Monday, July 23, 2018

A Peaceful House

Good Monday morning.

It is intolerably hot. It's just ridiculously, disconcertingly hot. July is probably my least favorite month. I would likely pick August as my least favorite month except that college football is usually underway by the end of August. July's only redemption is that it falls during the summer; if I had to get the kids up & out of the house before seven in the morning during the month of July, well, I probably would not. That would likely be the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back & ushered us into the era of Zeigler Family Homeschool. We would sleep kind of late, do no math, & read a lot. So, summer basically. I digress. 

Last week was a slow, hot week. Actually, Monday was not all that slow, but things petered out after that. Monday morning the kids & I woke & scurried out of the house before the cleaning lady arrived. We arrived at Chick-fil-A in time to order off the breakfast menu. After we ate, the kids sauntered over to the indoor play area, & I finalized & posted last week's blog (CLICK HERE if you missed it) & happily sipped my large coffee. The rest of Monday we ran errands in the heat. I registered the kids for the upcoming school year & bought groceries. We may've done a few other things I can't recall at the moment because the heat has seeped into my soul & is impacting my memory in negative ways. I just despise heat so much. 

I suppose the highlight of last week was Wednesday's $1 showing of Ferdinand. Ferdinand is an excellent film, however it is set in Spain & the protagonist is a bull so I half watched the film & half thought about The Sun Also Rises & Hemingway. I was actually already thinking about The Sun Also Rises because while I was in line for the kids' popcorn I chatted with one of last year's honors students. She'll be in AP this next year & thus she just began reading The Sun Also Rises because it's her summer reading assignment. My whole world is like that Kevin Bacon game except it's Six Degrees of Ernest Hemingway. 

If Ferdinand was last week's high point, the low point of last week was probably the arrival of my new curtains. Now, I love the curtains, but Pier 1 shipped me three panels that are 108 inches & one panel that is 96 inches. As you might imagine, this isn't the look for which I am striving in our kitchen/dining area. After long & uninteresting negotiations with Pier 1, I am told another 108 inch panel is being sent my way. We shall see. 

For weeks now I've been promising to tell you more about the house we didn't buy, specifically why I liked it. I will fulfill that promise today, & then I'm going to discuss this month's book club book. 

Quick recap: Back in May I discovered a house around the corner from us was for sale. I looked at pictures of the inside of the house posted online, & I liked what I saw. Trey & I had a realtor friend show us the house, & we decided we'd throw caution to the wind & make an offer (I was throwing caution to the wind; Trey was choosing not to stand in my way). We were unsure if our offer would even be considered because it would have been contingent on the sale of our house (which was not even officially for sale at the time), but we never made it that far down the real estate road because another offer for the house was made & accepted. The house is now off the market & occupied by the new owners. Every time we pass it (which is all the time), Henry turns his head & sadly says, "There's the house." He sounds like Eeyore when he says this. 

Anyway, I was pretty bummed the house sold too, but it is a small matter in the scheme of things. The whole ordeal was not a total waste. I learned a few things that I will share with you. The first thing I learned (something that truly came as a shock to me) is that I am tired of the concrete floors in my house.

I've always loved concrete floors. They are visually pleasing to me, they are easy to clean, & they can be dressed up or down as you see fit with a new rug. There is a seamlessness to a house full of concrete floors that is appealing to me. Before we walked through the other house I actually told Trey if we bought it I'd want to take up the existing flooring & stain the concrete. That is what I told him. When we walked through the other house, I realized I kind of loved the tile in the kitchen & bathrooms . . . & I did not hate the carpet in the bedrooms.

And the thing is I hate carpet. One spill, one vomit incident, & I would want to rip that carpet up with my bare hands. I hate carpet. I never, ever thought I'd consider living in a house with carpet . . . but I walked through that house & it felt so cozy, & I will tell you that my aging joints loved it. We've lived in our current house for almost seven years now, & seven years of concrete-living is catching up with me. You know what? I take back my 96-inch curtain low point; the low point of last week was when I contacted a friend who is a doctor to ask him about the ache in my right hip. After I sent him a multiple-paragraph message containing way too much information about the history of my right hipbone, he replied & said he believes my ache is something called Bursitis. My hip was bothering me after our trip to Dallas. I slept in a hotel bed, & I did a lot of standing & walking. Long story short, I am getting old, & our concrete floors are exacerbating the problem.

My hip has improved after a few days of resting it as much as the children allowed. I haven't insisted we put down new floors, but (& don't tell Trey) the main reason I am not insisting on new floors is that I am going to eventually find a house I want, & we are going to buy it. Shhhh. Stay tuned.

In addition to my concrete floor revelation, I discovered I wanted a small, practical table where the kids can do homework & color & leave their junk, & I also wanted a functional dining table, a table reserved for eating. The other house had a separate formal dining room & a generous space for a kitchen table in the kitchen. We have a nook off the kitchen for a table, but I've never had a table there because our designated "dining room" is part of one big kitchen/dining space. I decided I wanted to put a table in the nook in our kitchen. I removed a leaf from our oval dining table, & it has been transformed into a lovely circular table for two. I ordered the rectangular dinging table I shared with you recently for the dining area. I am so pleased with these changes. In the mornings I sit at the round table & sip my coffee & gaze out at the fools playing golf in this 100+ degree July weather.

Psychologically I needed the two distinct tables, & I didn't even know it. I think it stems from my desire to makes spaces useful & purposeful. When you have kids in the house, if you do not intentionally define a space for them & explain its function, they take over the space (which means their toys take over the space). Since we moved in this house, the nook off the kitchen has basically been a place to throw toys. This is not something I can live with one moment longer. I am a happier woman exiting my bedroom & walking into the kitchen every morning knowing my distressed off-white table & two chairs are waiting for me instead of an ill-defined space littered with toys I want to burn.

I didn't know I was tired of my concrete floors. It is amazing what you can uncover about yourself & your true desires by walking through a house that's for sale. Due to the short curtain issue & general heat-induced laziness on my part, I haven't taken any quality photos of all these changes yet. I hope to do that soon, & I will of course share those pictures with you.

The last thing I'll say about our non-move is that one reason I wanted to buy the other house is that a move would force us to deal with our junk. Could we deal with it now? Yes, yes of course we could. I have been slowly making my way through some of it this summer, but there's nothing like coming face to face to with everything you own & having to decide if you love it enough to box it up & move it. There is something so tempting about the lure of a true purge. This isn't the only reason the house-hunting bug has bitten me, but I admit it is one of the reasons. I do want to eventually move, however I don't want to leave our neighborhood, so I'll just continue to stalk the neighborhood in search of new For Sale signs. I like our proximity to both sets of our parents, & I like our proximity to Chick-fil-A. I also like exercising on or near the golf course. Actually I would move a little closer to my parents & the rolling hills of nearby Lincoln Parish (since there is now a Chick-fil-A in Lincoln Parish), but while the kids are still in school any move Westward would make our morning wake-up time entirely too early.

So. Moving on. Tomorrow night is the big book club meeting for July. It has all the makings of an epic book club meeting. July's book, which I'll discuss more momentarily, is a wonderful book, & we are meeting at Log Cabin, a lovely little restaurant in the nearby town of Ruston. I plan to eat an embarrassing amount of nachos & laugh the loud laugh of a woman who is responsible for feeding only herself for the evening. 

For the month of July we read Liane Moriarty's The Husband's Secret. I don't want to recap the entire book for you; that would take too long & become overly detailed for all but a handful of you who I suppose enjoy too much detail since you continue to read this blog. I'd like to omit a great many of the book's details & discuss the book's three leading ladies without delving into spoilers since (a) there may be book club members who've yet to finish the book & (b) some of you may be persuaded to read the book. 

There are three women whose lives are at the heart of this novel. Their stories are interwoven expertly by Ms. Moriarty. As you may've guessed, one of the women is married to a man who has a secret, & it is his secret that fuels the plot of the novel. Setting his secret aside, the novel is a fascinating study of women. The three major players are Cecilia, Tess, & Rachel. 

Cecilia & Tess are in their thirties, while Rachel is, I think, in her sixties. Through a handful of events in these women's lives, events both past & present, Ms. Moriarty unravels a variety of secrets as she carefully unpacks these characters for the reader. 

Rachel lost a child before the novel opens. We meet Cecilia in the middle of a typical day for her; she's juggling the activities of her three school-aged children, her husband's absence from their home due to business, & her thriving tupperware business. The reader meets Tess on the evening her husband tells her he believes he's fallen in love with another woman. The novel's opening three chapters introduce the reader to these three women; you are plunged headlong into their stories, & as Ms. Moriarty weaves the threads of their stories together you remain riveted. 

Through Rachel we see a woman whose existence has, for over three decades, been defined by the loss of her daughter. Rachel is a widow when we meet her. Her one joy in life is her grandson. It becomes apparent Rachel has neglected her relationship with her living child, her son, & she has a strained relationship with her daughter-in-law. 

Tess & Cecilia are somewhat cast as opposites. They are both married women in their thirties grappling with all that territory entails for women who desire a smidgen of a career, a happy marriage, & a clean, comfortable, welcoming home, all while making sure the kids have what they need when they need it & are where they're supposed to be when they're supposed to be there. 

Cecilia is the happily married mother of three who volunteers at school, makes extra money selling tupperware, & maintains a home so pristine she takes pride in the details of her pantry, which of course is full of neatly arranged tupperware containers filled with fresh, crisp food. 

Tess is a bit of a mess. Her marriage is falling apart. Her career takes quite a hit as well since her business partners are her husband & her cousin, who believe they are in love with each other. Tess flees town with her only child, her son Liam. Tess of course flees to her hometown to stay with her mother. Liam thus finds himself in a new elementary school with new classmates, one of whom is Cecilia's youngest daughter. With Easter approaching, there is no shortage of (absurdly over the top) events & activities for the children, the sort of events & activities that shine a bright, glaring spotlight not on the children, but on their mothers. 

I laughed over & over again as I read Cecilia & Tess's respective thoughts about & reactions to the school's Easter activities. Both women are in the middle of a crisis, falling completely apart on the inside, yet life continues to move. They are still Mommy, & they are still expected to send their child(ren) to school with a spectacularly decorated Easter hat for the school's Easter hat parade. If you can relate to this, you should read this book.

As we read the book, a few of the book club ladies & I discussed (via our group Facebook page) whether we are more like Cecilia or Tess. There is tremendous pressure to be a Cecilia; mothers feel this pressure from within & without. I can't recall my exact comments, but I think I said I lean Tess. There is a Cecilia in me, but age & reality gradually whittle her away as the years pass. This became stunningly clear to me when I finished reading the book; I'll explain that momentarily. 

I guessed the husband's secret before it was revealed, & I also had a pretty solid idea as to how the novel would wrap up. The story is good, no doubt, but I kept reading not because I didn't know what was going to happen next (I was pretty sure I did know what was going to happen next) but to see how the characters reacted to the events I suspected were ahead. The story is good, compelling even, but to me these women are the strength of this novel. Cecilia's responses to things that happen in her day to day life are as wonderful to read as her reaction to monumental events. The women are well written, & I relate to all three of them at various points in the novel. They are over the top at times, however I would hesitate to say they're caricatures of various female stereotypes when the truth is women can be, well, over the top at times. 

I was so tempted to judge these women as I read. I didn't always like the decisions they make. I didn't like the way they handle certain situations. Rachel is obsessed with her daughter's death. Tess has an affair with an old boyfriend. Cecilia overanalyzes everything & worries herself sick about things that (as she learns) have nothing to do with the reality of her situation. All of these women make bad choices at times. 

The book ends with something tragic happening to one of Cecilia's daughters. The girl lives, but her life will be forever altered. When I read this passage quoted below, I realized a large part of the reason I, at thirty-seven, don't classify myself as a Cecilia, a classification I would've readily made regarding my future self when I was childless at twenty-seven:

Cecilia let the tears slide on and on. She needed to get all her crying out of the way, because she was determined that Polly would never see her shed a tear. Cecilia was about to step into a new life: her life as a diabetic's mother. Even as she cried, she could feel her muscles tensing in readiness, as if she were an athlete about to begin a marathon. Soon she would be fluent in a new language of insulin and needles and God knows what else. She'd move heaven and earth and bake muffins and pay fraudulent compliments to get the best results for her daughter. No one was better qualified than Cecilia for this role. 

I edited the above passage a little. Cecilia's daughter's tragedy is not at all related to diabetes, but I had to either omit or change the original text to avoid spoilers, & obviously this is how I read the passage anyway, particularly the sections regarding stepping into a new life & learning a new vocabulary. 

It is obvious from Cecilia's inner monologue that she will no longer be the Cecilia others have come to know, furiously selling her tupperware, always volunteering, always making the best costumes for her children. Cecilia's energy has been redirected; it is a detour that will redefine the rest of her life. 

Throughout the novel, Cecilia attempts to understand Rachel's loss, the loss of her daughter. After her own daughter's misfortune, these are Cecilia's thoughts:

You could try as hard as you could to imagine someone else's tragedy, but nothing truly hurts until it happens to you. Most of all, to your child. 

Since Reagan's diagnosis I've had a handful of people contact me because someone they love has been diagnosed with diabetes. They all say the same thing: I had no idea. I had no idea this is what it is like, this is what you deal with daily, hourly. I never know how to respond to these comments. Yes, it is exhausting. Yes, it is a terrible hand our loved ones were dealt. There is a grieving process. As a mother you grieve for the life you thought your child would have. I try to be positive in these exchanges with friends & family of the newly diagnosed. When I reached out to other diabetics & their parents after diagnosis, I needed practical advice & reassurance, & so I try to give practical advice & reassurance. 

Anyway, I think in addition to simply being excellent fiction, this book is worth a read because it's an excellent study of women, their thought processes, their emotional turmoil, their daily struggle to be all things to all people while also staying fit & healthy & raising emotionally & physically healthy children. I think most women have the potential to be a Cecilia. Most women would love to be financially & emotionally & physically able to always volunteer, always help with the party, always create fun costumes, always chaperone the field trip. Life unfortunately throws some ugly wrenches in our plans, as Rachel, & Tess, & Cecilia learn. 

Here's the crux of it all though, here's what I take away from this book. All of these women are dealt some heavy blows. They face situations we all hope & pray we never face. My tendency while reading was to get irritated & to judge . . . & I'll tell you, my tendency in life, when it's nonfiction, is to get irritated & to judge; I don't think this is unique to me. Part of the hilarity of this book is that in the midst of their own crises, these women are second-guessing & judging all the other women. It's hilarious when you read it, but it's not an inaccurate depiction of women. 

I hate the saying about walking a mile in someone else's shoes. I don't like it because it suggests it is not okay to condemn people's actions even when their actions might clearly be wrong. It is wrong for Tess to sleep with her old boyfriend. It is clearly wrong. It is so desperately sad & wrong for Rachel to neglect her son, her living child, because she is so lost in her grief over her daughter's death & consumed by her desire for revenge. However, as Cecilia comes to learn, it is not until the pain is your own, until the marriage in crisis is your own, until the maimed or sick (or deceased) child is your own, that you can truly fully understand the depth of someone else's sorrow. Don't ever say, "I would never do that," or, "I would never react that way," because the truth is that no matter how much you think you know yourself or how strong you think your convictions are, you simply do not know how you'd react to a hypothetical situation. 

Tragedy is not an excuse for immorality, but those in the middle of tragedy & those grappling with realities that most others simply do not understand need more grace than they are sometimes offered. Instead of jumping to judgmental conclusions, we should first say a prayer of thanksgiving that we are not facing whatever the situation is that someone else is facing, & then we should pray for them, pray for their peace & comfort, & then, then, we should pray that their response to tragedy, if it is truly an immoral or selfish response, will be recognized as such by them & corrected. 

Ladies, we are hard on ourselves, & we are hard on one another. Ms. Moriarity understands this, & her understanding of the nature of women is why this novel is a great read. If you are a Cecilia, God bless you. The world needs Cecilias. I think most women, most mothers, have a Cecilia buried somewhere inside them, but for many of us, she'll remain buried under piles of reality, of exhaustion, of illness, of financial strain, of social anxiety, of stress.

Your role as a wife & mother is different than mine. Your husband & your children are not my husband & my children. When you get up in the morning, tell yourself, No one is better qualified than me for this role . . . For this man, for these children. I absolutely love that line of Cecilia's; I love the juxtaposition of her sobbing while simultaneously tensing her mommy muscles, preparing for the marathon in front of her. I gasped when I read much of the end of the novel as she is coming to terms with her shifting role as a mother.

Most women want what Ursula LeGuin references in her quote above: for their family to eat together in a peaceful house at day's end. How one woman barters & maintains that peace is not going to be identical to the way another woman barters & maintains that peace. There is no one right to do it, & there are so many, many variables thrown in the mix, variables about which you may know very little or even be completely unaware. At the end of the day, what Rachel & Cecilia & Tess all want is to be able to sit down with their families, their whole, healthy families, & be together peacefully. There are so many, many things standing in the way of that happening for these women.

This novel is about women, about how they respond to trials & what they will do for their families, for their children, when push comes to shove. It is a book a man might enjoy & a book all women should read.  It'll make you laugh, cry, & think deeply about the heartache many people with whom you regularly interact carry. Above all else I think it will encourage you to be kind(er) to others, especially other women, other mothers. It has encouraged me in this way.

Liane Moriarty pays me nothing & knows nothing of this blog post. This is just pure, genuine book excitement. I have never read a passage about grappling with a child's illness or injury that resonated with me the way the passage I quoted above does, & for her words I will always be thankful to Ms. Moriarty. That's one of the reasons books are wonderful; in books you will often see yourself. You will find your own feelings & emotions leaping off the page, words you didn't realize you wanted to say poignantly expressing deeply felt emotions you may not have realized you were harboring.

I don't know what I'll read next. I should probably begin August's book, which is Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. August begins slowly but ends with a flurry of activity so an early start on the month's reading is probably a good idea. For now I refuse to think of the structure that will return by August's end, the early mornings & schedules & whatnot. I remain happily entrenched in my home nursing my aging hip & awaiting my missing 108 inch curtain from Pier 1, except of course when I leave to check the neighborhood for For Sale signs.

I'll tell you a secret. I had planned to write about The Husband's Secret today & write about my psychological house issues next week. Today you basically get two blogs in one, so I am taking a vacation next week. It'll be the fifth Monday in July, & four blogs in one month is enough of my babbling. Over the next two weeks I'm going to finish writing VBS skits & get the house, the kids, & my mind ready for the upcoming school year. I'll be back in two weeks time, emerged from my summer cocoon, & prepared to talk about the things of August such as the continued heat & the march toward college football.


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