Mining Life: Inspiration in the Everyday
“What do you want for Mother’s Day?”
“Just to spend the day with the kids. Maybe a family bike ride. And a couple of hours to write.”
It feels a little selfish to ask for solitude on a day intended to celebrate that I am never alone, that I am forever in the heart and soul of my five children. But those five children, along with a teaching job, an editing job, a curriculum writing job, and graduate school leave precious little time for a creative space in which I can make something that is all my own. Just a couple of hours to write before spending the rest of the day on bicycles with the kids, that is what I want for Mother’s Day.
My eight-year-old daughter spends all of Saturday constructing what she claims will be the best Mother’s Day gift ever. She has paper, markers, cardboard, scissors, glue, fabric, and ribbon spread all over the dining room table, and I am banned from the room while she works (a neat trick in the 1300 square foot condo that houses the seven of us). I don’t peek at Rhys’s project, though I do steal glances to watch her work. She hunches over the chaos of supplies, turning things over in her hands, clasping her tongue firmly between her lips, scratching at her scalp with thin and gluey fingers.
Scratching at her scalp.
I don’t take much note of the scratching. Rhys has dreadful psoriasis, ugly, scaly patches of white and yellow that are harmless, but are itchy. And so she scratches. A Saturday afternoon finger to the scalp as Rhys works on an elaborate art project is nothing out of the ordinary.
“It’s finished,” Rhys declares as we snuggle in for a Saturday night movie. “But you can’t see it until tomorrow.” She grins up at me conspiratorially, then gives her scalp a good scratch. I glance as she scratches. Wait–what the hell was that? I sit her up, part her hair, and watch the little fucker crawl from one strand to the next, perfectly at home on my daughter’s scaly scalp. I pick it out and squash it between my fingers, slicing it in two with a fingernail. “Damn it.” I check all the other kids and am relieved that Rhys is the only victim. I have her stand next to me by the computer while I search the internet for lice home remedies. There seems to be an interweb consensus that coconut oil will do the trick, and I have plenty on hand. All I have to do is slather her hair in coconut oil, wrap her head in plastic, leave it overnight, and in the morning I’ll be able to just comb out the little bastards.
So while the others watch the movie, Rhys and I slather and wrap and hope for the best.
All of my children are up early on Sunday. They wiggle and giggle as they make me breakfast. “Dippy eggs or scrambled?” “What kind of bagel?” “Grapefruit or a banana?” They dance and sing. “Can you open your presents now?” Cards and pamphlets and certificates and coupons made at school, a tomato plant for our balcony, and the homemade posters that trill “Happy Mother’s Day” through rainbows and flowers and hearts. Rhys is particularly proud of her masterpiece of a poster, complete with its ribbon frame and imperfectly perfect fabric hearts. She points out each heart, “This one is like the fabric Desi used on hers, but only I used this fabric, just for you.” Her neck shines with the oil that had melted from her scalp. The plastic cap we fashioned has slipped. She digs her fingers into the plastic to get to the itchy spots.
As we clean up after breakfast, my husband asks how I want the rest of the day to go. “Writing first or bike ride first?”
“I have to comb through Rhys’s hair before she puts a helmet on her head.”
I dig out the flea comb we occasionally use on the dog as my husband starts the dishwasher. I summon Rhys to the bathroom, unwrap her head, and begin combing. Comb a strand, from the scalp all the way to the end. Rinse the comb out in a sink full of hot water. Wipe the comb on a towel. Pick the dead lice out of the towel. Add them to the sink. Comb the same strand. Rinse, wipe, pick, sink. Again for the same strand. Use my fingers to pick out any eggs I can spot. Comb the strand again. Rinse, wipe, pick, sink. Braid the strand so I know it’s finished, then move onto the next strand. We do it over and over again. Rhys stands patiently, shifting from foot to foot and reaching her fingers around the comb to scratch at both scaly patches and bug bites. She counts the dead lice floating in the sink.
After an hour of combing and picking and rinsing: “Mama?”
“I’m sorry for getting lice on Mother’s Day.”
“It’s okay. You can’t control when you get lice.”
“But this isn’t fun.”
“It’s okay. We’ll get them all out and then we’ll go on a bike ride and that will be fun.”
“Did you find another one?”
“Yeah. One, two, three more.” They’re already dead, but I pretend I’m drowning each one as I add it to the sink.
Sunshine, warmth, the smell of grass and lilacs and honeysuckle, a spring breeze. Our bike ride is beautiful. And exhausting. We arrive home in time to make and eat dinner and put the kids to bed, a routine that takes nearly three hours. I change into my own pajamas shortly after the last kid is bathed, brushed, snuggled, storied, tucked, and kissed. I collapse on the sofa and my husband hands me a glass of wine. I thank him and tell him I’ll probably only make it through the one glass before falling asleep.
“I know,” he says, sitting next to me. “Did you enjoy your Mother’s Day?”
“Absolutely,” I say. “Breakfast, a tomato plant, cards and posters from the kids, a bike ride. It was perfect.”
“You didn’t get to write.”
“Are you sure?” he asks.
“Yes,” I say. “I’m sure. Besides, if I’d let you pick out the lice today, what would I have to write about tomorrow?”
Jenni Eaton is a writer, teacher, and mother. She currently spends most of her writing time crafting curriculum, but she’s also working on a novel. Recent news and work can be found on her website: jennieaton.com