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Burning the Beast
by Kathryn Lynard Soper

I'm shoveling out the holiday aftermath.

Ripped boxes, shredded paper, torn ribbons, untwisted twisty ties (you know, the parent-tormentor variety used to anchor toys to their packaging securely enough to survive an atomic blast), half-eaten candy canes, little lumps of red and green metallic foil from various Christmas chocolates, crushed cheese crackers (planted in stockings to stave off hunger-fueled meltdowns during the Great Opening of Gifts), sliced-open plastic casing (only kitchen shears are tough enough for the job), and scraps of scotch tape that I had to peel off the carpet and linoleum.

This is a dangerous job. For one thing, that shorn plastic stuff is way sharp. For another, all this shoveling triggers my "let's burn the house down and start over" fantasy.

Most of the time I manage the mechanics of living with a modicum of grace. We haul in plastic sacks of groceries, we haul out plastic sacks of garbage. We carry baskets of filthy clothes downstairs and carry baskets of clean clothes back up (approximately 15 loads a week, mind you). We carry food and dishes onto the dinner table and then carry food-covered dishes back to the counter. We load food into mouths and then ahem unload it approximately 24 hours later (red meat excluded). A home is a living, breathing beast with undeniable needs and predictable digestion.

I live under the delusion that the beast can be tamed. That if I work hard enough and plan well enough, I can attend to all its needs so thoroughly that it will lean back in its chair, sigh contentedly, and sleep for a few days. I attempt this, to some degree, every Saturday evening, in preparation for the Sabbath our family observes. The crusty kids get bathed, the crusty sheets and towels get washed, the crusty floor gets mopped. Doled-out chores get the worst of the clutter under control again. Occasionally I even prepare Sunday dinner ahead of time so I can silence the Sabbath beast's hunger growl without breaking a sweat. There have been Saturday evenings when all the planets have aligned, all the chores have been completed, and all my sanity has not spilled in the process. With all other sentient beings tucked in for the night, I have stood in the dark, quiet belly of the sleeping beast, scrubbed clean, and breathed a deep sigh of exquisite contentment.

I suppose those pauses are all the more poignant because I know that within hours, the animal will awaken. The great fleshy machine will grind into gear again, and I will be required to stand in the heart of it, with hardly a bathroom break. The impending doom of resuming chaos makes the little slice of order all the more tasty.

But sometimes the little slices are just not enough. Like tonight. I'm shoveling with relish–too much relish. I'm craving an extra-long pause, an abiding, resonating tone of silence wherein all is bare and clean, unfettered. Where the life of the beast is suspended in a benign coma, granting wide psychic space for the beast-tender.

Winning that space would warrant drastic measures. I'm sorely tempted to grab the matches and kerosene. But the toxic fumes from all that burning plastic and cheese cracker mulch and colored paper would probably kill me, and ruin all the fun.

Kathryn Lynard Soper is a mother of seven children. She is president of Segullah Group, a non-profit producer of personal writings; editor of Segullah, a literary journal by and for LDS (Mormon) women; and editor of Gifts, a collection of writings by mothers of children with Down syndrome, forthcoming from Woodbine Press. Kathryn maintains a blog at www.queenserene.wordpress.com. She lives with her husband Reed and their children in the mountain west.

feature added on 2006-12-30 :: ::

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