“Why is the sofa in the bathroom?” I asked nervously.

“I needed somewhere to rest my arm while I took a bath,” Katriel called, waving her new cast at me with its permanent thumbs-up sign.

Two weeks ago when it snowed she fell out of a sled and broke her thumb. This week they set her arm in a cast, which is neon yellow and supposedly allowed in water. At home, Katriel submerged her arm in the tub, eager to see how it felt. Immediately her cast popped back up with the thumb pointed decidedly down. “It’s too itchy!” she whined. “The white stuff’s sticking to my skin. Can I just take it off?”

Now she finds novel ways to keep her cast dry, but already the stuffing has disappeared around the edges and a rash is clearly forming.

Yesterday I made a mental note to call the orthopedic office while simultaneously recalling my drive home from another orthopedic’s office long ago, when Annalise was ten months old, and both her feet were put in casts to correct their alignment. As I drove home, that baby yanked all the stuffing out of the top of her new casts and ate it. When suddenly she began to choke I had no idea what was going on. I swerved off the freeway onto the shoulder and dove towards her, frantically pulling wad after wad of cast stuffing out of her throat. When finally her windpipe was clear, I tried to calm my own breathing  and enter back into traffic. Not five minutes down the road Annalise again began choking, and once more I screeched to the shoulder for a repeat retrieval.

Annalise Learns to Crawl with Casts, Circa 2000

Right in the middle of that poignant reverie, Juliet tugged on my shirt. “Are you listening, Mom?” She frowned. “You never listen.”

“I do,” I said, even as I dragged a couch cushion out of the bathroom back to its rightful home beneath the tv.

“Guess how many are in here?” Juliet waved a leaded crystal bowl filled with bread crumbs in my face. “Katriel guessed 20 and I said 49. You write down your answer on this slip of paper, then we’ll see who’s closest.”

I sank down onto the remaining sofa cushions still on the bathroom floor and willy-nilly wrote 722 on the slip of paper. Juliet took it and folded it, but not before shaking her head at me. “Are you even trying, Mom?” she moaned. 

I had no idea if I was trying any more or not. “Count them now!” Juliet ordered, and I dutifully dumped the bread crumbs all over my lap, there on the sofa cushions on the bathroom floor. Purposefully I counted out loud, while dumping them back in, one by one. “53,” I declared. Juliet whistled victoriously. “I win again!” she yelled. “Katriel, come here, I won!”

Katriel appeared in the doorway and peered in at us with a mightily furrowed brow. “She always wins,” she pouted. “I never do. Mom, did she count them all up before she put them in the bowl and cheat again?”

I was pretty sure she had, but before I could delicately respond, Eli walked by. “Are you guys eating sandwiches in the bathroom?” He looked at me with a pained expression. “You brought the sofa in there, too?” He shook his head, obviously disturbed. “You told me and Jacob not to use those fancy dishes and now you let the girls use them in the bathroom?”

I lay back on the cushions and exhaled slowly. It was sort of pleasant having a sofa in the bathroom, I thought wistfully.

“Mom….Mom….are you listening?” Eli drummed his fingers on the bathroom door. “Can you give me a haircut like…right now.”

I reluctantly rose and followed him upstairs, to the bathroom that was not being used for parlor games, but rather as Damon’s office/Laundry room. Dirty clothes teetered in tall, puffy mounds all around his desk, and I walked up and over the whites and the darks rounding up scissors and clippers and setting them out next to his computer as if I knew what I was doing.

“Let’s try the clippers this time,” I said, feeling assured and self-confident for no reason whatsoever. Eli reluctantly agreed. “Just pick at it, Mom! Don’t shave it all off,” he cautioned.

Uh huh..”  I muttered. Immediately I gouged a big bald spot into the back of his head. “Hold on now….Don’t panic,” I whispered, panicking.

I continued to buzz my Ginger boy’s coveted locks until I realized I better stop while he still had some hair.

Eli was beside himself. “You didn’t listen!” he yelled. “God, Mom, it’s horrible. It’s ruined. You’ve balded me!”

He stomped downstairs and soon after typed on facebook: Today after school I decided I needed a haircut. I told my mom because she cuts my hair (Because we’re poor..) and it usually turns out actually looking nice. Today she decided to experiment with actually hair cutting razors, the ones they use at barber shops. She has decided it is SO bad she is not letting me go to school tomorrow, and that we need to see a barber asap…

Not much has changed since Eli wrote that yesterday. As I sit here, everything around me still seems broke. Katriel’s thumb. Eli’s hair. Juliet’s game etiquette. The world’s climate. The United States electoral system. Heidi and Seal’s marriage. Even Miss Messy, our reliable minivan, kicked the can this week.

This morning Annalise, home sick with a fever and cold, peered over at me sitting zombie-like on the sofa and said, “Guess what time it is in Zimbabwe right now?”

“I have no idea,” I grumbled.

 “It’s 7pm. At night. Right now.” She turned the iphone she was holding around so I could see the world clock app she was referencing.  “Now guess what time it is in Bangkok?”

I stared blankly down into my coffee cup. “Mom! Are you even listening to me?” Annalise shouted.

The answer was no. It still is no, hours later. I am not listening. The noise of five children, a broken car, broken finances, home haircuts and fevers and laundry and “Why is the sofa in the bathroom?” have left me muted while I try to mentally gather all the little broken pieces that are life as a mother and patch them into another coherent day.

But this I know. Even when broke, we are not poor by anyone’s standards other than a teenager’s. And after I sip a bit more coffee, I will rise and sweep breadcrumbs from the bathroom floor. I will attempt to have Eli’s hair revived by a professional. I will warm soup for Annalise and get one or two loads of laundry actually laundered. This afternoon I will climb the pea patch hill in search of rocks for Juliet’s fossil unit and take Katriel to get her cast recast, and then I will come home and fill out FAFSA forms, and slop together some kind of dinner, and run Eli back and forth to Crew, and figure out homework, and wonder why last night’s empty wine bottle is now full of Q-tips, all while Juliet tugs on my shirt and begs me to guess how many might be in there, and finally I will sink onto the sofa cushions, wherever they might be.

Because no, I am not listening. I’m going for broke, trying to survive this saga called motherhood, all while hoping my kids survive this kind of mothering.

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