Faith, Family, & Focaccia

A faith and culture Mommy blog, because real life gets all mixed together like that.

See Me: Day 22 of the April Poetry Challenge

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Yesterday I spent several hours cleaning my house. Scratch that. I can not really categorize my frantic activity as “cleaning” because very little dirt was actually relocated from the floors and various surfaces of my house to somewhere more hygienic (like dust rags or the trash bin). Rather I spent those several hours shuffling items (toys, books, dirty dishes, smelly socks) from the various inappropriate surfaces where they were residing (the hallway floor, the fireplace hearth, the couch, the kitchen table) to their actual abodes.

This is by no means an unusual Monday morning activity for me, but this week was a bit different because I had a partner in my tidying efforts: my mother-in-law.

Please do not infer an eye-roll or a long-suffering tone of voice into that last pronouncement.  I LOVE my mother-in-law. She is kind, and fun, and loving, and supportive, and SUCH an amazing Nanna to the kiddos. She always goes out of her way to make me and my family feel comfortable (whether in her house or ours) and makes a very intentional point about not announcing her opinions about how we run our little family unless invited to do so.

All the same…. allowing my mother-in-law to see my home in its frequently untidy state has required a journey of nearly 14 years. You see, her home is always beautiful! Colors are coordinated, and furniture is tastefully arranged, and everything has a place where it lives – and these things do not go visiting beyond the time frame of their active use for a particular purpose. It is a mark of just how much she loves us that she allows my family to disrupt this beautiful order for weeks at a time when we come to visit, strewing matchbox cars and glitter stickers across rooms and cracker crumbs across her floors.

My habit of doing the mad-cleaning-act BEFORE her arrival is so ingrained that my failure to do so last Wednesday actually caused my mother (who was just completing her own visit) noticeable anxiety. This is a significant indicator of my long-standing obsession with presenting a tidy front to my husband’s mother, because…well… I come by my rather slap-dash housekeeping style honestly. That is to say, I inherited it – by either nature, or nurture, take your pick. This is not a knock on my mother. When I was little she was doing much more important things than keeping a tidy house: things like giving an amazing home-taught education to me and my sisters, and then supporting us and putting us all through college after Dad left. Thus, the fact that the mess engulfing my home prompted even her to ask me six or seven times whether “I didn’t want to clean up a bit before (her counterpart) arrived?” is an indicator of just how badly I have always wanted to impress my beloved mother-in-law with my ability to play house.

But, I am happy to report that I am growing up.

(Or, at least, I was really sick last week and had no energy to clean, and so I am claiming this as a moral victory to make myself feel better about the smashing disintegration of my mask). Perhaps it was really not that much of a conscious decision to finally be honest about my housekeeping, but sometimes there is personal development potential even in circumstantial changes.

And so, as I cleaned today and got an outsider’s glimpse into the inadequacies of my approach to household management, I decided to embrace the growth potential of the moment. Hence, today’s poetic offering.


 

See Me

 

The thing about wanting to be seen

is that I want to look pretty.

I do not want you to see that one stubbornly yellow tooth

that is forever impervious to every tooth-whitening gel.

I do not want you to be able to guess

that is has been six months since my last professional haircut.

I do not want you to notice all the jiggly evidence

left behind on my body by the two precious passengers who started life inside me.

I just want you to see a perfect, cover-girl, air-brushed image of me.

 

The thing about wanting to be seen

is that I want to look competent.

I do not want you to know that clean clothes

sit in a heap on top of my dryer for three days.

I do not want you to see the way I struggle

to manage both my anger and my daughter’s mini-rebellions.

I do not want to admit that I have been writing and posting poetry for the last 22 days,

but I cannot actually define what makes a piece of writing a poem.

I just want you to see a skilled and confident woman, who can balance life and parenting with a flair of creative brilliance.

 

The thing about wanting to be seen

is that I want to actually look the way I am supposed to look.

I do not want to wonder if I look OK

and pass on crippling insecurities

to the little girl who watches my face in the mirror.

I do not want to shove the mess behind the closet door,

and then pretend I do not need my coat,

and shiver in the cold comfort of pride.

I do not want to hold my need for motherly authority

above my daughter’s need for actual mothering,

and my own need for help when I am floundering.

I just want to be the beautiful, competent, inspiring stranger in my poetic imaginings.

 

The thing about wanting to be seen

is that I don’t really want to be seen

until I realize that

until I let myself be seen

I will never be

real.

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Author: Serena Gideon Rice

In early 2011 my family moved our home, temporarily, from New Jersey to Milan, Italy. In the process I quit what had been my dream job conducting policy-directed social science research, to focus on my other dream job, raising our two young children. The three-year adventure was exciting, exhausting, disorienting, fulfilling, and countless other contradictions. It also birthed in me a desire to share my reflections on life's joys and challenges with anyone who cares to reflect with me. Now that we have returned to the US I'm finding that the new perspective I gained in Europe has come with me, and gives me a whole new way of interacting with my home. There's still so much to learn and share! I hope you'll share the journey, and add your own lessons to my daily education.

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