Ah, but for the ability of the oyster to smooth over a constant irritation and create something of beauty! Introduce grit into an oyster’s life and you get a pearl. Add grit to my life and it just gets grittier! Our grit is like the sand that gets into your swimsuit and ends up in crevices where sand is not welcome. It aggravates. For the past 18 months we’ve lived in this tiny, increasingly decrepit trailer, situated in trailer parks that are not conducive to family life. And this living situation is a constant irritation that I cannot smooth over. I don’t know how to make something beautiful out of it.
We are crowded. Forget what you saw on the Waltons. Crowding doesn’t create close-knit families. One study showed that children in crowded homes do worse in school and have more frequent conflict with their parents, the boys have high blood pressure and the girls feel helpless. And although this study doesn’t address the effects of crowding on parents I can tell you first hand that it also raises our blood pressure, and makes us feel irritated and tense. Environmental psychologists have theorized that density and crowding can have an adverse effect on mood and may cause stress-related illness. Having put the theory into practice I can tell you they are right.
We have no privacy. We have no space. No one can retreat from family life; no one can avoid hearing, seeing and sometimes smelling everyone else in the ‘house’. No wonder my teenager is always plugged into her ipod! We fiercely guard what little personal space we have, reacting with abnormal hostility when it is invaded. My teen growls when her brother removes a necklace from her hook and I snap when my daughter rummages, uninvited, through my purse for something. Like pearls our tiny territories are valued for their rarity.
Some aspects of our living conditions we have grown used to accommodating. If we want to use the bathtub/shower we move the bags of trash, recycling and laundry that reside there – stacking them on the toilet and on top of the bathroom sink for the duration. Admittedly we don’t use the tub often, opting for hand sanitizer and sponge baths in the sink along with a weekly shower in the public facility. Meals are a juggling act – the clean pots and pans that are stored on top of the stove are moved to a bed so that the burners can be fired up for cooking. When the meal is over the pots and pans go back on the stove, the dirty dishes go into the sink, the clean dishes that live in the dish drainer are moved to the bed to make room for the newly clean wet dishes. When its bed time everything is shuffled again, stacked precariously here and there until morning. We use a lot of disposable paper plates, bowls and cups. It’s not very green of us, but we just don’t have cupboard space to store the permanent types.
My teen is watching a movie, I’m trying to compose a blog post, and my younger kids are working on their workbooks – this would work if both of them would sit at the dinette – the only flat workspace– but my son opts to stand in the narrow walkway and his workbook bumps into hers. World war III erupts (again). Sigh. Our floor space is an L shaped path from the door to the bathroom, approximately 3 feet wide and perhaps 15 feet long. It’s cluttered with backpacks, shoes, a box of Legos and the Tupperware container in which we store the paper dishes. Two people in this space need to turn sideways to pass without touching.
I’m an insomniac and a light sleeper, easily awakened by noise, movement and light. I don earplugs and an eye mask at night as a shield against the traffic noise and the light that seeps between our bent mini blinds. Neither of these protect me from the out flung arm, or bony knee of my 7 year old bed companion, a restless sleeper. I lie awake listening with sympathy and resignation to my daughter’s cough. I know there is no escaping the germs. Soon we will all have her cold.
Long vacations and poor weather exacerbate the situation. Even if there were a place to play no one wants to go out into the cold and wet. Even the dogs, generally eager to leave the trailer, balk at the necessary walks. We huddle inside and chafe and snap at each other. It seems that someone is always in someone else’s way. The noise level is too high – my daughter chants jump rope rhymes incessantly, a movie plays on the TV and my son’s toy emits an annoying sporadic burst of static. They all ignore my grumbled request to ‘keep it down, please!’ I lose my train of thought, again and have to reread what I’ve written so far. I find it hard to keep up with my blog.
I hate to say it but common courtesies and small kindnesses have all but disappeared from our home life, eroded by the constant irritations of too much closeness, too much togetherness, too little space.
I give the fight up: let there be an end, a privacy, an obscure nook for me. I want to be forgotten even by God.