As a life-long insomniac, 2 a.m. is my magic hour. It’s when I write, tinker with recipes, and revel in the quiet stillness of an otherwise chaotic home. So my decision to dive into a deep-cleaning session late one night was neither out of the ordinary nor particularly regrettable. But the ill-fated expedition down the basement stairs while strapped to an 80-pound, 3-foot tall air conditioner? Well, that was another story.
Let me back up for a moment.
Pandemic life has been hard on our house. With four of us cooped up together for nearly a year, we have not exactly been our tidiest selves. The price for one moment of peace around here is to allow our 2-year-old to strip the toy cabinet of all its contents, sending a cascade of crayons and Legos in every direction. Add to this the fact that my oldest seems to shed pieces of clothing wherever she goes—a sock here, a cardigan there—and, well, look, our place is an f-ing mess.
So late one night, hours after my family had gone to bed, and just as my magic hour was beginning, I took off on a wild cleaning spree. For anyone who has ever tried to straighten up beneath the watchful gaze of a toddler, I know I don’t have to explain the deep satisfaction of solitary cleaning. There is no one to gleefully topple your folded laundry; no one to sate her curiosity by leaving fat little footprints on a newly washed floor.
For anyone who has ever tried to straighten up beneath the watchful gaze of a toddler, I know I don’t have to explain the deep satisfaction of solitary cleaning.
Determined to undo the mess and muck that taunted my husband and me during the day, I sudsed and scrubbed, vacuumed and dusted until my brain finally felt ready for sleep. And that’s when it caught my eye: the portable air conditioner I had been begging my husband to haul down into storage for months.
Suddenly, seeing that machine standing upright in my kitchen felt like a fitting symbol for the chaos we found ourselves in. I couldn’t bear to look at it a moment longer. So, I rolled the damn thing across the kitchen floor, sending it skidding like some drunken roller skater bouncing off the baseboards. I swung open the basement door and stared down the flight of dimly lit steps. Without a plan, I stepped backward down the stairs, tipping the A/C against my body. No sooner did the weight of the machine hit my chest than the thought came rushing over me: I was way over my head.
Look, our house has a lot of historic charms, but our 1890s stone basement? It’s not one of them. Teetering on the steps, bracing myself against the enormity of this machine, I remember thinking, “This is how my family is going to find me—smashed by this giant after ricocheting down a set of stone stairs.” What would my husband tell people? That he’d waited so long to remove the air conditioner that it literally killed me?
What would my husband tell people? That he’d waited so long to remove the air conditioner that it literally killed me?
With every inch I was able to move, I felt the muscles in my back stiffen and clench. My mind whirled in panic. What could I do at this point, trapped in the middle of the staircase, doomed to hoist this A/C until someone wandered down in a handful of hours for breakfast? Changing course and heaving the thing back up the stairs was impossible (much too heavy to lift). But leaving it mid-stair was just as far-fetched, as it was much too wide to set down on its own without crashing into the stone wall below. I couldn’t reverse and I couldn’t stand still. All I could do was keep going, never mind the fear and pain searing through my bones.
That’s parenting, isn’t it? On some level, despite our gratitude and love for our little ones, we’re just as trapped in our roles as moms and dads as I was there on that staircase. Not to be dramatic about it, but our only choice is forward, inch by inch, despite our uncertain footing. And while there’s an ugly truth to my near-death experience by portable A/C unit, there’s also a pretty powerful lesson in it, for me at least.
… Our only choice [as parents] is forward, inch by inch, despite our uncertain footing.
When my view is set to the big picture, the task ahead of me seems insurmountable. All I can feel is my own fear. All I can see is the potential for failure, for crashing into the stone wall below. But when I focus on the intricacies of surviving the moment, holding the weight of the world against my shoulders as I move forward inch by inch, there is relief in every movement. There is celebration in every step, even as it pains me.
As a heavyweight worrier, I zoom out on my kids fairly often. Though my oldest is only 6, I worry about her in high school. Give me a second and I can well up tears at the thought of her moving out for college. What good does any of this do us? All we can do, as my late-night cleaning spree taught me, is move forward at a slow and steady pace, finding relief—a tiny triumph—in each step we take.