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Faith in Vermont: Mudroom Mercy

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Posted on December 11, 2018 | Blog Category:
By Faith Gong



When we first looked at the house that is now our home, the realtor told us that all other prospective buyers had walked away after they saw it: The house’s layout was just too strange for anybody to figure out how to make it work.

Enter my husband, who, in a fit of visionary-ness, saw how we could make this half-finished house with the wonky floor plan work for us. 

In order to make it work, we turned the first-floor living room and bathroom into our master bed- and bathroom. Our four daughters sleep in the second-floor bedrooms, and use the second-floor bathroom. (In our current stage of parenting, this setup provides me excellent exercise running up and down the stairs at all hours of the day and night.)

Our house’s floor plan figures into the story I’m about to tell. The crucial detail is this: The master bathroom is the only bathroom on the first floor, and it – and the master bedroom beyond it – are accessed by a door off of the kitchen. 

This is a story about expectations. And I had great expectations that Thursday, a week after Thanksgiving. 

That afternoon was the final performance on the Addison County Homeschoolers’ production of Oliver Twist. For two-and-a-half months, I’d driven my four daughters thirty minutes each way to the weekly three-hour rehearsals in Brandon. (These were not drop-off rehearsals, either: I had to hang around and wrangle my five-year-old workhouse orphan, whose role consisted of four lines in Act 1, Scene 1.) The entire experience had been wonderful, creative, and intense, but I was ready to celebrate its conclusion. So, I’d suggested to my daughters that we leave the house a little early on this final day, and I would treat them to cookies at the bakery up the street from the theater before they had to get in costume. 

I had such cozy visions of the five of us, cuddled up around a café table, eating delicious baked goods and celebrating their creative accomplishments. This wasn’t completely selfless; in my vision, I was also drinking my afternoon cup of coffee. 

It’s a battle to get four young daughters out the door under the best of circumstances. I usually start the warnings at 30 minutes before the hoped-for departure time, and even then there are always last-minute delays: someone’s forgotten to put on socks, or has to brush her hair, or needs to say goodbye to the kitten one last time. 

This day was no different. We had several last-minute bathroom calls, and because my daughters have decided that it’s terrifying to be upstairs alone, in the house where they’ve lived for three years, using their own bathroom, they all lined up to use the master bathroom on the first floor. At last, I had three daughters in the minivan. As the final daughter exited the bathroom, I shouted from the mudroom (where I’d been waiting impatiently), reminding her to close the door that leads from the kitchen to the master bath- and bedroom.

We always close this door because of the aforementioned kitten: My husband is allergic to cats, and although his autoimmune inflammation takes a backseat to our love for this animal, it’s the least we can do to keep the kitten out of his bedroom. 

Then we were off, but later than I’d hoped, so as we pulled out of the driveway I grumbled at my girls about their inability to move quickly; now we’d have to rush through our special pre-show snack. 

About a mile down the road, my daughter’s voice piped up from the backseat.

“Mommy, will the kitten starve to death?”

“Noooooo....” I answered, looking at her quizzically in the rearview mirror. “Why would he starve to death?”

“Um, because I shut him into your bedroom,” she replied. 

“WHY would you do that?!?” I asked (shrieked.)

“Well, you told me to close the door,” she said innocently.

“You didn’t mention that the kitten was in our bedroom!”

“I was afraid you’d be mad!”

I turned the car around, tires squealing, raging against my daughter’s lack of common sense (the word “numbskull,” sometimes used jokingly in our family, may have been employed with more force than necessary.) Not only would we now have to miss our bakery time entirely, I wouldn’t get my afternoon cup of coffee, either! I only hoped we’d make it to the theater on time. 

It got worse: I pulled into our driveway too quickly, given the icy slush covering it after a recent snowstorm. Too late, I felt the tires submit to the ice’s will rather than my steering wheel. With a bump, two tires slid off the edge of the driveway into the marshy grass alongside. We were stuck beyond help of anything but a tow truck. 

Gritting my teeth, I ordered my daughters out of the minivan and into the mudroom while I called my husband to confess. What I’d envisioned as a special afternoon had turned into a nightmare -- and most of the blame lay squarely on my shoulders.

It was a subdued mother who opened the mudroom door to confront her shaken daughters. 

“I’m sorry I’m such a numbskull, Mommy,” sniffed the cat-imprisoning culprit.

“Oh, sweetie,” I said, hugging her, “I’m the biggest numbskull of all. It was my fault for losing my temper and driving too fast. I guess we’re all numbskulls, but at least we’re together.” 

Then I apologized to them for my behavior -- and they forgave me. My eldest daughter even produced a box of chocolate-covered espresso beans she’d unearthed from the pantry, “so you can still have your afternoon coffee!” 

It all turned out fine: the cat was released, my husband drove home to switch cars and await the tow truck, and we were on time for the show. 

“You know, we’ll probably laugh about this in a few weeks,” I told my daughters in the mudroom. But we laughed about it that very night, and again over dinner with friends the following night, and now I’m writing about it. 

I’m writing this column because we’re smack in the middle of the winter holiday season, a time that overflows with expectations. We expect our holidays to be full of special light, love, and joy. But that Thursday after Thanksgiving, I was reminded that when our expectations implode, they may be replaced by something even better. We think we need a special experience, but sometimes what we really need is to sit in a chilly mudroom, apologizing for how our expectations made us forget what’s really important: people who love us enough to forgive us, again and again. 

 

 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit director. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, four daughters, assorted chickens and ducks, one fiesty cat, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her "free time," she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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