When my children see signs of one of my episodes coming on, they lay low and scatter, or they seek out friends' homes for safe harbor and hiding out. If they hold their breath and avoid eye contact, they might appease my alternate personality. This, too, shall pass, they assure themselves and each other, knowing the interlude will run its course and I'll sleep it off and everything will be back to normal the following day.
Anything can trigger these wild, senseless affairs. The impending arrival of guests often causes the downward spiral. A stressful week sometimes sets it off. Something as simple as weary malaise sends me reaching into the closet.
I know I have a problem. My mother tells me that my grandmother suffered from the same terrible ailment and that she empathizes with my kids, who pensively await its unpredictable onset; on the one hand dreading it, on the other hand relieved when it at last arrives, eliminating uncertainty.
Friends have told me that if I could cultivate a daily habit, instead of an irrational, helter-skelter tendency, it wouldn't shock my children so much. A daily habit would preserve the status quo. It would be the status quo.
My irregular behavior creates tension in our household, but I cannot stop myself. For days, sometimes even weeks, I happily ride the wagon, oblivious to my yearnings, blissfully ignorant of abundant opportunities to cave in to suppressed cravings. I fight the impulse as long as I can. Eventually, though, I dig under the kitchen sink for the Windex. I hunt through the pantry for ammonia. I clamber in the broom closet for the Clorox.
Hello. My name is Lucy Adams and ... and I'm a binge cleaner. I can easily ignore the household disarray for days on end. Backpacks in the living room floor making an obstacle course, scraps of paper on the dining room table from school projects long finished, dirty clothes cast carelessly across rugs -- it all goes unnoticed. None of it warrants a sideways glance. Then abruptly on a random day I get a hankering for a tidy, clean home. And something in me snaps.
I become unrecognizable to my children and they cringe in my very presence. Barking orders -- "Clean up your room," "Put your socks in the hamper," "Vacuum the den," "Sweep the porch," "Load the dishwasher," "Come back when you're finished so I can tell you what to do next," "We'll be finished when I decide we're finished"-- I bully my offspring into collective discord. Threats are levied and cooperation is coerced. I shout orders while spectacularly keeping my balance with a rag draped over an arm and a mop and bucket clutched in the opposite hand. At the same time I dribble a soccer ball back to its assigned place. Moans and groans rise like farmers at 4 a.m.
A bender like this produces agitation. Words of dissent don't just get my dander up, they turn it inside out. This is the me my family fears; the one they wish would quit making unwelcome appearances in their childhood.
Nonetheless, my kids appreciate the day after one of my jags, when a pervasive peace falls upon us. This is when they try interventions along the lines of "Come on, Mama, chill. No one cares if I leave my shoes on the steps, and you don't use that bathroom so what does it matter if there's toothpaste in the sink?" Rehab remolds me for a time, resulting in false security. Inevitably, however, I rescind my recovery and revert to my old ways.
(Lucy Adams is the author of Tuck Your Skirt in Your Panties and Run. She lives in Thomson. E-mail her at email@example.com and visit her Web site, www.IfMama.com.)