopausal mood swings. Yet two days ago, in the midst of a mountain of school work, he cleaned his room. And I don’t know why.
Two nights ago he was scrubbing the kitchen microwave, the inside of the oven, the stove top, the greasy burners (with toothbrush), and every pot and pan in the house! He was using assorted chemical sprays, natural solvents, and rubbing alcohol. And I certainly don’t know why.
Later, he washed dishes and put them away, then teased me about the state of my (few) kitchen cabinets, whereupon he emptied them and reorganized the limited storage space for my dishes, bowls, and silverware drawers.
And I don’t know why.
Of course he left all his implements of mad science and sanitizing for me to put away – the grease-dirtied toothbrush, the Fantastik and sponges, the bottle of Isopropyl alcohol, which I questioned him about. He proceeded to shake his head and extol the virtues of simple solutions, for sparkling computer screens and dust-free drives, and the kitchen counter that is currently (and uncharacteristically) gleaming like the stove top and burners where I suspect the many uses for rubbing alcohol around the house played some role.
The lawn mower has been left outside awaiting whatever proposed tinkering might be next, and I still must remind both boys to clear their plates and glasses after dinner, to pick up their underwear, and to put the car keys back on the table. My car keys.
This odd mix of leaving trails and urgency to clean? Truthfully, I don’t know why.
Traveling with tools
In the cleaning frenzy, in the laughter that has filled the house in the past week, in the desire to help without being asked, the opposites of mess and tidying make for interesting tensions. Just like the lighter mood must coexist with domestic dramas churning behind the scenes.
Meanwhile, my son’s luggage remains spread on the living room floor. And as the Latvian Suite Storage Closet has been occupied by some of his friends for several nights, putting away his bags is out of the question. But this morning, I glanced in the open bag and noticed a set of bit sockets and wrenches, ratcheting T-drivers and his Leatherman. My son travels with tools.
I smiled, and at that moment, loved him profoundly. Which is not to say that I don’t always love him profoundly, but there was something eccentric, poignant, and practical in his cargo, as there has been in the teasing and fixing, the grease and the solvents, along with the watchful eye on his brother.
Why has this struck me so deeply? I know exactly why.
When marriage breaks and nothing is ever “right” again, it is difficult to see the features of your ex in the faces of your children. His habits and gestures. The resurfacing of the person who caused you pain. It is one more way in which it seems impossible to move on.
I have been fortunate. My sons are a blend of the finest of both sides of the familial divide. In my elder, physically, I see a flicker of my father as well as my former mother-in-law. Creativity in my younger is the hallmark of my ancestral tree, while his passion for tennis is his dad and my father-in-law, as is the quirky humor. As for my firstborn’s unstoppable urge to take things apart, and his determination to put them together again?
In this, perhaps he is the heart of his father and his mother. While being – always – very much his own man.
Why I’m fond of Isopropyl Alcohol
As I understand it, Isopropyl alcohol is potentially hazardous, and incredibly utilitarian. It is a clear chemical mixture that is essentially acid and water. I cannot express how fitting this seems as I run through the film of my marriage, and the years since. Destructive power and translucence. Potential volatility, yet easily managed. There is a European formula and an American variation. Most households contain this common solution, for multiple uses, and don’t forget its existence or capacity.
There are bad dreams, tough times, and the face of many sorts of enemies. But fear and worry are offset by laughter, by generosity, and by kindness. I observe compassion and caring in both my sons. And I know exactly why.