From the Relief Society Magazine, March 1960 –
A Place for Everything
by Charmaine Kohler
Debra awoke suddenly, as she did each morning, plans for the day running through her head. Today she wanted to wash the kitchen windows, straighten the cupboard shelves, and give the utility room a good cleaning. After that, there might be time to do that stack of mending before Dan came home from work.
Debra prided herself on her neat-as-a-pin home. She knew her neighbors remarked on how she kept it that way with two small atom-powered boys and a husband to clean up after. Her formula was “a place for everything, and everything in its place,” and she followed this formula to the letter.
Her thoughts were interrupted when two little blonde heads peeked around the door. Ronnie, age four, and Greggie, age two, skipped smiling to the bedside, both talking at once.
“Good morning, Mommie!” Ronnie flashed his dimples and proceeded to dig Dan out from beneath the covers.
“‘Morning, Mommie,” Greggie always managed to sound like his big brother’s echo. Everything Ronnie said Greggie would repeat as best he could, which sometimes wasn’t too clear.
Debra smiled quickly at her wiggling sons, as she reached for her housecoat and slippers. The boys would have “Daddy Polar Bear” up soon, so she might as well take advantage of the opportunity and get breakfast started. When Dan left for work at nine, she hoped to be all ready to start cleaning.
Greggie soon joined her in the kitchen and demanded his usual seat on the counter top. Here he could watch every fascinating move as flour and eggs blended with milk and shortening to make the hot cakes he loved.
“Not this morning, honey. Mommie wants to hurry.” Debra poured out a cup of dried milk and set it down on the counter.
“Ronnie! Hot cakes!” Greggie eagerly relayed the good news.
“Hot cakes!” The answering shout from the bathroom and the quick dash for the kitchen were evidence of another little boy’s breakfast favorite.
“May I help?” Ronnie asked hopefully.
“Not today. I have to hurry.” Debra turned back to her bowl just in time to see Greggie leaning over the cup of powdered milk, his mouth puckered, ready to blow.
“Oh, no, Greggie!” she gasped.
Too late. A cloud of powdered milk crystals flew up above the little blonde head and drifted lazily down to settle on floor, cupboard – and little blonde head.
Debra firmly picked up Greggie and plunked him into his high chair to await breakfast. Ronnie made a fast get-away to the living room. When his mother walked that fast he knew from experience that it was time to move on.
Breakfast followed the usual pattern. Debra was silent, thinking over her day’s work. Dan ate quickly, glancing occasionally at the clock. Greggie and Ronnie kept up a constant chatter.
“I’m going to clean up my plate first. I’ll beat you, Greggie!”
“Beat you, Ronnie.”
“Huh-uh!” Ronnie argued.
“Hey, Mommie,” Ronnie asked for his mother’s attention.
“If my head was in my tummy I bet it could see what this milk is doing down there.”
“Hurry and eat your breakfast, Ron.” Debra had no time this morning to become involved in one of her son’s wild imaginings.
At nine o’clock Debra kissed Dan goodby and sent the boys to the back yard to play. Now if only they would occupy themselves for a few hours so she could get down to business.
Debra quickly stacked the breakfast dishes and filled the sink with sudsy water. Just as she was scouring the last frying pan, she heard Ronnie calling excitedly from beneath her kitchen window.
“Mommie – Mommie! Come quick!”
“Quick!” echoed Greggie.
“What is it?” Debra called through the windows, imagining at least a broken arm or a bloody gash.
“Greggie found a spotted bug. Come see him!”
“See ‘im,” Greggie chanted.
Debra had no intention of taking the extra time or steps involved to see the spotted bug. She knew the boys would forget about it soon.
Twelve o’clock arrived quickly as Debra busily cleaned. Dutifully, but with regret, she laid down her window polishing cloth and called the boys in to lunch.
“Lunchtime, boys. Empty the sand from your cuffs before you come in.” The sandbox and Debra waged a constant battle. The gritty sand could make a shiny, freshly waxed floor rough like concrete in a short time.
Debra quickly made peanut butter sandwiches and tall glasses of chocolate milk, then scooped large helpings of gelatin salad onto two plates.
“What’s new with you, Mother?” Ronnie came strolling into the kitchen.
Debra glanced quickly at her oldest son and smiled. Now where had he picked up that remark?
“New you, Mommie?” Greggie chirped.
“Not much, boys. Hurry and wash your hands. Lunch is ready.”
How many times a day did she say “hurry” and “quick,” Debra wondered. How many thousands of things were there to lure little boys’ minds from what you told them to do? How many pebbles to examine? How many butterflies to chase? How many questions to answer? Sometimes a twitch of conscience warned Debra to be more patient. She knew she should take time to answer more questions thoroughly and explore more of nature’s wonders with her sons, but the days never seemed to be long enough to get everything done. There was always a washing to do, an ironing, or baking. If she ever really slowed down, surely her household would disintegrate before her eyes within two days.
Finally, after two dozen requests of “Eat your lunch, boys,” the last drop of ice cream disappeared from the bottom of the bowls and Debra whisked them off to bed for naps. She always looked forward to this time of day, for now she could really fly around without spending so much time going to the window to check on the boys at play.
Just as she was closing their bedroom door, Ronnie called out. Impatiently, Debra opened the door.
“It is nap time. Now go to sleep and do not call me again!” Debra spoke sharper and louder than she intended.
“Just one word, please.” Ronnie held up one small finger to make his request sound as reasonable as possible and looked at his mother with large, serious eyes.
“Word, p’eese?” Greggie spoke softly as he peeked at Debra with one eye closed.
“All right. What is so important just now?” Debra relented.
“Mommie, you know that sad tree we saw at Grandma’s? Why was it so sad? Didn’t it have any playmates?”
“Cree any p’aymates?” Greggie echoed worriedly.
Sad tree? Debra was puzzled. What in the world was a sad tree?
“I guess not, hon. Now have a good nap.”
Debra returned to her polishing cloth, then suddenly she understood. Of course! The weeping willow tree. I must remember to explain about the names of different trees when Ronnie awakens from his nap, she decided.
Three o’clock came. The kitchen windows shone, the utility room gleamed, and Debra was efficiently reorganizing cupboard shelves. To make the simple task less monotonous her favorite record was spinning on the hi-fi and strains of “Oh, I’m So Lonely” were drifting through the air.
“Oh, I’m so lonely since he said goodbye …” Debra crooned under her breath.
Ronnie’s voice from behind startled Debra so that she nearly fell from the stool on which she was perched. Lost in her task and the music, she hadn’t heard her son’s bare footsteps.
“You frightened me. Did you have a good nap?”
“Yes, I had a good nap,” giggled Ronnie, tickled because he had scared Debra.
“Good nap.” Greggie nodded his head so vigorously that his whole body jiggled.
“Fine. Run get your shoes and jeans and you can ride tricycles awhile.”
“Okay!” Greggie had just mastered the art of tricycle riding and enthusiastically ran to find his missing clothes.
“Mother, if you find that man, I’ll be his playmate.” Ronnie was standing very still with a thoughtful scowl on his face.
“What man? What are you talking about?” Now what, Debra wondered.
“That man singing … ‘lonely him.’” Ronnie answered seriously.
“That is just a pretend song, honey. He’s not really lonely. Now run get your clothes. Greggie! What are you doing? Hurry, darling.”
Debra climbed down from the stool and went to see what was delaying her youngest.
Greggie was stretched out full-length on his stomach, chin resting on the floor, while one finger poked experimentally and with caution at the retreating end of a big black beetle.
“Oh, darling, leave that thing alone. He may bite,” Debra warned.
“He bite?’ Greggie, round-eyed and fascinated, did not retreat one step.
Debra scooped the beetle onto a magazine and threw him out the window. “Come on, Greg. Mommie will put your shoes on. Don’t you want to go outdoors?”
“Don’ wan’nu, wan’nu, wan’nu!” Greggie thrust out his chin, his eyes shot sparks, and he dared Debra to give him any argument.
“Now stop that right now. Hurry up and go play so that I can finish those cupboards. You’re just wasting time.”
Debra could feel her anger rising. Why did Greggie have to give her trouble now? He did look cute when he was angry, though. She wanted to pick him up, cuddle and tease him awhile, but she just didn’t have time now. Instead, she picked him up and carried him, small arms and legs churning, to a chair where she forcibly dressed him.
“Now ride your trike and stay out of the street.”
With one last scowl over his shoulder, Greggie peddled off down the sidewalk.
“Ronnie, are you going out?” Now what is he doing? Debra wondered.
Ronnie had rediscovered a gun he had received for Christmas a year ago. He had also dug a dart for the gun from the clutter of his toy box. The suction-cup head for the dart was missing, but maybe it would shoot. He would try, anyway.
“Watch me shoot that zebra, Mother.”
Zing! Crash! Before Debra could even open her mouth to stop him, a dozen pieces of the ill-fated zebra’s hind quarters scattered and slid across the end table and floor.
Ronnie stood motionless – big-eyed and amazed. He’d hit it! What a good shot! He didn’t think Mother would agree with him, and he eyed her cautiously.
Debra looked at the shattered zebra sadly. It wasn’t the first of her zebra collection to be broken, but it was the firs to be broken in too many pieces to be repaired.
“You know better than to shoot that gun in the house. Now go outdoors and play before I spank you.” Debra went for the broom as Ronnie made his escape. He had been expecting a spanking and considered himself lucky to get by so easily.
Ten minutes later Ronnie was back at Debra’s side, a child’s book clutched in his hand.
“Will you read to me?” he asked hopefully.
“Not now, maybe later. I have a lot to do before Daddy gets home from work. Run back outdoors and play.”
“I bet you just won’t ever read,” Ronnie muttered, as he sadly shuffled out.
By five o’clock Debra had finished all the day’s tasks she had allotted herself that morning in bed. All, that is, except the mending. She decided to work on that while she watched television with Dan that evening. Dan had told her often that he didn’t want her working around the house while he was home in the evening. After the hustle-bustle of the drugstore all day, Dan looked forward to a relaxed evening surrounded by his family.
Sometimes they rough-housed, the room shaking, while “Daddy Polar Bear” and his “cubs” rolled growling over and over each other across the floor. Other times Dan would sit on the davenport, a son under each arm, reading fairy tales.
Debra also looked forward to their evenings together, but if her work for the day had not been completed, she found it hard to relax. Even when physically tired, Debra’s mind would start planning tomorrow’s chores.
That night when Dan closed the storybook, Debra reached for the boys;’ pajamas.
“Bedtime, fellows,” Dan said as he tugged Greggie’s shoes off. “Let’s see who beats undressed.”
While the contest noisily proceeded, Debra went to the boys’ room. She opened a window, closed the blinds, and turned down the covers on the twin beds. Then, ready for the “going-to-bed ceremony,” she waited.
The “going-to-bed ceremony” had started a year ago when Greggie, just one year old, had been given a “big bed.” The ceremony consisted of prayers, the eeny-meeny-miney-moe game, a final drink of water, and a goodnight kiss. Only after the completion of this ceremony would the boys lie down and go to sleep. Debra had tried to leave out a part or two to hurry up the routine at times, but the protests were always so vigorous that she had given up.
Greggie and Ronnie skipped into the room in their identical blue sleepers, resembling two innocent blonde angels, and knelt, each by his own bed, for prayers.
“Heavenly Father …” Ronnie began.
“Hebbenly Fa’her,” Greggie echoed.
“Bless Mommy and Daddy, Greggie and me …”
“An’ me,” Greggie mumbled.
“Help Uncle Rod on his mission …” Ronnie continued.
“Help Umple Rod …”
“Help Grandpa feel better,” Ronnie added.
“Gran’pa beller …”
“Help us be good boys …”
“Good boys.” ‘Men.” Greggie finished his prayer and climbed onto his bed, clutching his beloved fuzzy kitten.
Debra raised her head and waited for Ronnie to bounce up. He remained kneeling, head bowed, hands clasped.
“And help Mommie have lots more time so she can play with us. Amen.”
Debra stiffened. Ronnie’s final request to Heavenly Father was not part of his usual prayer. He had never added anything before. Why had he said such a thing?
Debra knew why. How many times today, and before today, and she told the boys, “Not now – later.” “I don’t have time right now.” “Some other time. I’m in a hurry.” “Don’t waste time.” “Hurry and eat.” “Run wash your hands.” How many times had she ignored their questions and requests when what they were really asking for was her company?
Debra didn’t like the way she was seeing herself – the way Ronnie and Greggie must see her.
“Eeny, meemie! Eeeny, meemie, Mommie!” Greggie shouted impatiently.
Greggie squealed and helplessly struggled as Debra gathered him up, tossed him onto the bed, and drew the sheet up to his chin. Ronnie soon succumbed, and after tucking him in, Debra went to the bathroom for their “ceremonial drink.”
What had she been doing, she wondered, robbing her sons? That was an ugly word, but true. Her own best childhood memories were of the hour her mother had read to her, the talks they had had, and the doll clothes they’d sewed together. She never remembered her mother ever telling her that there wasn’t time or that she was too busy. Her mother’s house was always clean, too – even with seven children frolicking through it.
“Mother, you forgot our drink,” Ronnie called indignantly.
“Coming,” Debra replied, and hastily filled two cups and carried them to the thirsty boys. When drinks were finished, Debra leaned down to kiss them good night.
“Good night, darling,’ she murmured to Ronnie. “Have a good sleep because we have a big day ahead tomorrow. How would you like to go for a walk by the river?”
“Sure, can we?” Ronnie was doubtful.
“Of course, we can,” Debra smiled, “and we’ll see how many kinds of bugs, trees, and colored rocks we can find.”
“Me! Rocks, crees, bugs!” Greggie shouted, sitting up straight in bed.
“You, too, honey.” Debra smiled. “You have a good sleep, too. Goodnight.”
Debra paused outside their closed door, her heart full of love. It would not be easy to break her habit of constant, nervous cleaning, but she could, and would – starting now. As she went to join Dan in the living room, a voice (perhaps her conscience, peaceful at last) sighed through her thoughts … “and a little child shall lead them.”