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Yes and No

Franny's taken to running away when things don't go her way.  Faced with the loss of the garish ankh tattoo she got out of a vending machine or the news that she can't go swimming until she cleans her room, she stomps around noisily, weeping and throwing clothes in her backpack, and dramatically announces that she's leaving.  Usually she gets about halfway down the block before she returns, all smiles and eager to tell us about the butterfly she saw or the new birdcall she heard.

I know how she feels; sometimes I just need a little space, too.  Our house is relatively roomy, but with five people, one elderly dog, two kittens and seven fish, not to mention all the accoutrement of the aforementioned people and animals, things can be a little overwhelming.  It's a far cry from the quiet, ordered sanctuaries described in the glossy homemaking magazines that accost me every time I buy groceries. 

When the kids are around, It's virtually impossible for me and Adam to have any kind of adult conversation, because every thought is interrupted by another request or announcement of wrongdoing:  "Mommy, where are my shoes?"  "Dad, Drew changed the channel!"  "Mom, Alec's putting peanut butter on the dog!"  And of course, this is all performed to a backup orchestration of video game beeping, Kid's Bop 7, and various loud toys purchased by sadistic childfree relatives. 

If they're not interrupting us, the kids are bickering with one another or engaging in Let's Pretend with loud, detailed narration, delivered in that droning, rising inflection that seems reserved for children's games ("And I had a beautiful golden dress and I got hit on the head?  And I was knocked out and my power went down and I forgot who I was? But the flying people save me and take care of me?")  As an option of last resort, they talk to themselves: the last time Adam and I paid bills, Alec did a puzzle alone in his room, all the while singing, "No, no, no, no, no, no. . ." at top volume, to the tune of the alphabet song.  

Every time we think we've gotten them all settled and we attempt to re-embark on whatever topic we were discussing, there's another interruption, or worse, everything gets eerily quiet, which means they're probably engaged in something particularly dangerous and destructive.  It's a bit like the Kurt Vonnegut story, "Harrison Bergeron," in which smart people are subjected to a thought disrupting buzzer that goes off every few seconds to keep them from taking unfair advantage of their brainpower.  (Is there some kind of evolutionary benefit to constantly derailing your parents' trains of thought?  I wouldn't discount it -- there were definitely times when I was a kid that the only thing that saved me from certain death was that my father got distracted by something else and forgot what a little terror I'd been). 

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On top of the usual noise, clutter and pressures of everyday life -- sick kids, broken dishwashers, piles of laundry and dishes -- we've all been extra stressed out recently.  The company where Adam works was recently acquired by another corporation and he's in the process of a long, drawn-out lay-off.  His job will be eliminated in September, but first he has to travel to Denver , Tulsa and possibly India to train the people who will replace him.  In addition, I started a new job last month.  It's great, but it's necessitated some shifting to get the rest of my life to fit around the new shape of my work life.  Then there was all the kids' end of year activities; is there a law that every special event for school, soccer, brownies, and boy scouts must all take place in the same two week period in May?  Some days I feel like all the chaos and commitments are slowly suffocating me.  I want to pick up Alec's "No" refrain and refuse any further responsibility or obligations.

One day last week, I'd had enough.  The house looked like someone had set off a small bomb in it, the kids were tired and whiny, Adam and I were snapping at each other, and I was obsessively fretting about a throwaway conversation I'd had with one of my new co-workers, wondering if I'd inadvertently stuck my foot in my mouth.  On the spur of the moment, I decided to take a page from Franny's book and get away from it all.

Outside, it was a perfect late spring evening, balmy, lush and peaceful. Honeysuckle and roses were blooming extravagantly, perfuming the air, the grass in the park was soft and green, fireflies twinkled, and doves cooed.  Half the neighborhood seemed to have taken to the streets to enjoy this last bit of pleasant weather before the summer heat set in, and everyone waved genially as I passed. 

I drew a series of deep breaths and felt something tight in my chest release.  It became easier to breathe, and the tension in my shoulders relaxed.  When I returned home, Alec hurled himself at me, 40 pounds of sweaty adoration, and I heaved him up into my arms and danced him around the living room to the tune of the Pokemon theme.  I listened patiently as Drew narrated the plot of the novel he was reading and Franny recited the poem she'd composed to our new kittens.  The looming pressures receded and everything fell into perspective again. 

Instead of Alec's "No" song, I thought of Molly Bloom's words from Ulysses: "yes I said yes I will yes."  For all its craziness, this is exactly the life I wanted.  Sometimes I just need a little space to remember that. 
About the Author:  
Melissa Lipscomb
lives in Austin with her children Drew, Franny, Alec and husband Adam. Some days she feels like she's figuring out, and others she's just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Visit her blog.



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