There’s nothing like an impending monitoring visit from the state’s licensing worker to motivate me to clean my toilets. I have long since stopped worrying about most of the details that swirled through my brain in a jumbled checklist during our early years of fostering, but, still today, the toilets have to be clean before I can open the door for what is hardly a white glove inspection. We have had other people’s precious children in and out of our home for eleven years now, but someone still comes to check up on us every six months because, as I so often tell my children for so many things, “it’s the rule.”
All nine of my kids were here this Christmas, and in the aftermath, there’s plenty of work left for me. And when the little one is sleeping and the house is peaceful, I actually like to clean my house. Even the toilets.
With my vinegar-and-water rag in hand, I studied what was before me in the downstairs bathroom, which also happens to be a laundry room: thick, weathered pine trim defines the opening to a closet under the stairs. The smell inside that secret space, though not clearly definable, had been off-putting enough when we first moved in that I had to hang a basket of nag champa, my best incense, to make it as inviting as the century-old light fixture mounted proudly to an inside wall of this closet. As my rag met the edge of the pine, I was drawn to hints of yellow-orange which almost seemed to cry out to beg my awareness. In that moment, I did see the sun. Our farmhouse was built in 1877. Surely the washy beige, almost colorless wall, and the sunnier shade of a yesterday which can barely be determined, are not the only two colors to have graced these bathroom walls. More than likely, there were many, many more. More than likely, too, is that this was something other than a bathroom at some point in history.
It has been almost a year since I decided to let my hair dread. If I had known that this journey would involve so much crazy looping and a really wild, tangled mess on most days for upwards of a year, two, or three, I doubt I would have stuck with it. I would have combed it out and continued to wish for what will, as I know now, take years to mature. Instead, I have forged on, embracing the knots, and tying my hair back when I have to go somewhere or clean something (or when a licensing worker is coming to my house). I have decided to let this happen, to release control, because in the end, I am pretty sure that I am not in control anyway. We have to start somewhere.
I wonder, too, had Dan and I known that so many years into standing up for our kids, hauling files and articles to the schools, keeping vigil through the night, doing our best to be consistent when we needed to and flexible when we could…explaining, begging, tolerating the same verbal rants over and again, being pelted by words which imply that this is all our fault, feeling fragile and vulnerable in our own home, and crying millions of tears, all in hopes of washing away the layers of paint, of pain, that cover, even hide, the time underneath…the years of life lived…would we have had the courage to begin this journey?
My kids have opened up the inside of my soul, and in some ways I know that time has painted over much of what I used to be.
My active little sprite tries to eat soap and lotion with the same passion his brother had, and occasionally, at six, still has. I thought I might be clever and have at least five seconds of peace in the bathroom yesterday, so I put a safety lock on the low cabinet with the extra body wash and bars of Irish Spring. Once he realized he couldn’t open the door, he took a few Frankenstein-style steps in front of the toilet (where I sat) and managed to pull down the makeshift curtain (which was actually a Winnie-the Pooh crib sheet), exposing me in all my vulnerability to anyone that decided to drive down our country road. At least it’s not well-traveled.
It’s still me inside. And unless you know me, you might not really know me. I might not really know my kids; I may never get to see their brightest suns. There’s much more to them, and to me, that anyone may ever know. Yet I am at their mercy, as they are at mine.
The licensing worker was in and out of our home pretty quickly that day; we are good for another six months. I wonder if he would have noticed if my toilets hadn’t been clean. As I gathered the basket of laundry to take upstairs, I noticed my neatly folded underwear, two pair, on the laundry table, and I wondered if the state worker, too, had seen them. At least they were clean.