Please Don’t Park Here


Each time I have to park my large minivan somewhere in this great, densely populated state of ours, I become more and more convinced that my brain resembles a suburban parking lot.

First, there’s the long-term parking. I keep the happy memories at the front near the exit, where I can back them out easily. The other ones sit deeper in, towards the rear. But the valet guys sometimes play a practical joke on me and switch things around. I can’t do anything about that because they’re the ones with the keys.

There’s so much I have to keep straight that the daily parking deck is always packed all the way up to the top level. I have to squeeze in everything I need to remember and take care of, and all the topics I want to write about and the work I have to get done, and of course, the questions and existential crises about whether my life has meaning and am I a good mother. Oh, and the worrying about big ticket items that really matter and the molehills that don’t and whether I should have guests for Shabbos, and if so, how many side dishes are enough. Those things are also looking for space.

Sometimes, sewage backs up in the laundry room sink and family issues arise at the same time. At others, I feel overextended by having to manage what feels like everything, while also processing someone’s well-meaning-but-not-really remark about how tired I look. When those things pull up in search of a spot, my head isn’t sure where to park them. But these are the SUVs of brain space, bullying everything else out of the way, and their arrival sends the valets into a tizzy and they announce they’ve had enough and go on their break. While waiting for them to return to sort this all out, general functioning shuts down. It’s impossible to maneuver around all of that and still get anything else accomplished. Before long, though, we’re up and running again.

On the other hand, when good news arrives, though there isn’t enough room left to park a unicycle, there’s suddenly parking in the awkward corner between the support poles, even in the reserved spots usually taken by extremely important matters. The same is true during a true medical or other kind of emergency. It’s remarkable how even a crowded brain can make room.

No matter what’s happening, regardless of what kind of day I’m having, there’s a ruckus in there. My husband jokes that even when I’m sleeping, he can hear the noise from my responsibilities and thoughts and worries clanging against one another, jockeying for priority position in my frontal lobes.

And on Shabbos, when you’d think my brain would get some rest on what should be a low traffic day, the situation gets worse. I survey everything I’ve got parked upstairs and start examining whether I’m giving G-d enough attention and my husband enough attention and if I’m focused enough – or maybe too much – on my kids. Before I know it, my head wants Shabbos to be over so I can stop thinking too darned much and return to the business of actually getting things done. I spend the last hour of what should be peace and quiet awaiting the arrival of three stars in the sky, when I’ll  finally regain a false sense of control.

Just typing this makes my brain tired.

To every problem that wants to come my way tonight, to every issue and crisis and complication, to every new task I must remember to take care of and school form I need to fill out, I beg of you. Please do not park here tonight. The lot is full and I need a good night’s sleep.

We will reopen for business in the morning.

(Photo Credit: Mike Petrucci)

A New Driveway, and a Mensch


Our driveway had been falling apart for years, crumbling to the point that when the landscaper rode over it with his mower one day, concrete pebbles flew everywhere and shattered my windshield. My husband and son mixed fresh concrete in an old dish bin and patched up the driveway as an activity. Their efforts weren’t going to win any beauty pageants, but it entertained them for a while and stabilized the driveway enough to get us through the following winter.

When the concrete disintegrated entirely thanks to the ice, snow, and salt this year, we began to fear it would collapse under the weight of our cars. The time to deal with the problem had come, our dread of the cost and the attendant aggravation notwithstanding.

I’m no fan of construction. I’m still recovering from the work we had to do when we moved into our fixer-upper more than a decade ago. Still, this experience was the loudest, messiest, and most frustrating of all. To put it mildly, the crew weren’t a courteous bunch, neither in their conduct while here nor in the way they left detritus behind. I spent the better part of three days cowering in my living room while they shouted at one another, expletives and all, the stress filling my shoulders and back like the asphalt in our driveway.

That said, we had chosen this company because the owner promised to fix the wobbly brick steps leading to our front door as well. The member of his crew who patched them arrived hours before the others each morning, his gentle dog in tow. He focused on the task with care and pride in his handiwork. He was kind and soft-spoken, polite and thoughtful to us, and he appeared to be the peacekeeper among his colleagues. He even came back after the job was already finished and paid for, just to check that the mortar had set nicely.

Once he’d gone, I returned the pots of our container garden to their perch on the brick landing. I looked out at the driveway and found myself praying that this new asphalt incarnation will hold up, that we won’t need to do this again for decades. One day, though, we’ll have to redo the steps. They are sturdy, but they aren’t going to win any beauty pageants and they won’t last forever.

I thought then of Pirkei Avot’s (Ethics of the Fathers) wisdom: “In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.” And I’m grateful to the mensch who patched the bricks together for us, who bought us some time and made it possible for our guests to arrive here safely this past Shabbos.

Wishing you all a peaceful week.

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A Meditation on Laundry

img_2719Of all the practical aspects of parenting, laundry has always been my nemesis. Babies produce record-breaking amounts of it, and I found it impossible to keep up with the soiled onesies after the arrival of my firstborn. That the laundry room in our apartment building opened after I left for work and closed soon after I got home didn’t help. Nor could my husband, then a resident on 72-hour shifts with furlough for showers and rest.

The laundry multiplied, of course, with the arrival of our other boys, though by then we had moved across state lines to an apartment building with a washer and dryer in each unit. I wrote odes in my head to those mechanical wonders and the joy their 24-hour availability brought me, especially since my workday had lengthened to include a 3-hour round-trip commute. Still, I struggled to balance our family’s need for clean clothing (and towels and linen) with my own need to sleep.

As it turned out, the end of the spit-up stain era was just the beginning. The boys’ attire grew larger, their activities more efficient at attracting hardcore dirt as they advanced from toddling to Little League. Meanwhile, circumstances beyond my control ushered me into a lower-key, less gainful career. There were days when doing laundry provided me with an endless cycle of busy work to help me through a difficult period of transition. More often than not, however, it was a reminder that in the process of redefining myself professionally, finding meaning wasn’t going to be easy.

Years passed, and the boys each reached the age when they could – or should, as many suggested to me – do their own wash. I wondered when, if they leave the house at dawn and return after dark, with only a short window for dinner and homework. Because I freelance mostly from home, the chore continued to fall to me.

But around the time my eldest was ready to go for his driver’s permit, laundry had become a source of household conflict, and a metaphor for the many distractions that have kept me from moving forward with pursuits of my own. Neatly folded shirts and pants would sit in baskets for days, and inevitably, clean and dirty clothing would end up comingled. I’d want to shout, to remind everyone that I’d done that laundry when there were other ways I could have spent my time.

The moment had come, both for them and for me. I decided that regardless of their schedules, the boys would have to do their own laundry as a prerequisite for taking the wheel of my van. Like walking and learning to ride a bicycle, driving would put them one step closer to full independence. Laundry in its way would, too, even if it wouldn’t take them to faraway places.

The count was two sons doing laundry on their own, one to go, by the late spring last year. They were all feeling carefree in that pause between the end of school and the start of their summer plans. For most adults, of course, life isn’t divided in that way. Work weeks blend into one another, regardless of the season, and it is other obligations, not only the laundry, that keep me from writing for longer periods of time.

During that very brief window, my boys were all home, their beds all occupied. My nest and my heart were full with the rarity of it, and these facts combined to create a new distraction. Overwhelmed with emotion, I couldn’t stop myself from offering to do their laundry.

I stood over the washing machine, a bottle of Shout in my hand, listening for the silence I know will come when they move on to the next stage of their lives, leaving behind the echo of their childhood. I suddenly felt ashamed to have let the small stuff – that Everest of laundry and who knows what else – detract from my gratitude for having them in my life, even on the hardest of hardest days. I set the cycle to warm and turned on the machine, understanding that these are not blessings that come to everyone, nor are they gifts to be squandered.

I can’t say for sure I’ll ever finish writing my book or if, in the end, I’ll look back with satisfaction on what I have created during my second career. But I hope that God-willing, my boys will go on to have laundry relationships of their own, as it should be, and that I will not be washing their clothes forever. When that time comes, I will neatly fold up the memories of running a launderette in our basement, keeping them out on a shelf where I can reach them, and I’ll let the thrum of the washing machine play like a lovely old song I can’t get out of my head.