The dishwasher was the first thing to break. I told myself that I’d rip it out of the wall, use the nook for muddy boots and yard supplies. The truth was I couldn’t afford to replace it or fix it.

I saw an ad on craigslist where a handyman would exchange household work for women’s panties, preferably unwashed ones. How desperate would someone be to make that choice? I never want to be in that position. I realize I need to make more money, find a reliable handyman. Money is freedom.

What I want more than anything is the freedom to stay home with my girls, even though Matt left. As a single, divorced parent, is it even possible for “motherhood” to be my primary job? In 2017, I used childcare for my kids while I developed my business through craft fairs, thinking I needed to make my art career as successful as possible to meet my kids’ needs. The hustling didn’t work. After fees and expenses, I basically made as much as I did in 2016. All I managed to do was keep so busy that I didn’t have time to feel.

And also these days, Clem is testing her own freedoms by climbing on everything. She is three seconds away from figuring out how to get on top of the fridge by scaling up the door handles. It scares me. I don’t want her to throw herself at something she’s not ready for only to get hurt, but at least it gets her out of my hair while I finish up making a double batch of potato soup. While I chop leeks, I think about taking her to a rock climbing gym, or buying rock climbing fixtures to screw into a wall at home.

When the car broke, and the shop said it would cost as much to fix it as replace it, I couldn’t even process the loss. Then I got sick for three weeks and had to cancel two craft fairs, losing my biggest source of revenue during the holiday season. But maybe if I don’t have to pay for gas and car insurance and maintenance, then I don’t need to earn as much and I can just spend more time at home.

No matter how busy I keep my mind, my family is still fractured, and my little girls’ hearts are broken, too. I don’t know how to weather my own grief, nor do I know how to help them feel safe in the midst of theirs. I am ready to slow down and give them as much of myself as possible. Maybe, if I am frugal while focusing on creating new content from home, that will be enough to put food on our table without all the useless hustle.

One reason I continue homeschooling, even through divorce, is because I believe my kids will be more successful if they have a strong emotional core. And the best way to support them, especially after their father left, is to give them as much consistency, closeness, and affection as possible. So we sleep in one bed, and they help me hand-wash the dishes, and when I paint these days I just stand in the kitchen and work while they play or color their own projects. I’m always close by if Clem ever figures out how to scale the fridge, and I will be the one to watch her conquer it, not a babysitter. I don’t want to miss anything.

Even though I’m convicted my choices are right, I still freak out from time to time, desperate for some comfort and support for me. Sometimes I think I’m insane for wanting to get rid of everything in my life that keeps breaking. I don’t even believe in marriage anymore. I want to be strong enough that I never have to rely on anyone again. But I do believe in my kids and in motherhood.

Instead of rock climbing equipment, I buy a cheap DVD player and set up my TV from my college days on a low bench. After fiddling with it for a couple days, both girls are experts with the controls, and now they can just put in whatever they want, whenever they want. Once a week we take a $2 bus ride to the library and pick out new shows.

After a day of homemaking and single-moming and painting, all I want is to go to bed, but the kids are still busy. I don’t want to fight them, so I throw bedtime routine out the window, stand in the living room and announce I’m lying down. I ask them to turn out the lights when they’re done. I don’t expect them to follow through.

Later, they both come to bed. Clem nurses for a bit, then decides she needs to watch more TV, so she goes back out to the living room. I know she’s watching TV because (1) she exclaims the name of the show she’s going to watch when she leaves the room and (2) I sneak out to peek on her, just to make sure she’s ok, to find her sitting inside the big cozy chair, covered in blankets, all the lights on, watching the show she said she was gonna watch. I wonder how many art prints I need to sell in order to keep the lights on all night, but I decide I’m too tired to care and go back to bed.

Phoebe and I drift off. I am vaguely aware of the baby climbing back into bed about an hour later. In the morning Clem sleeps in. I untangled myself from her little limbs and slip out into the house.

All the lights are off.

Collect these original paintings in my shop.

4 Responses to Winnowing

  1. Chris McClellan March 15, 2018 at 1:36 am #

    You’re a strong woman. EVERYBODY in a stressful moment feels “panicky” but not all push thru. You appear to be able too. Praying for y’all!

  2. Beth February 23, 2019 at 2:17 pm #

    I felt this in my heart. You’re in my thoughts.