I’m home sick, eating the toast I want, without the jam I want. I’m craving the apple butter jam I had that day at breakfast earlier this summer with my friends. That was the only day I ever liked apple butter jam, and that day, I believed, it was strawberry jam I ended up putting on the toast. It’s just that the apple butter jam had a lovely color to it, and a wonderful name, and we talked about it for a while, because there wasn’t much of any other jam left, and the whole time I wanted to be the person that appreciated something as subtle and pale and delicate as apple butter jam. I could be the friend that would say, on a breezy Saturday morning sitting outside a breakfast cafe, that could I please have the toast, and then to my friends, “Oh, I just love the apple butter jam.”
I’d like to live an apple butter jam kind of life. It’s awful confusing the life I’m living, it’s not at all the one I’d imagined, or sought. There seems to be so much going on it that there’s no time for subtleness or delicacy or loveliness. It’s all rigid and ordered and bright primary colors and bold statements and noises.
Take the first day of school, for instance. It’s soon, in case anyone hasn’t been paying attention. The ads on the television and the radio and the internet are screaming at me, shouting at me, and have been since the end of July, warning me about the busy bustle of school, of all the things I’ll need to get done, and barely have time for, coaching me on how to be organized and still be working/carpooling/homework-helping/sports-chauffeuring/dinner-making family mom who still has a sense of humor and hair, and who, for some bizarre reason, loves not having a minute to herself. The martyred uber-woman. She does it all, is frazzled, but look at her family, so worth it, we are taught to think. So since summer, it’s all been shouting, Shouting, SHOUTING at me, and I turned away, covered my ears, closed my eyes. I don’t want it. I don’t want to be shouted at anymore, I don’t want the world to yell at me. It’s really enough. It’s why, this year, I’m both barely prepared and more prepared for school to start than any other year. I have just the right amount of deafness to the world. I think at one time, I tried to be that woman, that mom, but it didn’t last long. It turns out, I’m singularly incapable of martyring myself on the altar of the uber-family-woman. It’s probably for the best, that I failed so utterly at it, because if I had been able to pull it off, I fear I’d still be there.
I believe there are more women out there like me, blocking their ears and cringing in the aisles of Targets and Walmart’s, not signing up for the extra duties that our children might one day need. It’s just none of us are shouting back. Instead, we're just quietly dropping out. The little girl that chases all the older kids playing soccer or football or whatever, and then, not being able to catch up, realizing she doesn’t even like the game, just the running bit, goes off and plays on the sidelines with dirt and flowers and other little kids.
Of course I bought the school supplies, I am a mother, after all, and have responsibilities, but I am not lying when I say that a part of me recoiled in terror, and my fight or flight reflex kicked in, urging me to run for cover, when, in the Target aisle, turning the corner, I heard the voices of raised mothers and daughters and mothers and sons as they analyzed school supply lists and matched them to the proper product. Oh so carefully! So precisely! Then, let the negotiations for color, brand and style commence! Big red carts filled with too many things, paper things, plastic things, boxes of things, things, and more things. Things we, for some reason, did not need as children going back to school. What happened to one big binder with a few notebooks and pens and pencils? Now, we must buy dry erase markers, elite Ticonderoga pencils, pre-sharpened preferred, crayons, sharpie markers, notebooks for every thought, binders and index cards and labels and folders, so many folders. It was overwhelming, the noise of it all!
I want to walk away from it, and go back to a place where things were not the thing, where education was not dependent on the things, where it was libraries and books and dog-eared text-book pages from reading and reading and reading to understand, and confounding problems solved with chalk at a board as students followed another student trying to figure out where they goofed on the fourth long division problem of the day, and heads on desks because the Velveteen Rabbit was too sad to watch where others could see you cry, and there was so much more of the mind and less of the thing. Where after school was for playing and after dinner was for family, no one used snow days for homework and parents said ‘do your homework’ without sitting down to help unless it was Algebra and you were failing, and even then, it was up to you. You know, to live an apple butter jam kind of life.