Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Same Old Song and Dance


“Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark,” I holler from the mudroom to no one in particular, although my husband is working from home and his office is next door.

He moseys out with that irritating Bluetooth in his ear. “What’s going on in Denmark?” His question is genuine. If you look at him like he’s from Mars and say how did you manage to graduate college, he’ll tell you he majored in marine biology.

“It’s Shakespeare, how do you not know that?”

“I majored in marine biology. What’s going on in here? I thought you were going to crank out some pages.” My husband operates under the assumption that my almost finished novel will be his meal ticket out of consulting.

There’s a lot they don’t teach you in marine biology.

I point to the laundry baskets of dance costumes piled on the mudroom floor. “I know,” I say. “I thought I’d be churning out thoughts by the thousands. They’re in there, but I can’t hear them because they’re buried under all of this crap.” I pick up a pink bubblegum tutu, which sits on top of one of the baskets. It cost $65. So did the others below it. As did the slew of gangster-wear that fills the hip-hop dance daughter’s baskets. Add in the cost of the recital tickets, costume alteration, and class tuition and one can understand why the supposedly temporary paper coverings still hang on the windows of the mud and every other room downstairs.

“Shut the door and pretend it's not there.”

I tell him I can’t, and that even if I could, I have to be in Evanston in 20 minutes. I’ve wasted my writing time.

When I look up from the tutus towards him, he’s no longer listening. He’s on a conference call. Amid his children’s mess and his wife’s meltdown, he’s talking business.

In theory, I was going to be working, too. I was going to have dropped my kids at school, grabbed a coffee, and headed to my home office (also called the kitchen table) to work on the almost finished novel until I had to go to Evanston to sign up my daughter for next year’s dance classes.

But unlike my husband’s day, my theoretical day rarely transpires in fact. Nothing distracts my husband from his work -- except perhaps me, as I now wave in his face a pale blue ballet gown, lovely really, the kind of thing I would like to wear if I ever made it out of my mudroom. He goes on speaking, and I find myself resenting -- in addition to my children’s excess -- my husband’s ability to work uninterrupted. Although even while I resent, I appreciate that his uninterrupted work days provide for my interrupted ones as well as the cluster of costumes that I’m now picking up, one by one demonstrating my point even though he’s not listening. He’s busy putting out fires around the globe, oblivious to the one in his very own mudroom.

“Your children should be putting away their costumes,” I rant. “They should be spending their days signing up for dance, getting the teacher gifts, the graduation presents. I’ve read enough Little House on the Prairie to know that things are out of whack around here. It used to be that children were born to assist the family, till the goddamn soil.” I lift two pairs of high tops out of the hip-hop basket and toss them next to the toe shoes. “If they even had shoes back then, great. If not, oh well. If the tilling was under control and Pa could spare them, then great, go to school. Now it’s the other way around. If my kids don’t need me, I get to go to work. Our kids need to spend more time tilling and less time dancing.”

I hear my husband chuckle and tell the crew of people from countries where children probably still till that he is sorry for the noise; he is working from his home office.

I am sorry for the noise, too. At my college graduation, Lawrence Kasdan, in one of the greatest commencement addresses of all time, warned about the noise. “Life is noisy,” he told us. “Everything we’re told, everything about the way we’re raised and educated and bombarded by our culture makes noise. And that noise makes it very hard to hear the ticking of our own hearts; and it’s only when you hear the quiet tick from deep in your being, that you can know what you know, and trust what you know, and be who you are.”

“We all need to spend more time tilling,” I say, dropping to the floor to rummage through the duffles that each took to their performances to hold the undergarments, hair stuff, makeup, and snacks that they’d “need” to get through their days on stage.

“Dancers need to have a good meal with them, so they’re performance ready,” read the e-mail sent by the hip-hop coach. Anything Steph says we moms do or else risk jeopardizing our daughters’ 15 seconds of public pelvic thrusting. And so, because the e-mail said send your daughter with a full meal, I found myself packing a corn dog and fries. She ate the corn dog but the fries, apparently, not.

“Talk about rotten in the state of Denmark,” I say, holding up the greasy bag to what would be the light if we didn’t have the paper coverings on our windows. I go to toss them in the garbage.

“Wait,” my husband says. Finally, something worthy of distraction. He tells his team he’ll be right back, presses mute, and says, “I’ll take those.” With the same finger he used to put me on hold, he summons the fries. I hand them to him.

While he’s still on mute and munching he manages to tell me to take a few deep breaths. “It’s the same craziness every May. Don’t worry. It’s almost finished.”

As soon as he says the word, it dawns on me that finished is what I fear. Not of course as he meant it, literally, that the month is coming to an end, but in the abstract. That the tutu pile up is a thing of the moment, a blip in time, and when my novel is no longer almost finished, my daughters’ childhood’s will be. It’s the ticking of that clock I hear now.

I feel sad, but I don’t show my husband. I don’t feel like explaining. But I do feel like telling Lawrence Kasdan that you can’t possibly hear the quiet tick of your heart when you’re a mother and your heart is caught up in a schizophrenic tug of war between wishing time away and wishing it would stop altogether and your husband is at your side, chomping on stale fries.

But, if every so often you can sense the ticking of the clock, you might come to realize that while the peace and quiet is lovely, you, in fact, prefer the noise.

“If you want,” my husband says, “they don’t need to dance next year.”

“Are you crazy?” I tell him. “I live for this stuff.” I grab a fry and the car keys and go. After all, the clock is ticking.

I have only ten minutes to get to Evanston, ten minutes to sign up for the same dance next year.

Francie Arenson Dickman’s essays have appeared in The Examined Life, A University of Iowa Literary Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, as well as the anthology Home for the Holidays, Farnsworth? A Collection by the Wesley Writers Workshop. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband, twin daughters and her dog, and is still working on her almost-finished novel. She posts fictional pieces on her blog at Adventures With Marlene and Lenny.

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Oh, the noise, the noise. Somehow my mom made it look easy...I look forward to seeing more of your writing...
What fun this piece is!
This is SO much the story of my life. Thanks for putting words to it.
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