By Mary Jo Casilio
I worry sometimes about the quiet. Is our house too quiet for our 2-year-old? With no siblings around the bend, will she grow up lonely? Spoiled by the gaze of her parents? Longing for her own version of seventh heaven?
I suppose it’s ironic because when I was a kid, all I ever really wanted was quiet. The life of “only children” looked rather attractive to me. More than once people would comment, “Oh, Mary Jo, you are so lucky. When you are older, your sisters will be your best friends.”
I smiled weakly and swallowed what seemed an awfully bitter pill. Translation: lifetime membership in Nerdville. Lucky was not how I felt at all.
Those days on South Prince Drive began early and – generally – urgently. Mom set the pace: pulling weeds or planting geraniums, or – on rainier days – ironing shirts, canning tomatoes, organizing a recipe box and leading the prayer chain.
By no means a martyr, Mom would scribble a daily list of chores and leave it on the kitchen counter with a cheerful directive at the top: “You pick.”
Whether we were inspired or intimidated – usually the latter – my three younger sisters and I found ourselves scrambling to find the list and have some say-so in our daily marching orders. It’s strange how electing to vacuum could feel so empowering. It was still better than scrubbing the toilets or, worse, caring for my baby brother John Paul all afternoon.
By 9 a.m. the house was humming: laundry churning, dryer buzzing and someone flip-flopping up and down the stairs or in and out the front door.
As the yard got sprinkled, roses watered, and sinks and tubs wiped down, we were all business. Stubbed toes, slivered fingers and stinging tears were all just collateral damage in the overall mission.
There would be no TV – no fun, of any kind, really – until soap and water were in use and this list was wiped clean.
On Thursdays, the frenzy would rise to a new level. The local bookmobile would arrive at our neighborhood at 10:30 and idle at the corner for 45 minutes. Talk about an added level of pressure. The only thing more alluring might have been free cones from Mr. Frosty.
So not only did we need a sparkling house, but we needed it on time. By 10:20, someone (probably me) was barking orders up the stairs. “Hurry, or we’re leaving without you.” “You shouldn’t have slept so long.” Or, “Why did you stay up so late?” I was never one for dawdlers. Or excuses.
We would pack at least two of the smallest siblings in a wagon, possibly a neighbor child in a stroller, and take quick inventory. Are your shoes tied? Do we have the books from last week? A snack for John Paul? (He rarely made the trip without complaint.) The library card? And, finally, a reminder: Don’t step in the dog poop along the way.
By afternoon, Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary would greet me on our Adirondack chairs. Old friends. The house was presentable, Mom seemed satisfied and I could escape into the homes of Superfudge and Ramona and other 12-year-olds, each with their own share of lists and stubbed toes.
Which brings me back to my daughter. Will she have all that? That frenzy – that noisy home that I thought I couldn’t stand. Will she be as lucky as I was?
I cannot help but turn my gaze back toward her once again. Maybe it’s time I take one more lesson from my mother? Make a list. Plant the seeds. And pray.