I just did the dishes. Last night we made a gorgeous meatloaf, with a mushroom demi-glace sauce, and shredded Brussels sprouts. It was a normal week-night meal for us, and I imagine it would sound impressive to some that this is how two harried, exhausted parents of a 4 ½ year old and a 2 year old unwind at the end of the day. But, that’s for another post. If you’ve ever made meatloaf, you know the mess it can make. The fat drips and coats the sheet pan leaving serious stickiness behind to be scraped off. We used multiple cutting boards, two saute pans, a glass measuring cup and of course our chef’s knives. It’s a lot of mess for a week night, and I imagine for many, the mess is why they stay as close to “one pot” dinners as possible. We, however are a multi-pot family. It’s one of the things I love about us. We enjoy the mess.
Today, I enjoyed the clean up more. Strange as that may sound.
I am a teacher. I see 120 students a day each surrounded by their own virtual pig sty. They carry with them the traumas they have seen, the stresses they don’t speak to me about, the anger and the drama of their daily lives. They also laugh and smile a lot. As I force-feed them The Catcher in the Rye, they groan at Holden’s whining, but grow serious when we speak of the brother he lost at the young age of 13. They balance on the precarious edge of childhood and adulthood and they all understand his fear of growing up. They roll their eyes and smirk, but I see it in the set of their shoulders, in their bangs that mask their faces, in the way their fingers grip the sleeves of their shirts. In the way they won’t meet my eyes when I ask them simple questions… “No homework again? What’s going on?” “Where’s the essay you promised me?” Most of the time there is an apology, an excuse, a timeline created to fix the problem. But all too often there is something there at the edge of their eyes. There is a problem that won’t be solved by another night at home with the essay question. All too often there is the mess that is there when they walk out of my classroom to consume them. I go home worrying that I’ve just added another dirty dish to the stack that is threatening to tumble.
So at home I do the dishes. I scrub and splash hot water everywhere. I am vigorous in my approach to grease and fat. I scrape and polish. I roll my sleeves up and get into it. My dishes feel my wrath.
As a teacher, I rarely see the product of what I do. I may see improvement in writing. There is a topic sentence without my having to ask for it. There are fluid words on a page, where before they jangled in discord. But I rarely see the impact that I make. I hold onto thank you notes and emails. Once in a while I get lucky and one of my kids (years after I taught them-adults now but never in my eyes) looks me up on Facebook and I get to feel that glow. I am remembered. That’s where meaning lies for me. But it comes so rarely.
So most days, I find it in the dishes. They were filthy and chaotic and I cleaned them. There is some beauty in the ease of that.