“Diet pop, diet pop, diet pop.” All three of my daughters are singing this, not together, exactly. It sounds like that stupid row your boat song that I was forced to sing in kindergarten, where I would start the first line and then someone else would chime in, off tune, and then another person and another and another, until we sounded like a bunch of drunk sailors on helium who had just polished off something gross like Southern Comfort or Mad Dog.
I don’t give my girls pop and I certainly don’t give them anything that contains aspartame. Somehow, they have figured out how strongly I loathe such things, and at some attempt at rebellion, they wait until I go to a meeting so that they can con Aunt Barb into sharing her soda with them.
I already know how it goes. Kathryn, the oldest by a minute, tilts the bottle up, opens her entire throat, and like some second string quarterback with little big man syndrome, takes three gulps and most of the pop is gone. Her twin Evelyn starts screaming that she drank all of it so Aunt Barb reaches in her purse and pulls out another bottle. Within seconds both twins have gone from preschoolers to sorority sisters and their baby sister Gwynnie is pounding her fists in the air, saying, “Chug. Chug. Chug. Chug.” It’s just not a pretty site.
The only thing more disturbing than that image is when I return home past nine and find three disheveled, caffeine high, little girls, running around, kicking objects, and singing the diet pop song. Edith, my sweet pug, is hiding behind a chair and her curlicue of a tail is straightened like a dagger.
This is where anxiety enters, settles on my shoulders like fog upon Loch Ness. Seven thoughts simultaneously ricochet through my head. These kids are never going to sleep. Why is Gwynnie naked? I’ve only been gone ninety minutes and every article that they own is out. Is Kathryn ever going to take off that mermaid dress? Why are there Legos in the fucking bathroom? I would rather live in a post apocalyptic time where all toys are charred. Is it really that wrong to give them Benadryl when they aren’t having allergy issues?
I wade through some Legos, shut the door, and sit on the cool linoleum of the bathroom. This is where I would practice breathing, perhaps say a prayer, but I am interrupted by my ass being soaked in hand soap and toothpaste. Meanwhile, the girls start their own snail pace clean up routine in the living room. Their singing hasn’t halted, but now, I have my own tune. When they scream, “Di-et-pop, di-et-pop,” I whisper to myself, “Hair-o-in, hair-o-in.” Humoring myself is the only coping mechanism I’ve mastered when it comes to handling situations that I find stressful.
For years I thought that I had a drug problem because I really loved drugs. Consequently, I believed that I was a horrible person, that The Ramones “I wanna be sedated” was forever going to be my theme song. Recovery started when I realized that the problem was that drugs were my solution.
Anxiety is irrational. I have no fear of speaking in front of large crowds, but I’d rather take a bullet than call the water company and tell them that a hydrant is leaking in front of my house. I have an MFA in writing, but the thought of filling out kindergarten applications makes my heart race. I’d sooner climb Mount Everest than file my taxes. Simple tasks arrange themselves in my brain like baby cobras and I cover my eyes, crouch down, paralyzed. In the beginning, drugs charmed the snakes, rendered them harmless. It made them dance and who doesn’t love a good salsa?
Some days are heavier than others and not much writing gets done. There are many stories to tell. Some are tender ballads, but many are silent war stories, where people withered away and friends died way too young. I will write them eventually. Today, tucking my litter of little girls into bed and falling asleep next to them, sober, is enough. It’s November, but I can file my taxes tomorrow. While I don’t particularly like snakes, I am learning how to handle them.