Never Will I Ever: The Dirty Bottle Under the Bed

My chapter published in Lose the Cape: Never Will I Ever edited by Alexa Bigwarfe & Kerry Rivera.

I was raised in a Stepford community. You know that town where everyone was perfect? Well, no, they weren’t anywhere near perfect, and some of their stories would make the devil blush, but the town was full of families who plastered their skeletons with makeup: a basic foundation of delusions—of—grandeur and denial (one that matches the skin tone), a little blush on the cheeks for false innocence, the piercing eye effect from the latest issue of Forbes Magazine, a high brow and nose that points up for the pig-nostril look, dramatic eyelashes to overplay the role of the victim, and projection—a basic red lipstick so as to leave a mark when they kiss you. You know, the things every good Baptist wears to church on Sunday Morning.

Only thing is, children are gullible. As a child in that kind of community I knew better, but I still fell for it. I fell for it all. And that was the mother I was going to be.

The Beaver Paradigm. I was going to be the one who goes to church every Sunday, who is active in the PTA, who baked from scratch and led every fundraiser to victory. My children were going excel at academics and sports, NEVER make a scene at a restaurant or clothing store, always dressed for a Kodak moment (never wearing food around their mouth or boogers on their noses that gross people out), and impressed people with their extensive vocabulary and cotton-picking hearts.

The house is always spotless and smells of confectioner sugar and spices, and people who leave dirty laundry on the floor probably shouldn’t reproduce. Healthy meals are cooked by mom paid for by dad and enjoyed at the dinner table by everyone sparked with conversations inspired by after-school-specials and laced with love. Spankings are not necessary because in this world, children respect their parents, and a simple “Gee you shouldn’t be doing that,” will get you a heart—felt apology. Everyone operates in this black and white Norman Rockwell print with harmony, peace, cheesy music, and meatloaf dinners.

That was the master plan, at least up until the point when I had children.

Television shows about perfect families in black and white were later replaced with full color versions of dysfunction. Roseanne Barr basically came crashing through the Leave it to Beaver threshold like the KoolAid Man and added reality checks like working moms, cheap dinners, nagging grandmothers, lazy husbands, and ungrateful, hateful teenagers who make bad life decisions.

My life was a reflection of television families.

I grew up in the most normal family imaginable. Both of my parents stayed together up until my father passed away. My parents did not argue, and the moment my mother started to get frustrated with anything, my father popped up out of nowhere to grab her from behind, rub her back and shoulders, make a joke, and then whisper sweet nothings into her ear. She would turn around, slap his shoulder, and say, “Not in front of the children.”

In my 20s, I enjoyed the single life without motherhood, but people say that it’s rare to find that in the state of West, By God, Virginia (destiny manifested). The more I think about it, of all my friends over the age of 18, I was the only one I knew without kids. My biological clock didn’t need to tick at all in my life because I was always surrounded by friends and their children, and they needed help with their children, and I enjoyed helping them. Their kids gave my life meaning.
I was a great mom before I became a mother. I didn’t forget anyone’s birthday. I cooked gourmet meals from scratch every time I cooked, which in retrospect, is much easier when you aren’t in charge of cooking every meal. I took my friends’ kids out to fine dining establishments and taught them manners (something I could afford because I didn’t have kids). I babysat frequently so moms could drink and nap.

If you met my friends in public, you would think they lived perfect lives. Most people seemingly thought that. Everyone loves my friends because they are such good people. These people had no idea my friends not only had skeletons in their closet, but also monsters under their bed.

Literally, a monster under their bed.

All my friends had messy houses, some borderlining the world of disgust. I didn’t really care. People are who they are; however, I had the Susy Homemaker mentality, “This might be good enough for my friends, but not me. My house will NEVER look like this. I’ll be damned if I let a stranger come in and clean for me.” I really was embarrassed for my friends. I just couldn’t believe they had no problem with me coming and doing all their dishes that hadn’t been cleaned for 5 days or vacuuming crumbs under the sofa that was sure to attract mice and bugs. I never did anyone’s laundry, but I remember cringing at the level of piled clothes that went unwashed.

As I cleaned their houses and reared their children because I was perfect because I didn’t forget to wear my make—up, I worked my way into their bedrooms. Wanting to surprise them with a clean house, I started sorting dirty laundry, picking things up off the floor, and in every house, under that bed… I found it. The monster. Every friend I had kept a dirty bottle molding under their bed.

Even if I removed the device and threw it away, one would show up to replace it in a matter of days, sometimes hours.

I knew back then, I was never going to have a messy house, and I would never have a dirty bottle under my bed. Oh. No. I was too good for that life.

Years later, I became a mother. Like all new moms with babies and toddlers and young children, I stopped wearing make-up. When you peel off the delusions— of—grandeur, you find insecurity. Remove the eye makeup, and the piercing eyes turn into tears. The worst part about not wearing make—up is that you discover not only do you have wrinkles, but you can’t hide them anymore. Every wrinkle folds and unfolds its own story of a scar from the maturing process, some filled with gaps of insanity as the world pushed us over the edge, and others, a mark of determination or a scratch from facing fear.

Without that make-up, I finally saw myself for who I really am.

Look under my bed, and you’ll find a dirty bottle. I throw them away all the time. None of my children drink from a bottle anymore, yet a dirty bottle shows up to replace it. I have no idea where it keeps coming from. Sometimes I think it’s a hallucination, like a flashback of the toddler years.

My house has competed with my friends’ houses of old, and on top of it, I let them clean it out of desperation. I don’t care if they put something away to where I’ll never find it again. I don’t care that they might discover a little mold growing on a dirty dish I haven’t washed in five days, or that there is still food in the slow cooker from, when was the last time I used the slow cooker?

Karma hits you back times three, and times three hurts.

Not many people clean my house for me, not like I used to clean theirs. My friends had more help than I did, meaning they had less of an excuse than I have.
The best part. Their houses are clean now that their kids are teenagers. Sparkly clean like a Better Homes and Garden picture. And they judge me on mine. Some of them are downright nasty about it. The three times they came over to help me clean, their mouths dripped words of all the things I was thinking when I was 20 about their house but never said to keep their feelings in tact.

“I don’t understand why you can’t just throw this away? What’s so hard about throwing something away? You have got to stop being so lazy.”

And I snap with snark, “I did throw it away. Seven times to be precise.”

And they don’t realize their house was this kind of mess before. They had no idea their house was a mess during their children’s toddler years and that I was cleaning it all the time for them. Maybe they don’t realize this because they were too crazy at the time to notice, or maybe they are now able to wear that make— up again.

For the third kick in the face, they had their confidence as a parent because I didn’t verbally tear them down. I was the one uplifting them, “They don’t know what they are talking about. Just keep doing your thing, and things will work themselves out.” Just like the house cleaning and babysitting favors, that favor of support was never returned. My friends became the “they” who doesn’t know what they are talking about. I believed their criticism for years.

Then I earned some wrinkles.

I stopped listening to all the dark voices in my life. I deleted the words of my 20s self who knew it all and reassured me of all my insecurities as a mother. I stopped listening to my friends validating all my flaws. I finally listened to that inner voice that didn’t know it all. The voice of curiosity. They say curiosity killed the cat, but cats have nine lives, and it is in curiosity do we approach things with a desire to find out as opposed to a desire to prove something true or false.

My house is a proud mess of a family who is busy living life. When my kids are teenagers, I’m sure it will be much cleaner just like all my friends. This is life now. This is the phase I’m in.

It’s not 1950 where we women service our families and nothing more. We want careers. We want a real life like men have enjoyed for centuries. Now that we are in an era where moms and dads are fighting over who gets to have a career, social life and sanity, things become messy, and often broken. Your grandmother’s bowl probably won’t survive your children, and neither will that part of your mind that made you feel safe and secure as a child. Not only is that okay because it’s life now a days, but it’s also okay if you leave the pieces of yourself on the floor for a while.

Sacrificing a clean house in the name of sanity is worth it. I would rather have a messy house and a career than a clean house that makes me feel empty, like I’m wasting good talent and skills I’ve spent decades developing. I’d rather have kids with healthy psychological foundations because I focus on their needs as opposed to the expectations of society.

Take off my make—up, and you will see wrinkles. But even with the wrinkles, I’m still beautiful. Even with the mess, my house is a comfortable home. And my beauty is real, unlike the people who make—up who they are and unlike the houses made—up with scent warmers and nicer paint. But give me five years, and I’ll be wearing some delusions—of—grandeur on special occasions just for nostalgia.

And motherhood tip: keep a clean bottle under your bed so the dirty bottles don’t move in.


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