Little Plagues (Notes from the Laundromat)

It has become clear that our 1996 Camry needs to retire. It was my Grandpa Max’s car in Florida, meaning it had maybe 40,000 miles on it when we bought it from him in 2002, in anticipation of our first child. We were graduating from two doors to four, from a couple to a family. The car has held up pretty valiantly to a second kid, Vermont winters, mud, snow, ice, rain, many, many trips to Western Massachusetts and Boston and Providence and Maine and elsewhere, three of its eights years with us without a garage to call home. The body has rust spots and the steering something-or-other needs replacing. We’ve reached that undeniable point when it is simply not worth it to fix.

In other news, Pearl has been dry at night for over a week now, with two exceptions – one at my parents’ house (we were prepared for that one with a waterproof mattress pad), and one in our bed this morning (not so much prepared). She is so proud of herself. She turns four on Friday.

This morning – before the pee – I woke up around 5:30 and realized I couldn’t open my left eye. Last night it had felt irritated and slightly watery, and sure enough, whatever had been coming on came on with a vengeance. I put on my glasses and made my way downstairs to the light of my Blackberry. When I looked in the bathroom mirror, I saw that my eyelids were fused together with thick, yellow goop, as if someone had painted discolored Elmer’s glue over my eye while I slept. I worked at it gently with a warm cloth only to have an immediately renewed appreciation for the bright white part of my eyes, the part that lends sparkle and makes the green pop. Pink eye. A first, not in our household by any stretch, but for me personally. I dug around a drawer for the prescription drops one of the girls had used some time back. Then I suddenly worried that maybe I had used the wrong drops, the ones for our dog’s ears. The bottles look nearly identical. A quick trip to Google cleared up that concern.

When I got the call from the school nurse that Aviva had a tick behind her ear, it seemed fitting with this trend of small plagues. I said I’d be right down, only to remember that Greg had taken said car today to a meeting in Hanover, New Hampshire. I wound up borrowing a neighbor’s car to go get her, not so much bummed out as slightly amused. Since I closed Pearl’s fingers in a car door yesterday, I figured if things come in threes we’d be set.

By the time V and I got home from school, Greg was home. He removed the tick, which Aviva placed carefully in a jam jar to share at school tomorrow. The two of them went down to the basement to work on some kind of wood-related project. Meanwhile, the phone rang. It was our accountant’s office up in South Hero – about a 25 minute drive – saying she needed our signatures if at all possible tonight. I took a deep breath and said, yes, of course, I’ll be there by 5:30, calculating in my head stopping at the pharmacy, picking up Pearl, enticing V to join me, and getting the pee sheets from this morning clean along with some other laundry so that Greg could pack for a trip to Texas (he leaves tomorrow at dawn).

A few minutes later, Greg came up from the basement. “The washing machine just made a weird noise,” he said – or something to that effect. We went down together and started removing the heavy, wet load. Greg pulled the machine out from the wall and I handed him a couple of trash cans so that we could drain it and try to figure out what was happening. It was pretty clear that whatever it was wasn’t going to be fixable without at least partially disassembling the damn thing. A trip to the Laundromat was now on the agenda, as well. I could feel the tension spring up, that pressured feeling of too much happening at once, the sensation of not enough hours, not enough capacity. I noticed it. And kept moving.

Little plagues. Old car, pink eye, tender fingers, smelly mattress, ticks, taxes, broken machines. Little plagues all at once.

That’s when I remembered the quote that caught Greg’s eye over the weekend. Mother Theresa’s words: “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”

So many small things. None of them terrible. Nothing disastrous or insurmountable. But undoubtedly the potential to start perceiving the mounting small things as overwhelming. The temptation to begin thinking, “Why is everything falling apart/going wrong/ breaking?” Everything. Can you imagine? This is where my mind tries to take me.

The flip side is true, too, of course: Living with any modicum of awareness can feel like too great a task to accomplish at moments like that one in the basement, the concrete floor wet around us, Aviva standing there waiting to follow our energetic cues, me calculating how the rest of the day would go when it was already 4:30pm. What I managed to step into was the knowledge that this was not a moment for mindfulness to be out of the question. Quite the opposite: if I didn’t do each of these things at a time, each small thing with great love, God knows I’d wind up hurting myself or someone else – literally. This is what flashed through my head as we got into the car in the pouring rain.

When it rains, it pours. When little plagues strike, it’s good to remember what they are not. Big plagues are all around, and these are not them.

I am sitting in the Laundromat as I write, on Pearl Street of all places, thoroughly enjoying my solitude and the hum of activity around me, the clinking of quarters, Alex Trebek in the background, the hum of the gleaming white machines, people folding and reading and waiting. It’s refreshing, this slice of real life. And Greg? He’s home making mac & cheese with Aviva and Pearl, who I imagine are happy to have time with their dad before he leaves town for a few days.

Little plagues – or little gifts? Or simply life happening, without needing a label? Small things that could spin me off into stress – or put things into such clear perspective. The whites of my eyes. The unexpected two hours alone. The tick floating in rubbing alcohol. The forthcoming tax refund (hallelujah). That big dryer, mesmerizing.

7 thoughts on “Little Plagues (Notes from the Laundromat)

  1. GailNHB says:

    Once again you nailed it, girl. Once again.

    This is the line that got me – and that will go into my journal: “Little plagues – or little gifts? Or simply life happening, without needing a label?”

    Nope, this life stuff doesn’t always need a label. We just have to live it and learn to accept, and perhaps even love it.

    Here’s to little plagues!



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