Two weeks of consistency was a new record for Kaye. She felt confident that within just a few short months, life would be back on a normal track–well, a new normal anyway. With January nearly in her rear view mirror, the living room closet was still clean, the laundry room was still clean, and half the game closet was dejunked. Sure, she found stuff thrown in the living room closet nearly every day– usually something that made no sense like the snow shovel, a bucket of Legos, or the air raft mattress for the pool. That one still had her scratching her head. How had the boys even found the thing? However, when there were only one or two things to sort and cart back to their proper “homes” it was easier to keep on top of things. The laundry room still had piles of clothes in it most of the time, but it was better. With the laundry sorter that Jacob promised to build, it’d be easier; she was sure of it.
The game closet was still a sore spot with her. She’d avoided it like the plague all week. Her stack of “personal organizational coaches” were a nice diversion that kept her from feeling as if she’d given up. Jacob thought so. It irritated her every time she thought about it, so she was developing her Scarlett O’Hara skills and simply tried not to think about it. Yeah, that wasn’t working well. She hoped to get her mom’s input on the game situation that evening when everyone came over for “game night.”
Sophie crawled around the dining room floor, flitting from one toy to the next. The clock demanded that she get going. Sophie needed to eat and go down for her afternoon nap and Kaye needed to get cracking at dinner. Her brother was coming too, and he always expected to have her rolls. The house was a mess, the bathrooms hadn’t been cleaned in days, and if that meat didn’t get in the crockpot before one o’clock, it wasn’t going to be good.
For just a moment, she was tempted to call off everything, crawl into bed with Sophie, and sleep through the afternoon. Unfortunately, her guilt-0-meter was working just dandy, and the boys would be devastated–or at least extremely disappointed–if they missed an evening with Uncle Kevin. With hands metaphorically full of bootstraps, she grabbed Sophie and blew raspberries on the baby’s belly. “Let’s get you some lunch, eh Sophie girl?”
Sophie clapped excitedly. She knew that meant food, and the only thing Sophie liked more than food was Daddy. Kaye popped her in the highchair, strapped her in, and snapped on the tray. “Ok, hands down now!” Sophie dropped her hands, giggling. For some inexplicable reason, Sophie thought it was great fun to hold her hands in the air while waiting for the tray to snap in. The boys had fought it. “Kids are weird, Sophie,” Kaye mumbled. “They’re just weird.”
Sophie munched on a teething biscuit between bites of food, while Kaye started digging out the bread ingredients. She felt a little frazzled as she popped a spoonful of mashed beans in Sophie’s mouth, dug through a drawer, scooped up more beans, rifled through a cabinet, and then handed the girl her sippy cup while she dug into the drawers next to the stove. Sophie would make “soup” in her tray with it, but whatever. She had to find that dough hook.
She started to feel a little panicked as idea after idea failed. Where could it be? Instinctively, she strolled toward the laundry room and then froze. It wouldn’t be there. That room was done and it did not house the dough hook for her mixer. This was ridiculous. Sophie’s next bite landed back on the tray. Ignoring the watery pool it slowly dissolved into Kaye scooped it back up and tried to feed it to her again. The child shook her head. “All done.”
“Done,” the child agreed.
“Ok, let me get you a cookie. I’ll change you just as soon as I find that hook.”
Twenty minutes later, she found Sophie dozing in her high chair, the half-eaten cookie clutched in the child’s little fist. Guilt slammed into her again, sending her meter soaring. This was just ridiculous. Just stinkin’ ridiculous. She had no right to be so irresponsible. The poor kid would need a chiropractor after sleeping in odd contortions like that. Abandoning the idea of the dough hook, Kaye wiped up the tray, unhooked it, and carried her sleeping daughter to the changing table. The moment the first fuss came, Kaye knew things were going to get ugly. Sophie hated to be disturbed while sleeping. She’d fight it like crazy now.
Second, by second, she watched the clock–tense. Sophie screamed, she wriggled, she played with Kaye’s face, but Sophie did not sleep. She squirmed, she fought to get down to play, and even pounded Kaye with her little fists. She also refused to sleep. Her fists dug into her eyes, forcing them back open every three point two seconds. Kaye nearly screamed in frustration herself. Eventually, the child’s wails grew to the familiar high-pitched screeches that Kaye knew meant she’d failed. As much as she hated to do it, Kaye put Sophie in her crib, covered her with the blanket, and left the room. The fevered pitch increased. Kaye’s face looked as pained as her heart felt. This was her fault. She knew better than to let Sophie fall asleep like that. It was cruel, and now the baby would have to scream herself to sleep– nothing else worked.
Kaye stood outside the door and listened for any changes in tone. Her biggest fear was that Sophie would learn how to crawl out of the crib and hurt herself. The child’s room was literally stuffed with things and half of them weren’t exactly “child-proof.” Ten minutes passed before the horrible screeches softened into heart-broken sobs. Kaye thought she was going to die waiting for the crying to cease, but at last it did. She counted to sixty after the last audible sniffle and peeked into the room. Of course, Sophie lay on top of the blanket, but otherwise, she seemed fine. Kaye snatched another one, draped it over her daughter, and tiptoed from the room.
The search for the elusive dough hook resumed in earnest. After rifling through just about everything, Kaye decided to try a more systematic approach. First, she rubbed her roast with her seasonings and popped that in the crock-pot. There. Dinner would be done even if the rolls never made it.
The broom closet seemed a crazy spot to look for a dough hook, but since nothing else worked, she planned to start at one corner of the kitchen and work her way around. She’d find that hook if it was the last thing she did. In minutes, the counters were littered with cleaning supplies, golf shoes, three partially-used rolls of paper towels, and a six volt lantern battery. They didn’t even have the lantern anymore! She started to dump it in the trash and then had a vague recollection of that being illegal or strongly discouraged, or something like that. She spun in circles for a few seconds and then jogged downstairs and dumped it on the workbench. Jacob could figure it out. She ignored the ever-encroaching mess, and hurried back to finish her job.
Deciding what to store in the broom closet should have been easy, but it wasn’t. The broom went in, of course, as did her Swiffer, her steam mop, and the mopping supplies. Windex, 409, cleanser, and half a dozen boxes of “magic erasers” went on the top shelf. Two spare bottles of dish soap and three large containers of dishwasher soap needed to go in, but they didn’t fit. “Ok, how is that possible? You took all that stuff and more out of here and now look! You cut it in half and it won’t fit back in again. That’s crazy,” she complained to herself.
A glance next to the stove showed furniture polish, oven cleaner, ammonia, and another half a dozen jumbled bottles. It made her sick to look at them. For just a moment, she was almost tempted to toss it all. She couldn’t remember the last time she bought the stuff, but her mother would pitch a fit if she asked for the ammonia and Kaye couldn’t produce it. No, she needed to– a new idea occurred to her mid-thought. The basement. She could take it all down there. After all, it was a good excuse. The kids weren’t allowed down there unsupervised so it was safer not to have noxious chemicals on the same floor. Yeah. That would work.
The cabinet above the fridge was frightening– almost terrifying. There was no rhyme or reason to the stuff in there. Trent’s baby book and the first aid kit? Was that supposed to mean something? What about a fuel filter for the car they didn’t even own anymore? Three games– she’d have to shove them in the school closet– and catalogs too far out of date to be considered worth looking at again. Random tools, varnish, and a can of spray paint for a project that she couldn’t remember, all went into a “green bag” from the grocery store and stashed into the dungeon, er, basement. At last there was a place for the popcorn popper, the waffle iron, and the ice cream freezer– if she could find it. At least something good would come out of the mess. A memory of the ice cream freezer peeking out from under her husband’s Letterman’s jacket in their bedroom closet sent her hustling for it. Score!
Next thing she knew, the contents of all of her cupboards was strewn all over the counters, floor, and dining room table. She’d forgotten the quest for the dough hook, and found a new one– the eradication of more clutter. Once she got going, she was a whirlwind. It seemed that every item that she tossed in a box increased her speed exponentially. By the time the boys arrived home, she’d filled three boxes, two garbage bags, and had one wall of cupboards cleaned out.
“Mom?” Trent’s lower lip quivered.
“Is Uncle Kevin still coming?”
Kaye dropped the serving bowl in her hand, shattering it across the kitchen floor. “Um, yeah.” She swallowed hard. “Can you hand me the broom?”
While she swept, Kaye glanced around her, mentally calculating how long it would take to finish. Should she just cart everything downstairs and finish later? She couldn’t do that. She just couldn’t. What could she do? She had to finish. If she hauled the silverware downstairs, they’d never be able to eat.
Jacob burst through the door, calling to her that he was going to take a shower. It didn’t even occur to her that Sophie wasn’t up until she turned and found Miles standing at the edge of the kitchen holding her away from him like she was a pile of– “Oh. Dirty?”
“Yeah. One minute she was just sitting there playing, and the next we couldn’t breathe. What’d you feed her?”
It was a running joke in the family. “Worm guts and Limburger cheese.”
“That’ll do it.”
“When did she wake up?” Kaye hated to ask but felt obligated.
“She was playing when we got home.”
When Kaye returned to her job in the kitchen, she found Jacob systematically stuffing the cupboards with everything from the counters. “What are you doing?”
“There’s stuff everywhere. Your parents and brother will be here in less than an hour. What’s for dinner?”
“Shouldn’t you put it in the oven then?”
Kaye pulled three sport bottles from the pantry and carried them across the kitchen to the “on the road” cupboard. “It’s in the crockpot.”
“I don’t smell it. Usually the crockpot hits you the second you walk in the door.” Jacob felt the outside. “It’s cold”
“What! I turned it on. I made sure of it.”
His fingers wiggled the plug tauntingly. “Doesn’t help if it’s not plugged in…”
Tears of frustration sprang to her eyes. “Why? Why today? Why did I have–”
“To overhaul the kitchen? I was wondering that one myself.”
“I was looking for the dough hook and everything was everywhere…”
Those words sparked the worst argument in the history of the Harper marriage. Jacob railed against her “obsessive organizing” and Kaye retaliated with attacks on his lack of support for her attempts to be a “good household manager.” The boys sat in the living room with the baby, slowly turning up the volume on the TV to drown out the occasional shouts and near constant wails. Just as Kaye took a deep breath to let loose another verbal assault, her brother’s voice boomed into the house from the front door. “Where’s my amazing sister and her even more amazing rolls???”
A blur streaked by him as Kaye rushed from the kitchen to her bedroom, slamming the door behind her. Deep wracking sobs were hardly muffled until the shower came on seconds later. Jacob glanced up from where he stood in the middle of the kitchen, his thumbs hooked into his jeans’ pocket, and sighed. “Welcome to our happy home. I hope you like your meat rare and cold and your bread imaginary. While you’re at it, maybe you could imagine a clutter-free kitchen and dining area.” The irony of his words was not lost on him.