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Looking out my Backdoor: What was I thinking?


Does anybody remember Mighty Mouse? Is Mighty Mouse still alive? Evidently, I thought I’d swoop into my daughter’s life singing, “Here I am to save the day!”

Boy, howdy, was I ever wrong! I totally ignored the part where I am in my 70s and my daughter is 50. Once a “Mighty Mom,” always a “Mighty Mom.”

I also ignored other basic facts of her life, such a her husband, her teenaged daughter and 42-hundred family pets.

Expectations trip me up every time and land me smack on my face.

I’d envisioned walking into Dee’s and Chris’s new home here on the western edge of Glendive, and like that cleaning tornado that was in the olden-day bathtub ads, turn everything to rights. A sparkling home is a happy home. Right down the drain!

I’d breeze in wearing a dress, a tiny frilled apron, heels and fashionable hair, and leave three weeks later having created a unique atmospheric blend of “Brady Bunch,” “Father Knows Best” and “Ozzie and Harriet.” Reality looked more like “Flintstones” meet “The Simpsons” with a touch of “Addams Family” for seasoning.

Yep. Expectations. Never happens.

Well, my big little girl needed me. I am a genius at arranging household items into the most logical, functional and artistic placement. Just ask me.

My daughter moved in, plunked stuff where possible and there it would stay forever unless I intervened. Just ask her.

So I planned three weeks to get this daunting job done and done right. In my overwrought imagination, I also cooked healthy meals and baked bread. Imagination plus expectation equals disappointment if not disaster.

Three weeks! What was I thinking? Three weeks is entirely too long a time to disrupt their family life, even when family loves me. And they do love me. But will they still love me when I leave?

My daughter is a family therapist with her own office. She leaves home at 8:00 and often returns home at the opposite 8:00. “Have a good day at the office, dear.” And I wave her off into the sunrise.

Apron around my middle, I set to work. The first day I swept floors and tackled a portion of the kitchen cupboards. I figured I’d do another portion of cupboards and mop floors tomorrow.

Chris came home from work, kicked off his shoes as is his habit, dropped his hardware-store purchases in the same hallway as his shoes, and grabbed the remote.

I explained what I had done, told the poor victim of my day’s disruptions what my intentions were and said, “You might have trouble finding things in the kitchen the first few days.”

Chris looked at me like I had nine heads, each one screwed on backwards.

Antoinette brought in her favorite chicken to show me and rearranged a cupboard I had just straightened, turned out the guinea pigs and gave me her lizard to hold.

Oh, did I mention that the four dogs and Whiskers, the cat, were in and out, free-run, dispensing hair, all day.

Chris cooked dinner that night, good man that he is. By bedtime I looked around. Reality set in. I am not magic. Dog hair and disorder prevailed.

I got up the next day, feeling discouraged. What was I thinking? I went to the office with Dee. I spent the day writing friends and working on poetry.

Before panic set in at the idea of three weeks of going to the office, waiting for her clients to cancel so I could visit with my daughter, the bulb above my head flashed on. I got it.

My daughter didn’t need me to clean and make order. My way is not her way. I thought I was supposed to come to Glendive and be a personal hero. I fired myself, put away my cleaning materials and settled into a different routine.

If I want, I do dishes or bake bread. But that is not my necessity.

Instead, I am here simply to love her and her family. And they give me bushels of loving in return. The rest is not important.


Sondra Ashton grew up in Harlem but spent most of her adult life out of state. She returned to see the Hi-Line with a perspective of delight. After several years back in Harlem, Ashton is seeking new experiences in Etzatlan, Mexico. Once a Montanan, always. Read Ashton’s essays and other work at montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com. Email [email protected]


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