Wednesday. i am on my knees under the high chair wiping up sludge that was once food for what feels like the twelfth time today even though i’ve only been IN my home awake for perhaps three hours of an already long day.

it feels like a yoke, this constant cycle of menial drudge stuff.  it is the thing that weighs me down, frustrates me, leaves me sharp and shrill and dreading the transition from work to home everyday.  in through the door we hustle, dragging shouting children and bags and dirty diapers, to be greeted not with sanctuary but the breakfast dishes.

garbage and compost and cat litter to be emptied. laundry to be folded or put away or retrieved from behind the washer where it fell, neglected, while waiting to be returned to its rightful drawer. everywhere i look, there is something that needs to be put away. every corner and cranny is full. and i am a pack animal, stumbling under the burden of this strange slavery to what ought to be a refuge.

it is not a mess, nor squalour, i understand that. we stay on top of it, just barely. but the omnipresence of it is slowly squeezing me until there is no time, no room left just to breathe. to be freed.

i should let it go. i do not know how.

to be a grownup is to have sanctuary become a day job. the sanctuary of the home swells, grotesque, until it is only a to-do list with no place to hide.

i want to live in a Japanese zen garden. i want two bamboo mats and a thick cotton futon and the illusion of space. i want minimalism and parallel lines and an artful flower, just-so, adorning the austerity.

i want to walk into this garden and fall down and sleep for a week.

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Friday.  the children in bed after a day that began too early and ended too ornery. i pull the tray of caramel apples from the fridge.  failures, prematurely dipped, candy coating now pooled thinly on the bottom of the tray.  i contemplate a second box, second try. i contemplate the party in the morning, the brownies to be made, the junk food to be bagged. my mind skips and reels, uncertain even how to fit ten or twelve or fifteen children and their parents in this little house without a basement.

i contemplate the after.  i wonder what in gawd’s name i’m doing, having a Hallowe’en party when i’m mess-averse and stretched thin and brittle. i know Dave wonders. neither of us have slept more than a few hours straight all week; old colds coughing their way out of our systems, deadlines driving us without respite.  we are horses pulling against each other, each of us headstrong and easily wounded. there has been no time to regroup, take stock, heal the scratches. i sink in my own sadness and it spills into hopelessness and rage and i say aloud, i cannot live like this.

i keep hoping someone will hear and magically make it all different.

there are tears in the second batch of caramel. it suffers from my distraction and a phone call and the fact that a meat thermometer is not, in fact, a candy thermometer. i miss the soft ball stage this time and go straight to hard crack, though of the candy rather than the drug persuasion. the first apple mires in the wicked goo until the stick breaks. i end up tossing the entire batch into the compost bin. it hits the cold plastic with a thwack like glass threatening to break.

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Saturday. our house overflows with people, most of them short and costumed and sweltering. i note that costumes are plush these days, no longer the paper-thin flammable plastic of my childhood. in the same breath i recall the quick-chilling beads of my sweat inside the white-backed masks with clown faces, Snow White, whatever other selves i became briefly in those Octobers of long ago. masquerading, i think, has always been hot work.

my mother, without being asked, herds Posey the wee caterpillar through the throng of three-year-olds and a few stray elder siblings. i gather the taller group on stools around the kitchen island and hand out weapons of mass destruction – globs of homemade icing, sprinkles, gummi worms, candied pumpkins – for them to amuse themselves with. things of beauty are born, sampled, discarded. my child licks his plate. Dave disentangles himself from the role of greeter & coffee provider and leads children and more than a few parents upstairs, a Pied Piper with a glow-in-the-dark Dr. Suess book and a maglite. they jam themselves into Oscar & Josephine’s tiny, darkened room.  i hear him through the baby monitor, clearing his throat, announcing A Spooky Story. the thrill of little giggles, scaring themselves. later we throw them all out in the leaves, bob for apples in wild defiance of H1N1 protocol. my doctor’s kid’s booger floats in the water.

the whole thing goes off seamlessly, a team effort that leaves me standing in my kitchen after, wondering at the relative lack of mess, at how dismissable those stray candy wrappers that remain can be.

i still want to sleep for a week. i still want a slim bamboo & paper screen that i can raise at will between me and the hurly-burly of this life that is by turns both rich, homey pageant and zero-sum grind.

i wonder which is the masquerade.

i look to Monday and try to breathe deep.