stumbling on perfection
Fumbling with the keys, I shifted your weight to my hip. You leaned forward with an inquisitive sparkle in your eye, your chubby hand grasping for the shiny metal pieces.
They slipped through my fingers to the floor.
Frustrated, I stooped to pick them up, careful not to drop you or the unwieldy bag of dirty laundry that I held in either arm. I thrust the key into the lock, twisting it left while giving the poorly painted green door a shove with my shoulder. I exhaled the breath I didn’t know I was holding and watched as the door swung open.
I met him on a blind date. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go, and I spent a good portion of time beforehand coming up with excuses for why I wouldn’t be able to make it. Minutes before the group arrived, I remember sitting in the armchair near the kitchen, putting on my shoes and asking my college roommate, why am I doing this? He’ll probably be really lame, I said.
But he wasn’t.
The key was stuck in the lock.
I gave it a good yank, but nothing happened. I pulled and twisted and strained until I was out of breath and my palms were red and raw. I might as well have been trying to uproot a one hundred year old tree with my bare hands, for all the progress I was making. Still nestled on my hip, you gurgled and thought I was playing a game.
Finally, after minutes that felt like hours, whatever was catching the key in the lock gave way. But by then my patience was gone, and I was silently cursing this lock, this door, this place.
I decided I was being ridiculous; my emotions were enlarged by the soul-crushing exhaustion and loneliness I was experiencing as a new stay-at-home mother. My sensitivities were bare, vulnerable to the mild aggravations of daily life.
In that moment of self-absorbed pity, I dreamed about the well-appointed, well-decorated laundry room in the house I hoped to have someday. It would be better than this. I knew it.
I emptied the bag of clothes into the washing machine and slammed the lid shut.
I told the ultrasound technician that we didn’t want to know, but in my heart, I was thinking about what I wanted. Oh, not blue or pink; I really didn’t care about that. Instead, I was harboring secret preferences for certain personality traits and particular quirks and eccentricities.
I pushed until I thought the pain would render me unconscious; when it was over and someone called out “It’s a boy!”, the visions I’d had while pregnant suddenly came into sharp focus.
I watch him stumble his way from the kitchen to the dining room, a high-stepping chicken walk that makes me giggle uncontrollably. His hands hang in the air like a disjointed marionette, and his goofy grin exposes uneven jack-o-lantern teeth.
Thank goodness, I think, that I did not get what I wanted.
The microwave timer I had set for 24 minutes beeped loudly. I scooped you into my arms and headed back out the door towards the apartment complex’s communal laundry room, to the lock that gave me so much trouble earlier.
I began again. Door open. Key stuck. Violent thrashing. Battered hands. Triumphant victory.
I discovered the clothes had stopped mid-wash, and they were sopping wet. UNBALANCED!, the washing machine said. I rolled my eyes, thinking of the irony. UNBALANCED!, it accused me again.
I redistributed the clothes, but there were still many minutes left. I didn’t want to leave, so together we waited. I was annoyed, and you were oblivious.
When your husband gets laid off from his job during the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, there’s nothing to do but move forward. And that is what we are doing, although admittedly there are times when the weight of uncertainty presses me into the ground.
In the middle of the day, in our miniscule living room, he holds our son. He jiggles him back and forth to the beat coming from the radio and they dance together, smiling and laughing.
I thought I wanted a mortgage and an employer-matched 401(k). It turns out that I wanted this.
I scanned the small room for something to amuse you with - a square of lint from the dryer, maybe a piece of paper from the community bulletin board. But there was nothing, just a long counter in the middle of the room. I planted your feet on the countertop and grasped your hands. First, a tentative step and then – suddenly – you realized that the runway was clear. You barreled forward like a miniature rocket. I saw the fire in your eyes.
The excitement had you slack-jawed, and two long strings of drool hung charmingly from your mouth. You panted and squealed in excitement, and as we travelled around and around the countertop, I laughed so hard that my stomach hurt. Suddenly the tiredness was gone, and I was no longer thinking about some fantasy life where keys never get stuck and washing machines always stay balanced.
I had already stumbled on perfection.
The author Alice Walker has said, “Expect nothing. Live frugally on surprise.”
Some of the greatest moments of my life so far have been the ones I never expected. This is a lesson that has taken me years to appreciate, but I think I understand now that life holds more than we think we know, and that the unrevealed plan laid out for us is better, so much better, than we can imagine.
I hear your feet thwack, thwack, thwacking in time with the rhythmical pulsing of the washing machine.
The sound reverberated in the small room, and it fills my heart now.