My living room is a perpetual kill-floor.
“Mommy, fix Windlifter’s tail-fin?”
“No, it’s broken.”
“Mommy, fix the ladder truck?”
“Fix Dipper’s wing?”
“Fix the picture?”
“Can you fix it tonight?”
“No, it’s BROKEN.”
Bits of car, shards from a thrown plane. Train tracks strewn everywhere. Torn pictures, colored and blank. Books, stepped on, slid on, and therefore ripped.
Of course, this all comes from having twin boys who think biting and clawing are typical play. If something CAN break, it SHOULD, and because it is theirs it MUST be fixed. To accept something’s broken is to accept they did something wrong. Not the easiest task for a three-year-old.
And who is expected to fix whatever “it” may be?
My father was a Mr. Fix-It. Called away to the hospital to stabilize an uproar between family and staff. Between family and family. Called merely to sit, and to listen to those whose families act like they’re dead. Called away to sit, and to listen, and to attempt a bridging between those determined to tear their own families apart.
The demands on fixing didn’t stop with his vocation.
My aunt’s husband died a few years ago from excessive drinking and smoking. Surgery after surgery, warning after warning, and he never stopped. Many of us saw his death as inevitable. Not my aunt.
Life wasn’t quite so insane for me back then: Biff tucked himself quietly away in the back of my womb while Bash somersaulted to his heart’s content. Toddler Blondie loved to be with her Grandma and Grandpa, so we often visited on weekends. After a particularly busy morning outside Blondie crashed in the guest room; the rest of us settled for a quiet read/work time in the basement.
Then my aunt called. Mom put it on speaker, because apparently no phone call was private in that house. “I just got the autopsy report, and…” sobs.
This is my mother’s sister.
My mother hands her off to Mr. Fix-It, and goes to the laundry room.
I get up to go, but no–stay, Jean. You’ll wake Blondie.
So I sit, and listen to my aunt go on and on about why no one told her it was this bad, why her husband didn’t say anything. Dad all the while gently telling her no one could tell Uncle D what to do, Uncle D always had a strong faith, and on and on.
My mother occasionally comes by the phone, but doesn’t take over the conversation until my aunt’s sobs have died down. Until the fixing’s done.
Dad looks at me, shakes his head. Goes back to writing his sermon.
Being the stay-at-home-parent has made me the Mrs. Fix It of my family. All the ripped/cracked/frosted/peed on items are brought to me. When Bash gets over a tantrum, he comes to me to “clean his face.” Even if Bo is home, I’m the one sought. And if I plan to leave the home, Bo seeks me out to fix up the children’s schedule for him so he knows what to do and when.
Every family has a Fixer, the one who maintains the connections, is sought for improvements, changes.
Somehow, Dad’s death put his duties on me.
I didn’t feel it at first, overwhelmed by my own grief.
Then came the phone calls from my mother.
Grief counseling was a waste of time, she said. She wouldn’t talk to another pastor, because no one else was Dad.
I have two brothers: one who lives near her, the other a pastor elsewhere in the country. My mother and I have never been bound with more than the ties created by Christian duty.
Yet she talked to me. Sobbed to me. And I never, ever had the right thing to say.
Some souls are so…so rich with love and faith that when they are removed, it is a literal chasm in your emotional and spiritual self. I don’t know if, being my father’s daughter, my mom expected me to somehow replace Dad. I don’t know if, now that Dad was gone, she thought we could finally have a relationship. I don’t know. I’ve never known my mom, and in all the talks in tears I still don’t know her. Every attempt I made at comfort or encouragement was not what she wanted to hear, at least from me. So eventually, she stopped calling.
Then came the messages: friends of my parents, relatives of my father. At any given family gathering or run-in with friends I am the one who’s asked: “How’s your mom? Is she seeing anyone?” And all I can give are platitudes: “up and down.” “good days and bad days.” Facebook messages pop up from people I haven’t seen in years, wondering how she is. I am sought to maintain the connections. I am expected to Fix This, All of This.
I sit on the floor in my sons’ room. Shades still drawn. Dark, quiet, since the boys are happily watching their favorite trains.
Quiet but for my sobs.
There came a point where all I could see were expectations unfulfilled. Of progress dumped out onto the floor, and broken, again, to be fixed, AGAIN, and how come you can’t fix it why can’t you mommy FIX it Mommy FIX IT
And there’s nothing I can do.
Tomorrow I will leave the house, schedule neatly written and left on the kitchen counter for Bo, and pull up to an office building. Walk in. State I have an appointment.
Tomorrow I will go up to someone who’s never met me, and lay it all out. All the broken pieces, the twisted old bits that used to work until they were trampled one too many times.
Tomorrow I will ask someone else to help Fix It.