Communal living

My parents-in-law are living with us for a week: communal living at its finest. We’re remodeling our master bedroom together–‘we’ as in I’m cooking the lunches and riding along to Home Depot. And asking good questions of course. And there may be a few other things I forget, like handing a tool to someone and painting three drop ceiling tiles. It’s what I do best.


Confession: I pulled off a personal meltdown right before supper last night.

Of course I wasn’t the only one melting down. Child C had about five meltdowns simultaneously in that gray hour before dinner.  Child B was beside himself—in and out of the room, even after I said very firmly Now son. You are going to stay right here where I can see you until Mommy is done cooking supper. The convulsions of protest he went through would have put an eel to shame. I got him a book to read. He wept and lamented sore. I stayed calm and cheerful (the thin-stretched calm-and-cheerful-on-purpose variety). He was unmoved. I turned my back; he sneaked out. I fetched him hither; he came yon, dragging his tail behind him.

And meanwhile the supper would not get cooked. Despite my lovely mother-in-law right there helping me, helping my kids, helping the food. The quesadillas kept wanting to burn (probably because I left them for brief forays after errant sons), the corn was still frozen, and the eggs for the salad needed to be peeled.

Convulsions on the barstool. Exit plans being hatched in small brains. I felt them behind me, rising like vapor, heavier and more foreboding by the minute until a mushroom cloud ascended to the drop ceiling and I was uncertain whether the smell was burnt quesadilla or bad attitude.

I fielded a simple three-minute phone call and flipped a quesadilla while talking. Bad mistake. Some of the filling spilled out and began to blacken on the bottom of the dry skillet, an adhering from which there was no return. I hung up, pulled the pan over to the sink and began scraping desperately.

Child B threw something across the room and narrowly missed Grandma.

Nothing I do or say can fix this. What will happen if I just start to cry?

And suddenly I am, so hard I cannot breathe, my hand clamped over my mouth and my ears flaming.

My mom-in-law is right there with her arm around me. Oh Shari. I’m so sorry. Do you need to go take some time? I’ll finish frying the quesadillas; you go lie down a little. I cannot move, choking there at the sink. And then Ryan is there too, and takes my son and sits to read a story with him. I step out into the cold air and breathe, shuddering.

Sometimes I really think communal living is the way to go.

Our house has seen many suppertime meltdowns, but never has there been a woman to take the spatula from my hand and send me gently away.

There’s unspeakable comfort in knowing that if you really have to step out for a minute, life can go on. The errands can be run and the three massive loads of laundry folded, all at once. The children can be occupied and the major paint job move forward simultaneously. There are two good women to train the children and learn from each other, and two good men working upstairs.

Five or ten minutes later found me back in the kitchen, red-eyed and quieted, peeling those eggs.

What do you think? It takes a village to fry a quesadilla?

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Amy Herr
10 years ago

Wow, so glad you could fall apart and the watch the village get supper. You’ve got some good intimates.

10 years ago

Hum…life can throw curve balls at times that simply causes tears to come out of seemingly nowhere. Meltdowns are not fun but life would get pretty difficult without them. So glad that you had good people around you who cared for you. I think it takes a village to keep a woman sane! 🙂

10 years ago

I don’t go for Clinton’s quote (maybe because of who said it and the worldview behind it – yes I am biased), but I understand the blessing of having another pair or two of hands to step in and…flip the quesadillas, or…etc. It’s how I survived our move with a new baby. I couldn’t have done it without my sisters!

We all need quiet moments to escape and collect ourselves!

10 years ago
Reply to  Renee Shafer

Actually it’s an old African proverb, far older and wiser than Clinton. But you’re allowed to not like it. 🙂

10 years ago
Reply to  Shari

Guess I was thinking about it in relation to her book. Thanks for the correction!

Still not sure I like it.

10 years ago

as much as I HATE meltdowns and avoid them at all cost, I have seen some really good things come out of them. Such as this story. I think you and your MIL are both pretty amazing women to be able to walk through this together in a healthy/healing way. I’m not sure I could do it.

As far as villages…we’ve talked about this before. I am wishing that there was a button to push when a village is needed and likewise a button to push when a village is NOT needed. 🙂

10 years ago

This brought tears to my eyes…what a beautiful story.

10 years ago

This is really, really a beautiful story! I’ve often wondered how nice it would be to live communally all our lives. In the same breath… I’ve also pondered how horrid it would be to live communally all our lives. 🙂 It makes me think that by not, we avoid seeing the incredibly vulnerable, “I’m-completely-falling-apart” side of each other, but in the end we never quite see love at its finest.

10 years ago

Bless that dear lady who you know as your mom in law, and I know as a friend. I’m so glad she was there for you when you needed a hug and someone to take over for a little. What a beautiful post this brought tears to my eyes. Give Loila a hug from LaDonna! Blessings to you and her.

10 years ago

I have wished many, many times for a village since moving far away from family at the age of 20. It seems hard to find one outside of blood relations. That has pushed me to learn and grow on my own since I have no mom/sister/grandma to call for physical help. But there are still those moments when I’m laid out flat and need someone to pick up the pieces; and it is usually a comforting (albeit humbling) experience. Your story beautifully illustrates that.

Dawn Harshbarger
10 years ago

This is a beautiful story . . . thanks for writing. It brings back many memories of meltdowns in my kitchen.

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