Making Out: Garbage

Making Out is a series centered on how Jess Burnquist, mother, writer, and teacher is "making out' as she processes adolescent issues amid the glare of parenthood and the shadows of nostalgia.

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Have you met those sister-bitches, Time and Guilt? Have they ganged up on your psyche yet? Because my guess is that they have. Because if you’re a mother, I know that they have. Some weeks I’m all out of lovely. This is one of those weeks and I blame the aforementioned dynamic duo.

I’m tired of shoving them in the back chamber of my private-mother-self. I want to pull them by their ears into the bright light of reality.

Today my mother came to drop something off at my house and to say hello. Before she arrived, I scanned my house and worried over whether it was mother-visit ready. I noticed the following:

  • Dust under the chaise

  • A large crack on the ceiling (Think Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans)

  • Spaghetti stains above the back door--probably circa 2012

  • All of the foliage gathered at the front door

  • The dustboards and their scuffs

  • Shredded cheese forgotten on the counter

My mother is not some kind of catalog-like domestic queen. She’s plays hard and works hard and cleans hard in small and consistent increments. She has the Rule of 7. Clean for 7 minutes and then do something else. Repeat. In many ways, every area of her life is thus approached and well-managed.

And I would give away my dog Skipper to be wired like that. (Not really, Skipper)


(Mostly not, Skipper)

I wish I could do something every day in little increments (beyond grading and teaching the greatest students in the world) so that whatever the ‘thing’ is it would never become unmanageable--say, laundry. I wish I could will myself awake at 4:30 am, brew coffee, make a fresh breakfast for my family and workout in 7 minute increments while I simultaneously cleaned both bathrooms and prepped for dinner.

But that sister-bitch, Time? She’s not having it.

And Guilt? She whispers, “Why bother if it’s not going to be perfect? Why start if you’re not going to be able to maintain it--whatever ‘it’ is--insert: exercise, cleaning routine, journaling regimen, quiet, bonding time with kids.


Only, this week, I did start a new exercise program. And it is hard. And I called my friend Trish who encouraged me to give it a go. And I cried. I CRIED. And I said, “Trish, should I be crying at the 15 minute mark when it’s time for sit-ups? Should I be panting and having an asthma attack from performing the routine like that one person in the exercise video? You know the one. The plump or full figured one. The one over 40. The one who doesn’t use the weights. Should I be having a hard time keeping up with her, Trish? And maybe my doctor doesn’t recommend this intensity. Maybe I might die.”

And Trish calmly responded, “When was the last time you worked out like this?”

“Probably 1995, Trish.”

And Trish encouraged me not to quit. She noted that anything is better than nothing. She reminded me that it can be hard work being healthy but that progress will happen. Perfection won’t. And just like that--plus 40 some years, I began to understand my mother in a way I never had. She is a high mark to emulate--my mom is magical to me, still.

For the first time, though, I understand that she doesn’t keep Time and Guilt in the closet. She doesn’t keep company with them at all. She dragged them out of her house long ago, I think. In fact, I suspect she was too busy engaging with the imperfections of life that she perfectly edited those twins into a pile of dust, swept them up and tossed them into the garbage and probably watched 7 minutes of television afterwards.

So in honor of my mother who is balance incarnate, I have decided to kick Time and Guilt to the curb. I’ve decided that I will work on the spaghetti stain with bleach or something for seven minute increments until it’s gone. I have decided not to abandon this exercise routine even though it’s hard. I have decided to let the kids dust the damn house.

I suppose I have decided to honor myself. Isn’t that lovely? First, though, I’m going to run a load of laundry and pet Skipper. Out of *love* not Guilt.

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