Victoria lives on a spec between mother and writer in a small town outside Madison, WI. She writes memoir, personal essay and flash fiction when she's not cooking curry or baking a triple batch of cowgirl cookies.
I cannot sit with my children. I cannot stay home day in and out cleaning bathtubs and hanging clothes to dry. We become restive, smitten by the outside, romanced by adventure.
It's this part of summer, the late season quell, that brings peace of reflection. I follow my children down sidewalks; let them pick up sticks to poke the ground, fill miniature pockets with stones, roll in the sand, and stamp dusty feet.
I'm still rebelling.
My childhood was spent at home watching Ma scrub the kitchen floor, down on her knees, buffing out the smallest scuff from black-bottom shoes. "Outside," she'd say, "Go play outside." And I'd scuttle off with my little plastic picnic basket heaping with little plastic plates and little plastic spoons.
Dirt cakes and grass pie.
Real buckle sandals impossible to do up.
An empty field of clover.
The neighborhood waited out its days in silence.
As if we were the only people left anywhere, Ma and I were home. We stayed put. I waited for the mailman. I yapped over garbage collections. By 5:30 I was hiding under the stairs expecting Dad to walk in with a pocket full of butterscotch candies, his work shoes scuffing the floor.
When I finally went to school I found out the other kids had parents who took them places on weekends and summer vacations, small adventures to lakes, boat rides, flying model airplanes over empty fields of clover.
Once a year, maybe twice, our family went camping. Governor Dodge State Park mostly.
My earliest memory: a tiny wooden chair with a hole and a tin pot waiting outside our huge yellow canvas tent, a morning of bribery, a trick to get me to sit and let it all hang out.
I'd put all of my childhood into one of those camping trips if I could, just fold it up and stamp it down. It was the marshmallows for me, I'm sure of it, marshmallows and a campfire and Dad probably breaking a hundred State Park regulations coaxing the raccoons from trees, enticing them with sweets.
I'm still a sucker for State Parks. Give me any random day with the scent of campfire on the air and I'll pack up a bag of food and two wild girls faster than you can say, "Raccoons have rabies."
These kids don't scoff at the drive, I've been hauling them every-which where since they popped their little heads out and blinked at the wide world. "What should we do today?" I ask, honestly befuddled at the openness of our schedules.
Nag Champa, a scent that carries memory. It's autumn 1993. I'm 18, not getting ready to go off for college.
I have a job at Perkins picking up after everyone else. Friends from school hang out till 4 am choking the smoking section with quotes from Monty Python and Nietzsche, sucking down coffee creamers and bending spoons into neckties. I talk too loud, give myself away to customers who shouldn't be listening, turn red, laugh it off.
The manager, just two years ahead of me in school and locally famous for organizing punk shows at TT's Hotspot calls me over to where he's standing on a ladder. He unscrews a light bulb, hands it down, "Fix this, would ya?" he says.
At 7 am I leave carrying an overburdened bag stuffed with a uniform and waitstaff training books. I walk along Milton Avenue. It's the weekend, traffic is light. A cop car pulls ahead of me into the parking lot of the KFC. He demands my ID. I think, only in Janesville do you get pulled over for walking. "You fit the description of a runaway," he says.
A cup of hot coffee turned ice cold. I still drink it, dependent on its chilly bite for a few more letters hacked out on the page.
Children's color-coded love notes pinned to the wall, I've waited lifetimes for these. Even the baby, old enough to tell me she isn't, proclaims her mastery of the arts, "See! See, Mommy, I did that!" And she did. Whatever marker scribbles taste like, she did that too with gusto.
I have a corner in a room that for five years has been the undertaker of all things not easily categorized--old journals, maternity clothes, magic cards, wedding paraphernalia, baby shoes, poster frames. Our basement is at capacity. Our extra rooms are spoken for. The attic is questionable.
We did things backward I've been told. When you buy a house you should take care of the bedroom first, this is where you will be resting, where you will recover and recoup. We did as most proud new home owners do, take care of the places people see. It seemed reasonable, the first floor is where the living happens.
Then there were the babies. We spared nothing on fun and function in their sweet little rooms.
Though the house has little to no curb appeal, (as proof we were ready to walk away before stepping in on that frozen January noon), the inside is warm and inviting, cozy. A three bedroom Dutch Colonial replete with hip roof and breakfast nook, it's achingly minimal on closet space. We've had to be inventive.
Finally, after bustling over clothes baskets and baby bibs, we loaded up the donation bags and cleared out the overstock. Once our room uncluttered I found myself organizing, decorating even. This isn't to say it's a finished work, not even close. I can't stand the color of the walls, all robin's egg blue and sea foam green, and our bed (blushing here) doesn't even have a frame. But there is order, a new openness, a brightness where once there were moving boxes. It feels hopeful.
And this place, this is where I'm at--a corner of one's own.