Mother dreams of having room for unity in her community

Categorized as Grounds for Insanity column, Rhonda's Posts

“The patient is an FBI agent investigating terrorism.” That’s what the doctor said as I sped along, typing a referral letter.

Wait. FBI agent? Investigating terrorism? Well, rats. Here I was thinking I was just a mother and a housewife who typed medical reports and wrote a column and edited a magazine. My resume seemed awfully full already without adding another job to the list.

Terrorism, huh? What else was it when a certain teenager cornered a sibling, brandishing a toothbrush? When said sibling found himself on his back, thrashing and squalling as the brush approached his jaws?

If you were threatened with a sound brushing with another fellow’s brush, it shattered the peace that quick and brought disunity to the community. If you were a mom and you heard that report, it behooved you to investigate. Which made you the director of the MBI (Maternal Bureau of Investigation) even if you hadn’t interviewed for that position. Well, rats.

Community unity. This was a big deal in any household. But it was critical if you were a family of six shoehorned into a 1550-square-foot house with no room to swing a cat. The attributes of peace and love got real important in such a case. Make that peace, love and lowering the toilet lid.

In a kitchen with the square footage of a hot pad, one open cupboard door was a real disruption. “How hard can this be?” I’d sighed countless times on my way past the pantry.

If you factored in the scientific angles, averaging in the laws of gravity and the mechanics of levers, it took far less force to push a door shut than it did to pull it open. Unless there was some unknown genetic syndrome at work, such as CPL (Convenient Paralysis of the Limbs), it was sheer negligence. And that was a small, but maddening pea beneath my mattress.

Between the sneakers, the LEGOs and the matchbox cars that littered the floors, it was a land mine. A broken foot waiting to happen. A test of one’s vocabulary, and it brought disunity to our tightly-packed community.

Another trouble spot was the downstairs bathroom. It was fine if you were flying solo, but if you weren’t, well, it behooved you to look lively and step sharp.

It was called The Sunday Morning Shimmy. They didn’t teach classes for it, but they should.

Forget the grace and beauty of couples gliding across vast ballroom floors in tuxes and gowns. For him? Hair neatly groomed, five o’clock shadow erased. And for her? Hair piled high with tendrils and curls.

Stop the violins. That’s not how The Shimmy looks. No vast hardwood floors here. Try a linoleum floor the size of a cotton square. With a throw rug.

For him? The Heinz 57 hairdo–57 tails pointing 57 directions. In pajamas. And for her? Curls mashed flat, frizzed out or both. In a bathrobe.

Here, counter space with mirror access was at a premium. What was Manhattan real estate when the big-ticket item in these parts was a spot at the sink? Which is where I came up short. Real short.

At 4 feet 11-1/2 inches, I’m no Amazon Jane. If Tarzan’s in the house (or at the sink), I’m out of luck.

In a carefully-orchestrated series of moves (jumping up and down at the corner of the mirror with feints to the right or left), it begins. Using hand signals, we coordinate our strategy.

With one gesture from Tarzan, I know it’s time to duck. He needs his toothbrush from the cabinet above the sink. Popping back up, I resume the application of my mascara. Then I need the floss located on the other side. At my silent motion, he leans back, torso teetering above the tub. In one smooth motion, I lunge for the floss, snap the door shut and return to my corner of the sink just in time for him to bob upright.

Flossing finished, I signal my next move. To a bystander, it would look like nothing more than incoherent flapping, but we both know what it means.

“I need to squiggle behind you to the other side of the counter. Please do not step back as I’m trying to pass. I’d rather not pitch into this tub right here, breaking both typing hands or the foot I use to push the pedal. You’d be brushing my teeth and doing my hair for weeks, and nobody here wants that. So just press your patellas against the vanity there and hold ‘em until I give you the all-clear.”

You can say a lot with sign language. You sure can.

It’s a goofy system, but it works for us. And thus we have a fragile unity in our tiny community.

It doesn’t mean, though, that I don’t dream of having a big house someday, one with a huge kitchen with pantry doors that automatically snap shut. One with miles of gleaming countertops and a vast hardwood floor where no Sunday Morning Shimmy ever takes place. One with lots of room for community unity.

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