Sunday was adrift in flowing snow — particularly pleasant since none of us had to go anywhere. Five strong able-bodied adults spent the day in my cozy little house watching the sidewalks fill up frostily with snow.
The sidewalks across the street filled up, too. We take care of that yard for its absentee owners, primarily to placate the Persnickety Puritanical Pursed-Lipped Person who lives beside it and reports imagined violations of city code the moment he imagines them. We in the neighborhood all have lengthy shaming records with the local Nuisance Division (weeds blemishing the bluegrass, secret spurge in the pansies, leaves left right in the gutter, old newspapers moldering in the driveway).
At about 2:00 PM, we all agreed that it was pointless to shovel since the snow had miles to go.
At about 8:00 PM, the snow was lovely, dark and deep and the skies were clear. Our sidewalks were not. No-one had thought to go out there and shovel. So I did.
Now, I actually like to shovel sidewalks (blame a long cold New England childhood. Nothing will ever beat the pleasure of trooping downstairs on chilly winter mornings to stand over the dining room furnace vent in my long flannel nightgown, feeling the skirt billow out with warmth and the cast iron grate bake my feet). I’d planned all day to get outside and shovel. And it was a beautiful night — nearly-full moon, no wind, quiet sparkling stars.
I was happy; this wasn’t one of my deliberate martyrdoms. I confess with shame that I do stage those (secretly) on occasion.
Son #2 was the first to hear the scraping. He opened his window and said, “Gee, Mom, I usually do the shoveling. Don’t you want me to take care of that?”
Wrong, wrong, wrong. He should simply have either ignored me or come out to help — without making me ask. And if one usually does the shoveling, why did one choose not to do so this time? Does having usually done it excuse you from ever having to do it again? I bit my tongue and assured him that I was perfectly fine. I was, indeed, perfectly fine.
Son #1 then put in an appearance in the doorway. He was barefoot and rumpled and wearing pajamas, since he works the night shift and sleeps at weird hours. “Um, Mom, wouldn’t you like some help out there? You don’t have to do that by yourself.”
Wrong, wrong, wrong again. Spare me the vague self-comforting third-person offer. And I was, indeed, enjoying doing it by myself.
Girlfriend of Son #1 stayed away, rightly, to avoid being wronged.
Husband then came to the door and said, rather crossly, “What are you doing? How am I supposed to enjoy watching hockey in here if you’re out there shoveling?”
It was a brilliant passive-aggressive move, really, since he got to be mad at me for the fact that he didn’t do the walks and then expected me to reassure him that he needn’t feel guilty about lounging inside with a drink in one hand and the remote control in the other. You’ve got to admire adroit skill, in whatever the realm. He rocked.
And he made me think. I hate that. I am heartily sick of personal growth; I want to start coasting. But, having been misunderstood by them all, I had a Moment out there in the moonlight.
My mom martyrdoms? No different than their shovel shambling. All those heavy sighs as I lug towers of dirty laundry downstairs? They’ve heard them. My pained expression as I empty the overfull over-fragrant kitchen trash? They’ve seen it. The set of my jaw as I scrub rotting raw chicken juice off the floor when that trash bag leaks? They’ve noticed. The grim way I deal with the grime of male pee all over the bathroom? The pee-ers perceived it. My grudging approach to piles of paperwork? My message of resentment has been sent and re-sent. I can’t blame them for practicing passive aggression when I’m just as guilty of it.
Yet, if I purge myself of all these pleasant vices, I will bore myself and everyone else to death.
How’s that for warped and whimsical reasoning?