Dirty Work

While not typical HighCountryOutsider fare, this post is something I worked on for the Raven Narratives Story Slam of “Dirty Work.” I’m a big fan of producers Tom Yoder and Sarah Syverson, who have encouraged me to reach outside my comfort range.

The theme Dirty Work caught my attention because so much of my life when raising sons was outside and dirty. I wasn’t able to attend. So, here’s my in absentia contribution.

Motherhood as Dirty Work:

Over a few decades, I found motherhood to involve not only dirt in various forms (like ice-encrusted dirt, mud, clay, and sand) and in all kinds of places (like in cars, tubs, mouths, underwear), but also a lot of poop, vomit, spit up, spilt milk, spilt spaghetti, spilt everything, spilt everywhere.

Three sons, four years apart. When my youngest was two, my oldest was 6, with a four and a half year old between them. It was dirty, challenging, sometimes disgusting, often exhausting, and mostly (and especially in hindsight) joyous.

I’m sure some of the dirty and disgusting parts could have been avoided with a wee more contemplation. Like the time, I called my pediatrician asking what to do for my five-month old son, who hadn’t pooped in four days. “Try prune juice,” he said. So, I was nursing and I’m pretty sure my doctor knew I was nursing. I just assumed that he meant that I should drink prune juice, which would, in turn, help my constipated son.

That wasn’t what he meant.

There were hot days and ice cream cones given to kids outfitted in diapers or underwear only. Of course, they would quickly have at least half of the ice cream on their faces and bare chests, which is really cute until the bees show up and until you run out of napkins and water and humor and patience.

For about 10 summers, I’d drive West from the East Coast to visit my folks in Montana, and to work at a dude ranch there. An annual 6,000 mile drive, in the heat of summer. One year, my friend and her 6-month old came, too. That made it six of us. In a Toyota station wagon. For 6,000 miles. In the heat of summer. I remember seeing a sign in Montana that was advertising 64 ounce margaritas for 15 bucks. TO GO. The idea mesmerized me. I know because I took a picture of it and put it in a family photo album.

You learn many things when you make trips like these:

You learn not to use the air conditioning because having the windows wide open drowns out the noise.

You learn that a two-year-old, confined to a booster seat, can give a helluva straight-arm beatdown to his older and neighboring brother when the Happy Meal toy gets taken.

You learn that rest stops are not for resting.

You develop a love/hate relationship (mostly hate) with certain songs that get listened to over and over and over. Remember, this was the 90s, the land of Shania Twain and maybe ONE clear radio station across North Dakota.

You develop a love/hate (mostly love) relationship with everyone else in the car.

You learn, at the end of a day’s 600-mile drive, that warm beer from a warm cooler in the crowded room of a cheap motel tastes really, really good.

Once in Montana, it was like letting dogs out of crates. Yaaaa! The big wide open. Run. Play. Try not to kill each other.

There was a creek to explore, to practice fishing at and to swim in. Do NOT drink the creek water, I’d always say. This is cattle country. One summer, two out of three got giardia. Poop. Vomit. Pain. Poop. Vomit. Pain.

The boys, 2018

I called my sons a few weeks ago to see what they remembered:

  • There was the winter when two of them fell through ice at a nearby cranberry bog and I jumped in to get them out. Dogs wanting to help. Screaming and rescue followed by then the long, very heavy, very soaked, very cold trek back home.
  • There was rotten, rotten food (apples, banana, cheese, peanut butter sandwiches) found in backpacks months after it should have been eaten.
  • There was the camping amongst skunks on an island in Boston Harbor.
  • There was camping near an enclave of darkly secretive, Confederate flag-waving campsite neighbors in Florida.
  • There was the ultimately unsuccessful business venture of Brotherly Doves for which we raised and trained doves (actually they were white homing pigeons) for special events like graduations and weddings. I thought it was a great idea but the family photo album tells a different story: the boys at a Providence bridal expo. Matching polos, matching bad haircuts, slumped in lawn chairs, with the look of ‘get us the hell out of here.’
  • When they were all teenagers, there was the somewhat successful extraction of a pool table from the basement. Pool tables have slate slabs and weigh something like six hundred pounds. It was all-hands-on-deck event. And as I recall, it eventually involved a long chain, tow straps, and a truck. And, no, the pool table did not survive in tact.

So despite the fact that I have visceral and negative reactions to the smell of rancid milk and to any song by Brittany Spears, I loved this work. It was dirty. But it was good and dirty.

Posted in Essay, reflections.

One Comment

  1. Love this! It rings so true to me, and I remember so much of this despite not being your cross country partner , lol!
    Btw, that has to be baby Aidan under the hose on Ocean Ave.
    Boys=dirt=joy 💕

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