I sprinted around the house the weekend before the appraisal, barely taking the time to complete one task before starting another. Baking soda removed stains from counters and spackle was applied to a hole in our bathroom wall. Since I didn’t have time to paint, we covered the spackle with a towel and instructed our children never to move it.
Four kids under the age of eight made keeping the house in working order difficult, but I thought I’d done an okay job of throwing everything together in an acceptable manner. When the appraiser actually arrived, that illusion fell apart.
As his eyes searched our home deciding on its value, its worth to the rest of the world, my eyes opened as if for the first time. I saw the marker drawings on the wall where my toddlers decided to express their creativity. The cracked tile in the living room screeched when the appraiser stepped on it, crying out for repair. Dust and spider webs, irremovable stains and clutter assaulted my senses. I saw everything I had worked so hard to hide.
The appraiser took pictures, disinterested in my sudden silence. Retreating to my children’s room, I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out why all my efforts failed.
The year of the appraisal was marked by a crumbling that had nothing to do with our house. Diagnosed with a degenerative inner ear disorder that also affected my mental state, I suffered from depression for the first time in my life. My old companion, anxiety, joined in somewhere along the way, and everything I thought I knew about myself shattered like that tile in my living room.
But I’m not a quitter, not when faced with an appraisal or hearing loss or the overwhelming feeling of darkness as it attempted to suffocate me, so I kept moving. As a parent of littles, I’d suffered through enough Thomas the Train episodes to know that only really useful engines are worthy. My husband and I often joked about Sir Topham Hat and how his militant view reduced poor Thomas and friends down to their accomplishments and left no room for who they really were, flaws and all. It was only in my frenzy to accomplish instead of feel that I realized I’d bought into some of that hype.
My usefulness showed up in adding another byline, cooking another meal, going on another playdate. The hearing in my right ear started to fade, so I just talked louder, promising myself I’d slow down to learn sign language or research cochlear implants eventually.
However, I was constantly reminded of where the cracks were showing when I yelled at my children or curled into a blanket when the sun set to cry because for no reason at all I stopped looking forward to my life, my kids, my husband, my home. The unbearable knowledge that this wasn’t me, and yet it was now, physically pained me. I ran out of ways to cover the cracks.
When I decided to revamp the twin’s bedtime, it was so I could reclaim my nights and increase my productivity since marking items off a list was all I felt I had left to show for my existence.
“I’m going to start calming activities for the twins earlier in the night,” I told my husband.
“Whatever you think will work,” he responded, and I prayed this would so I would have more of my nights free to clean or create or cry.
Spread across their twin mattresses lying side by side on the floor waiting for the tell-tale sound of their rhythmic breathing, I experienced stillness, a companion I usually didn’t welcome and hadn’t expected when I took on the bedtime overhaul. The house was silent except for the calming nature music I was using to lull the girls to their slumber. Darkness enveloped me, and even the tinnitus screaming in my inner ear didn’t rouse me.
The globe-like streetlamp outside the window threw light onto the tree that was just barely taller than I was when we moved into our house eight years ago. I noticed that somehow the tree was now grown, or at the very least in the adolescent tree phase, and I couldn’t recall how this had happened.
That night I rested in my daughters’ room long after they slept reflecting on how the tree, through simply staying still, managed to grow.
Each night I surrendered to the calming music, the semi-dark room with light only visible from the open blinds, the street lamp throwing an orange, otherworldly glow over the room. I focused on my breathing and not on all the things I’d done wrong, and I forced myself to stay on those tiny twin mattresses for longer than was necessary.
The urge to run and to do tried to overcome my calm, but my daughters rested content in the fact that I was near. Just being near them, the assurance of my body weight on their beds, offered them calm and made bedtime a meditative period of joy instead of struggle. I wasn’t doing anything or accomplishing any task. Many nights the darkness in their room mirrored the fog in my brain, but still my being, in this moment, was enough for them.
The evidence that it should be surrounded me, in our growing tree, our somewhat broken house. The tree and the house didn’t struggle or run around trying to prove their worth. They withstood storms, anchored and strong even when they were thrown around or dealt with blows that punctured them and let the outside elements seep through the cracks.
The tree never violently tried to root itself upward. In the stillness, it grew. And our house, with all of its problems, was still standing, and I loved it more for its flaws most days. Those flaws were proof of life, and the temptation to offer a false representation, an image rather than a reality to the appraiser said more about me than I wanted to admit.
Weeks later our loan closed, the appraiser placing a value on our home higher than I ever imagined he would. I looked around and saw the ugly, all I would change, the failing parts, and that’s how I see myself. It’s my motivation for moving, for doing, for refusing to acknowledge how rough the bad days are until I reflect on how badly I treated everyone else. Then I try to check an item off my list as penance, an evil cycle that is helping me none.
That stillness, I am still learning it, how I can be more at times by doing less, how I am not less because I’m not moving. There is a time for stillness, and I think it’s often we need it and infrequently that we seek it out. But I’m seeking more.
Our house, with all the crayon marks and water damaged baseboards, it’s still standing. The tree, subjected to hail damage and horrid winds, it is too. And as I prepare for my next hearing test, still fighting emotions I can’t subdue, I am comforted by those facts, that these structures remain by simply being and aging in the everyday struggles of life. They are still standing, and so am I.
About the Author
Kristy Ramirez writes fiction, nonfiction, poetry, love letters and grocery lists. Her work has appeared online in Literary Mama, Parent.Co, and SheLoves Magazine, among other places. She lives in Texas with her husband and four children and is trying to finish her first novel. Catch up with her on Twitter or on her blog, Lives In Progress.