Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Chasing Rainbows

This post was written several years ago (some of my circumstances have changed since then) and was originally published at Segullah as a guest post. It also won me a scholarship at Red Deer College. I republish it here, just because. P.S. My kids still do remember when we went chasing rainbows.

The day started at 6:30 when my alarm went off and music blasted me awake – or semi-awake. Rain drizzled outside the window. I rolled over in the large bed. I learned in the years since my divorce that being a single parent had its benefits, like enough room to sleep anyway I pleased, no one snoring in my ear, and the covers being mine, all mine. But there was no one to share in the misery of getting up so early in the morning, and no one to ask if they could please deal with the morning war this time.

I lay there for a while convincing myself to get out of bed – it took a lot of convincing – then I got up and looked outside at the thin grey veil of wet stuff. I much preferred one of those fine storms where thunder crashes and lightening flashes, the kind that had woken me up a few nights earlier with earth shattering booms that made me think that the end was near and we would all soon die. That night I’d watched the spectacular light show out my window, listening to the thunder that never seemed to stop. The angels tap-danced, went bowling, had laser battles and water fights, and played loud music until all hours of the morning. Trouble is, you can’t call the police when those neighbours have their wild parties. (Not that you would really want to since the show is so much fun to watch. Besides, they clean up after themselves.)

Today’s weather in no way resembled a party—more like a cranky kid with a runny nose. The rain came in spurts and drizzled, with the sun trying desperately to show its face, only to be chased away by bouts of temper. It was a day that shouldn’t have even got out of bed, but did so just to make everyone miserable. And everyone knew that causing misery around here was my job. I turned from the window and headed toward my bedroom door. Ow! Stubbed my toe. Double Ow! Bit my lip because I stubbed my toe. Now I was in the perfect mood to do my job. I headed down the hall and started making the rounds to the four children who still live at home.

Time to get up!

It’s genetic: they hate getting out of bed as much as I do. I circulated through the bedrooms every five minutes, turning off and on lights, repeating myself, holding glasses of water over their heads, and warning them that if they’re late and I have to drive them, I will walk into class with them wearing my pajamas and say hello to all their friends.

This gets them out of bed.

I would like my mornings to have the peaceful and loving organization of June Cleaver and Carol Brady, but I don’t have pearls or an Alice. Instead I have a battlefield. As we gather in the kitchen for breakfast, I brace myself by laying my forehead on the table. The attack begins.

“I need $15.00 to go on a field trip.”

“Where’s the paper work?”

“I left it at school. Just give me the money.”

“Show me the permission slip and I’ll give you the money.”

“But I needed it yesterday. It’s overdue now.”

“You can’t go to school in your pajamas.”

“You can’t go to school in that shirt. You’ve worn it three days in a row now.”

“You can’t go to school in those pants. They have holes in the knees and they’re dirty.”

“These are my favorite pants. I’m not wearing any other pants.”

“Mom, can you make pancakes?”

“I don’t want pancakes. I want poached eggs on an English muffin.”

“I don’t want breakfast.”

“Here’s bologna for your sandwiches.”

 “I don’t want bologna. I hate bologna. I want cheese.”

 “I don’t have cheese. How about peanut butter? It’s quick, easy, nutritious, economical, and I always have it.” I hold up a peanut butter jar and smile like Annette Funicello in the old Skippy peanut butter commercials.

“I’m not allowed peanut butter. There are people in my class who will die if they even smell peanut butter. Do you want some kid to die just because we don’t have cheese?”

“I can’t find socks."

“I can’t find shoes.”

“The dog ate my homework.”

“We don’t have a dog.”

“Okay, someone ate my homework!”

“Mom, can you make cookies for the bake sale today?”

“Mom, sign my homework.”

“Mom, here’s my hot lunch order. I need money. Today.”

“I need my bathing suit.”

“I need my skates.”

“I need something for show and tell. Can I take the dog?”

“We don’t have a dog.”

“Well, that would be a good reason to get one. Can I take the TV instead?”

By the time they left, I was ready to go back to bed. And I tried to but the phone wouldn’t let me. Neither would the doorbell. Or the kid that came back because he forgot his lunch, his bathing suit, and his people-eaten homework.     

With half-closed eyes, I cleaned up the spilled milk, and swept the Cheerios from the floor. I took the damp laundry from two days ago and put it in the dryer and threw another load in the washer hoping no one left crayons in a pocket. (I dare not go through pockets. It’s too scary.) I checked the classifieds for a clerical job only to find ads for scams. The phone rang again; my mother needs me to take her grocery shopping. Then more calls come, one about visiting some people in need, and another request that I fill in for a Sunday School class. I realized that the only reason people call me is because they want something from me. The phone rang yet again and it’s the school requesting that I come and get my son out from underneath a table. Yep, it’s time to get dressed.

When I’m asked what it’s like to be a single mother, I reply that it’s like being a married mother: I cook and clean, referee and console, discipline, hug and scream and pretend that I know what I’m doing. The big difference is that I don’t have someone to talk to about problems that arise. There’s no one to hold my hand when I need reassurance and no shoulder to cry on when I’m sad, overwhelmed or frustrated. When the car breaks down in the middle of traffic, a child doesn’t come home when they’re supposed to, an unexpected bill arises or the washing machine won’t wash clothes anymore, I’m the one who has to fix it somehow. I can comfort others when friends turn on them or nightmares plague them, but when I have nightmares and friends turn away, I am alone.

Initially it was a relief to be out of my impossibly difficult marriage. And it still is. But in spite of my motto of faith, hope and humor, occasionally I get an overwhelming urge to imagine all the worst things that could happen. My big worry that particular day was how to bring in the extra income my family needs. And if I can’t get a job now, where will I be in ten years when I can’t get a job then? Living in my van down by the river? Or pushing a shopping cart with all my worldly things as I wander from dumpster to dumpster, inviting my grandchildren to visit me in my cardboard box while we dine from the scraps we can find from the back of restaurants? 

After returning from the school emergency, I sat at my computer and looked at my resume. Several dozen copies had made their way to various businesses over the past several weeks, and although I have a degree in office administration, a good telephone voice and experience as a writer and a public speaker, so far no one was biting. Recently I’d send out another story to a magazine, another synopsis of my latest book to an agent, another query to a newspaper, but even though I have one published book and five years as a humor columnist, there are no takers. I feel like those deluded kids on American Idol who can’t carry a note yet are convinced that they’re the next Whitney/Mariah/Celine sensation.

Clicking on the local college’s website, I wonder if I should go back to school. But then I wonder how I would pay for it, and if I take out loans how will I pay them back if I still can’t get a job because in four years when I’m holding my degree, who’s going to hire an overweight fifty-year-old when they can have a supermodel twenty or thirty-year-old. I’m grateful that there’s church welfare, but I already feel like a parasite.

I found Sundays difficult and depressing after I got divorced. I understand why many go Latter-Day-Saints go inactive after their marriage breaks up. There can be great judgement and very little understanding about ending a sacred covenant and some Priesthood leaders make devastating decisions using unrighteous dominion.

And sometimes I felt unconnected from the rest of the congregation, in fact the rest of my community – like everyone had a secret that I didn’t know. I recalled one Sunday as I came to church in my old van with the broken windshield, the heater that didn"t work properly and the finicky right signal light, I couldn’t help but look around at all the new and nearly new vehicles and suddenly I felt like the little kid who lives in the big beautiful mansion where everyone has a gorgeous suite, but I have the little space under the stairs. It wasn’t that I desired a new vehicle; I was just tired of being the have-not in the world of haves, in more ways than one.

Yet it’s not all bad and there are some aspects of singledom that I enjoy. Relief Society sisters are kind to me, perhaps out of gratitude that my life isn’t theirs. I don’t have to account to anyone for money spent, or decisions made or why the dishes haven’t been done in two days. There is peace that I never experienced within my marriage — a peace that is worth the nights alone — a peace I would never trade away just to be with “someone, anyone” although deep in my heart I would like to have a special someone. In spite of my limited resources the bills are paid, I’m not in the welfare system, and my face is still relatively free of wrinkles, although there is that troubling one showing up between my eyes due, I know, to stress. In fact I know the incident that caused it, and the child that was responsible, and the reason why I don’t trust people outside of my family.

I turn on a light hoping to alleviate the grey day and the lack of sunshine coming through the windows. Faith, hope, humor, faith hope, humor, I repeat to myself over and over again. But today the mantra taunts me with FAILURE! FAILURE! FAILURE! Self-doubt envelops me. What am I teaching my kids? Do they understand that I believe in marriage even though I’m divorced? That I know it’s hard when, no matter where you are, you miss someone? That I would love to take them to London and Paris or even just away for weekend, but I can’t?

When the kids come home from school, the shoes get thrown throughout the entry instead of on the shoe rack, the coats are on the floor, the backpacks are tossed with papers flying about and the bodies lie in front of the TV.

“There’s never anything to eat around here,” someone complains.

“I just went grocery shopping,” I reply.

“Oranges and eggs aren’t anything to eat.”

“What’s for dinner?” my teenager asks.

“I don’t know. What are you making?” I answer.

“What? Why do I have to make it?”

“Because I’m not going with you on your mission, or off to college with you and I’m certainly not going to live with you when you get married. So you need to learn how to cook.”

Eye rolling ensues. Nobody moves. I wonder what I’m going to make for dinner, how to get everyone to clean up after themselves, and if I should start charging these people rent.

Is this what they’ll remember of me – poor, struggling, alone, nagging, and quickly losing my sense of humor, my adventurous spirit and my spontaneity? Do I have to be the bad guy all the time?

“Mom! Come see this,” my teenage son called later that evening.

“Not right now, I’m busy toting that barge and lifting that bale.”

“You HAVE to come look now! Hurry!”

I reluctantly followed my son’s voice to my bedroom. What was it now? Did someone draw pictures on my walls? Was there sugar in my bed? Was there a flood in my bathroom? Did my son make another smoking concoction that could blow up at any moment?

My youngest stood on my bed. She had pulled up the blinds. “Look outside Mommy!”

I looked out the window and down to the ground. I didn’t see anything unusual. The brief rainstorm had stopped but there was no sign of damage. The yard could use some cleaning. I sighed, knowing the cries of protest that would occur when I announced that we’re doing yard work as a family.

“What’s so exciting?” I asked, bewildered.

“Look up, Mom,” my son said.

The rainbow stretched from one end right to the other. It’s rare to see an entire rainbow, especially one with such brilliant colors.

I gasp at it’s beauty and wonder at the extraordinary feeling of knowing I had seen rainbows many times before, but still feel like it’s the first time.

“Oh, it’s so beautiful!” my daughter squealed.

“It’s a double rainbow,” my son said. “You can see a faded one just above it.”

We stood there together, gazing at the promise, the sun beaming down and turning raindrops into diamonds. The bow was so close, it seemed I could reach out my hand to touch it. Its brilliant colors stretched across the sky, one end landing in a distant place to the south. We could see the other end just off to the hills, not far away.

“Let’s go to the end of it!” my teenager said.

I hesitated. We were in the middle of a cleaning project. Dirty dishes filled the sink. I hadn’t prepared dinner yet, and it was getting late. But suddenly visions of dancing in the rainbow’s light came to my mind. I imagined us climbing the arc and sliding down the other side. I know it wasn’t possible to actually slide down a rainbow, but maybe—just maybe—dancing in its light was. And I knew in that instant, that I had an opportunity to make a memory for my children. Not a Disneyland memory, but a memory all the same.

 “All right,” I said.

We piled into the car and I followed the rainbow, knowing that it was further than it looked, yet inexplicably drawn to it.

“Are we getting closer yet? It doesn’t look like it.”

“Man, I thought it would be up that road. I guess it isn’t.”

I turned up another road, further along than I had expected.

“Look, it’s still over there. We’re not even close.”

“Is there a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?”

“Yeah, there’s leprechauns too.”

And then suddenly, the road turned, and we all gazed at it, stunned.

“Wow!” the children sighed in unison.

It was right in front of us, just out of reach. Not only did it still shine brilliantly but there was another, paler version of it, in the sky. We could see the end, just up the next hill, in front of some bushes.

As we followed the rainbow, it’s reflection shone off the wet road and I knew we were traveling in its light.

Up the next hill we went, only to see the rainbow still farther in front of us, and to our disappointment, the end of the rainbow has faded. The rainbow itself was still there, but the end no longer touched the ground, and the brilliant hues were fading.

There would be no dancing in its colors that day.

“Do you even know where we are, Mom?” my son asked from the backseat as I turned the car around.

On the way home the rainbow faded to nothingness behind us. We watched a pink and purple sunset, and saw dragons in the clouds.

When we pulled into the driveway, we had no pots of gold to carry into the house. We had no stories of meeting leprechauns or even the thrill of dancing in a rainbow’s colors. What we did have were several hungry stomachs and a messy house.

But we also had the memory of the day that we dropped everything and went chasing rainbows.

I gazed at my children’s faces as they chattered about the adventure. Peace filled me as I realized that in spite of lack of money and hot tempers, I could always give them memories: sucking helium in a small room of the church while we decorated for my son’s wedding reception, gathering leaves for the Thanksgiving table, ambushes with Easter basket water pistols, and days spent rehearsing and performing in the latest community play.

By the time dinner and dishes were done, the sun had fallen below the horizon and all signs of the rainbow were now long gone, but the moon peeked through the clouds and the grey day had turned into a pleasantly warm evening.

The gold isn’t at the end of the rainbow. It’s right here, in our home. All we have to do is look up.

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