Seriously? The world is falling apart and I’m folding towels?

July 15, 2016

by — Posted in based on a true story, living with me

We’re hustling over here, there’s a fundraiser/car wash tomorrow for my son’s team. Emails have been exchanged all week long in anticipation:

  • I don’t think we have enough hoses, we need at least four and we only have two.
  • Baked goods are coming in, heavy emphasis on brownies. Any cookie makers in our midst?
  • We’ve got a cooler that we can fill with bottled water for the volunteers, does anyone else have that covered? If not, we’ll do it.

We’re good, we’re planning, we’re communicating, we’re parents of teens and we’ve got this.

Last year during this annual fundraiser, we had suffered a shortage of dry towels. I chased back and forth with the saturated ones, spun ’em dry and returned ’em. This year I am sorting through my towels and in hopes of bringing more than what we could possibly need.

My towels are divided into three categories: the good, the bad, and the very ugly.

The good ones are mine. Stay away from them because they are not going anywhere, not even to a new friend’s pool party so you can make a remarkable first impression. The bad ones are threadbare with bleach stains, some life is left in them but they’ve seen better days. And the very ugly ones, they are just plain ol’ ugly. They are for one-time-only-use, like if we have to clean up puke. Or spilled nail polish. Maybe broken egg remnants from the kitchen floor. Or even an oil spill in the driveway. You know, life’s daily dirty stuff.

And after the most current email update, I hurriedly put away my brownie-making supplies while I retrieved my Rice Krispie ingredients. I officially made the decision to donate my “bad towels” to this weekend’s fundraising car wash after realizing that today’s currently good towels will eventually become tomorrow’s bad towels in no time at all and the stash had the potential to replenish itself.

Now it’s been said that I make the best Rice Krispie Treats in all the regions of all the lands. Maybe I said that myself, I don’t know but praise is praise even when it comes from within. Double the butter, that’s my secret but let’s just keep that between us.

And as I supervise the melting of the magical excess butter, I sort through towels and put them into laundry baskets for easier transport … multitasking at it’s finest. As usual, I turned on the tiny television in the kitchen for background noise.

Surfing through channels, I see France’s current aftermath. I stop mid-step, catch my breath and mutter to myself, “Seriously? The world is falling apart and I’m folding towels?”

I saw the early footage last night, but this fresh film today featured another angle. And there I was, frozen in time, staring at the newscast as I held my breath.

I was raised by a single parent in the early sixties. Armed with nothing but a handful of phone numbers to call in the event of an emergency, right or wrong, she always took matters into her own hands.

She sheltered us during the evening news by scooting us into the kitchen so, alone, she could watch our tinfoil-enhanced rabbit-eared black and white television as Walter Conkrite’s voice narrated the grainy images of the war in Viet Nam. And then she’d quietly turn the television off, sit in silence for a moment, come into the kitchen, and we’d all clean. And then we’d move to the next room and clean some more.

I think we were the only kids that scoured and scrubbed our way through the Viet Nam war. We were young and we were vulnerable but we felt safe and protected in our organized nest as a sense of normalcy, partnered with occasional cleaning frenzies, ruled our tiny land.

In 1970,  Madison, Wisconsin’s Sterling Hall bombings rocked America. Less than three hours from our front door, national tragedy had struck and we started deep-cleaning again, we sorted through our closets and drawers and purged what was no longer necessary.

We renewed our library cards and carried them with us at all times and even at twelve, I knew that in the event of an emergency my library card is what local officials would use to identify my remains. And if my remains were intact, and I had my wits about me, well, there was a dime in my pocket so we could use a payphone to call home and let everyone know we survived whatever unforeseen misfortunate had fallen upon us.

And we forged forward, we went to school dances, searched for the perfect plaid bell bottoms, and ironed our parted-down-the-middle hair. We kept going, with a library card and a dime in our pockets, we kept going.

In the early nineties, AIDS coverage was mesmerizingly overwhelming. I watched the news within my home, not knowing what to do. Quilters were making commemorative panels and pro-active safety kits were added to school halls. Meanwhile, I’m over here cleaning the home front as I try to explain to my own kids that they need to stay safe.

Armed daily with fresh lectures, Ziploc bags stuffed with latex gloves, along with their library cards and enough money to call me tucked securely within their backpacks, I sent them off into the world while I tried to keep a sense of normalcy at home … steaming hot soup, fresh warm bread, and a clean happy house to return to at the end of their day. I couldn’t cure AIDS, hell, I couldn’t even understand AIDS, but I could provide a sense of normalcy.

And in 2001, the Twin Towers disaster had me retrieving two children from two different schools. Home. I needed them home as much as I wanted to believe they needed to be home. We stayed in the kitchen all day. We made cut-out sour cream cookie dough, chilled it, and made cut-out cookies that we then sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. I wanted to be their news source, I wanted to interpret these current events once I understood them which apparently I still don’t. But I tried, we did normal things and through tears I attempted to explain, right or wrong, I always took these matters into my own hands.

Spring of 2013 finds me explaining the Boston Marathon bombing to pre-teens. Stay safe, be aware of your surroundings, report anything suspicious. And, in hindsight, 2013 was the year we started cleaning and never stopped.

And now, again, France.

This time we’re cleaning and we’re cooking. And we forge forward, continually aware of our surroundings, always on alert. I lecture non-stop now. Do not touch unattended backpacks or briefcases. If an adult asks you to carry anything into school, and you do not personally know them you must get find a school staff member or an authorized adult in charge … even if you are now taller than most adults in charge.

And now, for me, normalcy must prevail because my children need us to be strong.

Not every one of us has to march publicly, some of us are better here on the home front. It doesn’t mean that we don’t care. We care deeply and passionately and often we have the power to care about many things at the very same time.

We can care about France, Germany, and Turkey while we still care about Florida and Texas. And we have the ability to mourn yet another victim of horrific child abuse and still be outraged when we learn that one more dog was left to overheat in a vehicle that had the windows closed.

And we can care that summer is coming to a quick close while we do our best to stay current on issues plaguing our LGBT communities.

We can have genuine hope that we will see one world with racial harmony while we cherish that rare fifteen minutes of silence alone in a car as we sip coffee between the never ending carpooling to events.

We can care quietly, without retweets. We can care deeply, without social media shares.

And we can quietly mourn the losses of others as though they were our loses, because they are our losses, too.

There’s a balance here. The voices of the advocates and the activists next sharing space right next to us, the quiet ones, in the trenches, struggling to maintain normalcy because there are fundraisers to plan and attend. And summer music lessons that have to happen. And local rec department classes that must carry on because normalcy must prevail.

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