‘It’s like an episode of The Middle’ marque 2 declares as our holiday falters and shudders to an end. Ah yes, The Middle, how I used to love to sit and watch that with the kids. The excuse was that a baby or toddler or somebody around the place needed to be breastfed just as an episode was starting. Any takers? Then we’d all sit down and laugh our way through the all too familiar chaos of quirky family life, the topsy- turveyness of it, the high octane domino effect when some small little thing goes wrong. Sadly my excuse days are over, no one seems willing to be breast fed any longer, and I’m not sure if the show still runs, but my identification with the ever ascending cortisol levels of the mother is alive and well. There’s a twist now though. Now, for some unknown reason I can see every little thing that goes wrong as a lesson. A resilience building lesson. I’ve no idea what’s fuelling this, but I’m going to run with it. The kids may already be getting a little tired of my evolving mantras which seem to navigate around the idea that, while this may seem bad, just imagine if it had happened when…
It seems to have begun in the middle of the summer. There are a couple of really good Irish short story competitions I like to enter. I don’t have the time to focus on shorts much at the moment, the bigger project has to take precedence, but entering the odd short keeps it all fresh and exciting. There’s an immediate adrenaline hit when you press send. I was super organised this year, entering my favourite competition – RTE Guide/Penguin Ireland – a full week ahead of the deadline. Then some weeks later, mid summer, I couldn’t remember whether I had used the second or third person voice for the story – the you voice or the he/she. Often when a story is almost working but something undefinable is niggling, a change of voice, a change in the point of view from which it is told, can make all the difference. I went to my sent mail box to check. No sign of the story. Maybe it sent from Outlook instead of Gmail? Nope. I did a complete search and found it, in the end – and if you’re a fellow writer you may need to stop reading now, such is the pain – in Junk. Yes, there it was, utterly unsent, in my Junk box. I waited for the panic to strike. For the scream to come. Nothing. Instead I walked calmly upstairs and accosted a couple of computer whizzes to confirm what I had seen.
‘Is there any way that it did actually go and also ended up in junk?’ I enquired with a low serene voice as if it didn’t much matter at all.
‘There is no way, no, sorry’ one of them said, waiting for the fallout.
‘Well, that’ll teach me not to check my sent box at the time’ I heard myself say in a slightly out of body ish way.
‘There’s always next year’ I continued, waiting along with everyone else for the real me to step forward. I didn’t arrive. Instead I came up with another plan. I submitted it to a literary magazine – something I’ve never dared to do, the chances of publication being depressingly slim. If it isn’t selected by this one, I’ll just send it in to another, I thought. I was behaving very much more like my husband than myself, a person who sees every mistake as an opportunity to learn something and turns things to the good when others would throw in the towel. Perhaps I’m morphing into him or I’m being hypnotised or drugged by him – whatever it is, I think I like it.
So it came to the end of the holiday and we had been rained in for three days solid and we needed, desperately, to get down to the beautiful bay for one last swim. We shopped, we tidied, we packed the togs and towels, we timed high tide so they could all jump in off the rocks. A last blast. We went to unlock the car and noticed how the lock was slow, stiff, not responding. We put the keys in the ignition and turned. Nothing. Nada. Dead. We called the AA and two hours later we were told there was nothing for it but a new battery, otherwise we would not be returning home to Dublin for the new school year. This notion held some considerable appeal. There was one battery in a garage which was closing ‘out the road’ and he took off on the 30km trip with marque 1 and marque 4, clasping the end of the holiday budget brown notes.
My resilience lessons with the disappointed ocean-bound jumpers were about to begin.
‘I was so looking forward to that last jumping in at high tide’ marque 3 declared.
‘It would’ve finished off the summer so well, and now, now, it’s just so disappointing’.
‘Yes I know it is, but imagine if that had happened, if the car had broken down while we were miles off over the commonage, stuck out there we would have been. Or if it happened on the journey home, or…’
‘But Mum, I’ve had the anticipation of the adrenalin all day and…’
‘The what of the what?’
‘Looking forward to the jumping and swimming, there’s a build up to it Mum, and when it’s suddenly gone, well it’s hard to explain, it’s more than disappointment’.
Uh-oh. Think brain, think. Maybe tell him how lucky we are that there is a battery ‘out the road’ because tomorrow is Sunday and we’d have to wait until Monday, when Daddy is supposed to be at work, to get it sorted. Or maybe say nothing, nothing at all. Acknowledge it with a nod. Permit him to feel it. Revisit later, if needs be.
On Sunday morning I whisk around, packing and cleaning with a bit of extra zeal with the luck we’ve had. There’s a car that can now take us home, after all. With a couple of hours before we’re set to leave I decide to wash some of the bedding. Yes I’ll wash it and drape it around – one less chore for next time. It is then as we stand in the kitchen and watch the smoke curling out of the powder drawer on the machine that marque 2 declares that it’s like an episode of The Middle. I open the door to the drum and the smoke billows out. Smoke perfumed with poisonous burnt rubber. I haul the sodden lead-heavy bedding, complete with suds, out onto the balcony and drape it around in the rain.
‘Isn’t is just as well that this happened while we were here, not out somewhere, the place busy being set alight. Or while we were asleep. And now at least we know. At least we know for the next time that we will need a new machine’.
A collective vibe of ‘yeah Mum, whatever’ seems to permeate the air.
(P.S. Just received the magical e-mail below. More fuel for the burgeoning resilience fire.)