Forever I will remember the way the iridescent suds ran in rivulets over the thin skin on the backs of their hands. The way the water ran too hot to rinse each dish, steam floating up in wisps, but they never flinched because they had grown numb to the scorch. I will never forget the sound of glass banging against the metal sides of the sink as their hands disappeared and reappeared, blindly washing the day off of each dish. And the way they each ran a wrung out dishrag over the edges of the sink and the surrounding counter in time to hear the drain suck down the last bit of dirty water. But more than anything, I will never forget their watchful eyes as they peered out at us from the kitchen sink window.
My maternal grandmother, Cleobelle, stood in front of a kitchen sink window that looked down on a row of pine trees and the gravel driveway of their large white farmhouse. Across the blacktop was my grandpa’s carry-out – Gene’s Drive-Thru. All day long, my cousins and I ran around the house in circles, as steady as the stream of cars that pulled into the drive-thru and out with beer, candy, and cigarettes. From outside, we could see the hand-blown orange glass ball that hung from a long string to turn on the overhead light swaying slightly in front of her. Other trinkets adorned the window sill – crosses, handmade clay pots from grandchildren that held thimbles, needles, and lottery scratchers with “Gene’s Drive-Thru” printed on them. And over the sill, always, my grandma’s watchful eyes holding steadfast with each pass.
My father’s mother, who I called “Uncle Grandma,” had a kitchen sink window that overlooked her front yard. I remember seeing her standing there as we drove by with our parents, her white curls framed perfectly as she peered out, as if she knew we were coming. From inside her house, her kitchen sink window was nothing short of magical. Each visit, she set me up on the countertop so that I could see what she saw. A faded metal trivet hung on the cabinet next to me and I ran my fingers over the swirly metalwork as I watched her wash dishes. The left side of the sill was home to a rotating family of cacti, all of which I pricked myself on despite her warnings. There were also tiny patches of leprechauns and roses stuck to the bottom right corner of the window, and a small token of my grandfather’s membership to the Eagles. And almost always was the neighbor’s dalmatian – Dot – out front waiting for a treat from Uncle Grandma.
My own mother stood on the green linoleum of my childhood home and washed dishes in the sink, settled in matching green countertops, courtesy of the 1970’s. In front of our sink – her sink – were two crank out windows overlooking the golden backyard of my youth, ripe with clover and fireflies. It was here that she watched our games of tag between the two towering maples along the edge of the cornfield. It was from that window that she glanced out, the glowing orange end of cigarette dancing between her damp fingers, to make sure we were still jetting barefoot across the dewy grass with the neighbor kids until the crickets called us in. And while we merely glanced at that window once in awhile, she was always there with her eyes warmly cast upon us.
Kitchen sink windows became shrines to me – places of comfort. In those lit frames, I could always find someone. As I lived in windowless apartments, I dreamed of the day that I’d have my own kitchen sink window. When my husband and I bought a house, I rejoiced in the large window over the kitchen sink that overlooked our large, fenced in backyard that I hoped to fill with children. And now that I’m a parent myself, I am overcome with admiration for these women and how they watched us.
Because let me tell you – I am failing at the Kitchen Sink Window Approach to Parenting. I always thought I’d be the “let them bleed – let them eat dirt – let them learn from the hurt” type of parent. It’s how I grew up. We were never coddled the way today’s snowflakes are. And I truthfully believe that I am stronger because of it.
That is until I had children. When my first son, Rhett, was born, I maintained a level head and kept it together. I had the normal baby blues, but after eight weeks of leave, I put him in daycare part-time while I went back to my job. A week later, he came down with the flu at two months old and my husband and I spent a day in the ER while they put an IV in our tiny baby’s arm and pumped him full of fluids.
And that is when I became crazy. I’ve pinpointed it to that exact moment when they sent me home with him and I thought, “What if I am not equipped to keep this tiny person alive?” Over the next year and a half, Rhett attended daycare and about every two weeks, we were at the doctor’s office with some sort of sickness.
When my second son, Sutton, was born, I quit my job because I couldn’t do it again. I began staying home with both of my children and it truly was a dream come true, until the postpartum anxiety and depression set in. As a person who never quite understood anxiety or depression, it hit me hard. I never knew how debilitating it could be. I fought through it, clutching my orange pill bottle of Xanax in my left hand, afraid to take it, afraid not to. I called friends, but never family, because it seemed to me that the women who raised me from the kitchen sink window would have told me that anxiety wasn’t an option.
I was devastated and embarrassed. I enjoyed being home with my children and I loved – and still love – that momming is my job. But I’ve never encountered a job that causes so much worry. And I’ve finally accepted that my anxiety is no longer considered postpartum, and that I am legitimately, medically anxious.
In addition to Rhett’s first sickness, I can also blame my anxiety on today’s parenting standards. As a stay-at home-mom, I’m mostly responsible for making sure I raise proper children. Between all the articles telling you what to limit and not limit, how much of this that or the other thing to feed or not feed, when to start solids, what kind of milk to use, etc. and the astronomical amount of mom-shaming out there on social media, I think it’s fair to say that parents don’t stand a chance. And therefore, neither do our kids.
Our babes are growing up in the time of helicopter parents and parents are parenting in a time of immense pressure and judgement. Mom and Dad Shaming is real. So how do we get back to being hands off? How do we keep the anxiety at bay?
How do we keep that kitchen sink window in our approach as parents to let our kids live and learn? How can we trust that, in this world of sickos and human trafficking, that our kids will be ok?
These are real questions. Please discuss.