A Family and Imperfection Writing Contest
Between Our Naked Toes
by Jen Hulfish
Working in a kids shoe store, I meet my fair share of frazzled and worn out parents. Being one myself, we hit it off instantly.
People often have a tremendous undercurrent of emotions that go on during my brief interactions with them and I have learned not to take it personally, but rather to receive whatever it is they are offering. My personal mission is that each one of my customers leave the store having smiled at least once with their full face, crinkly eyes and all. That kind of smile can change the course of a day.
A woman walked in one day, and I could see that she was carrying around a lot more than a pregnancy and a toddler. She was impatient and terse when I greeted her, so I was more than a little relieved when her phone rang and she excused herself to answer it.
She quickly explained to the caller that she was in the shoe store and would call back when she was finished. She hung up, and to my surprise, apologized to me. “I’m sorry, I don’t normally do that, but it was my husband and he’s been gone for a week and…” She interrupted herself, waving her hand in the air as if to brush it off as no big deal.
I immediately stopped measuring her daughter’s foot to look at her. “Oh, I am so sorry.”
Her blue eyes filled with tears and she looked away.
“I have been in your position before,” I said gently. “My two children are no longer babies, but I too was once pregnant, with a toddler, and a traveling husband. I haven’t forgotten what that was like. Things were dark and very difficult.”
She looked back at me. “So you know…”
“It already seems less overwhelming,” she said while dabbing her eyes, “to know that someone understands. I feel lonely all of the time and I often wonder what’s wrong with me.”
We talked about feeling so tired that you can’t think straight, how excruciatingly long the days can be, and how when it rains it pours, with no umbrella in sight.
Within a few minutes her demeanor softened and she was chatting about things that were a little more light-hearted in nature. I was able to share a little of my story…
My daughter was not quite two and I was extremely pregnant. My husband was away for the week. The dog was sick and getting worse with each passing day. We had very little money at the time, so I had put off taking him to the vet, hoping that it was something temporary. Of course it wasn’t. Naturally, things peaked after normal vet office hours. So, I called my mom and asked her to meet me at the nearest 24 hour animal hospital, put my should-be-dressed-for-bed-but-
We were gone for several hours and arrived home at about 2am. It took a while for the anti-nausea meds that the vet had given the dog to kick in, so I squeezed in little snippets of sleep where I could, in between trying to catch what was left in his stomach before it could land on the brand new carpet, albeit unsuccessfully. I was in a haze as I scrubbed the mess, frustrated tears stinging my already-burning-with-
The dog’s stomach had settled and I finally had fallen asleep on the couch when my toddler came wandering into the living room. I scooped her up and pulled her in close, praying that she would get the hint that it was not yet time to start the day. Thankfully she did and we fell seamlessly into a rhythmic slumber.
That is, until some well-intentioned friends knocked on the door.
AT SEVEN AM.
The dog, barking loudly, flew from his spot at my feet, apparently cured of his ailment. My daughter sat straight up, clearly wide awake, so I stumbled wearily to the door with her, both of us still dressed in our clothing from the day before.
I cracked open the door and saw my bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and childless friends, holding a box of doughnuts and smiling like I should be happy to see them. I slipped out the door so as not to let the dog escape and sat down on the steps.
Someone offered my daughter a pink-frosted doughnut. I was far too exhausted to care that it wasn’t the least bit organic or natural, things that at the time were very important to me, and for the first time of many to come I had the thought, “bite me,” when I questioned myself.
While we talked, the dog jumped at the door and barked incessantly. Of course he did. But when my friends left to continue on their walk down to the nearby waterfront, I was feeling motivated. Of course I was.
We sat a few moments longer, my daughter and I, taking in the fresh air. It was a beautiful day. And a new day at that. I looked at my little blond-haired, blue-eyed, pink-frosted girl and took a deep breath. I gave myself a little pep talk – “baths, a change of clothes, and daddy comes home tonight – I can do this. I can take on the remainder of this new day.” I stood up, with a toddler on my hip and a baby in my belly and I opened the door.
Only I didn’t, because I couldn’t.
The dog, in all of his frantic and frenzied jumping, had knocked the dead bolt into the “you-shall-not-pass” locked position.
I turned in the direction that my friends had gone. Three blocks away, they couldn’t hear me calling. I watched helplessly as they turned out of sight. Hiking my daughter further up on my practically non-existent hip, I started walking barefoot toward the park where they were headed.
I dodged rocks and glass as I hobbled down the first, second, and third blocks. We turned the corner. Just one more block to go. We arrived at the park. I saw my friends across the field headed toward the pier. Relieved to feel grass beneath my feet after all of the pavement I had just pounded, I picked up the pace, closing the gap between us, and with what felt like my very last breath, I gave a shout. They turned around!
In between my naked toes.
DOG POOP IN BETWEEN MY NAKED TOES.
I burst into tears.
The rest of that morning involved a ladder at the kitchen window and gymnastics over a sink full of dirty dishes. It also involved some hobbling across the carpet, trying desperately to avoid adding to the list things that had christened it that week.
And the point is that just when you think it can’t get any worse, shit happens.
Of course it does.
Sometimes in between your naked toes.
She laughed. With her full face, crinkly eyes and all.
We ended our conversation and I made sure to tell her that there were going to be some very dark days ahead of her, because two kids under the age of two is very challenging. And being a parent of any number of kids, of any and all ages, is very challenging. You never need to beat yourself up for feeling the things that you are going to feel, though. There is nothing wrong with you, you are normal, and you will get through it. It will be fun and beautiful, but it will be also be depressing and terrible, and that is okay because that is what normal and real is. Sometimes you just have embrace it and let it squish in between your naked toes until you realize that you’re still standing and it hasn’t killed you.
As she walked out the door, with a toddler on her hip and a baby in her belly, looking like she had given herself a little pep talk and was ready to take on the remainder of the night, the strap of her pocketbook broke and her purse fell to the ground, spilling all of its contents onto the sidewalk.
For a brief second we just looked at each other through the glass in disbelief. She slowly lowered her head and I saw her shoulders begin to shake. I ran out to help and when she looked up to make eye contact I could see the tears pouring down her cheeks.
She was laughing so hard that she was crying.
The poop in between our naked toes might just save us all.
Jen Hulfish is a clumsy lover of life. At the ripe old age of 33, she’s finally figured out that she’s too old to pretend like she’s figured anything out. She flies by the seat of her pants and is thankful when the fly of her pants is up. She values honesty, mothering, and a patient husband. She blogs at This Life Unconventional.
I asked each of our Writing Contest judges to share her thoughts on the winning entries.
Here’s what they had to say about Jen’s story:
Korie: “What a great story- I wish you sold shoes in my town! Thank you for sharing your attitude; I love how you approach your work. Also, your bio is awesome.”
Korie Buerkle is the mother of two imaginative young children, and the wife of the talented graphic designer and amazing stay-at-home dad, Brandon Buerkle. She is a Children’s Librarian and loves creating storytimes and book clubs when she is not doing other administrative things that are not as much fun.
Meghan: “Absolutely hilarious! Guaranteed to make any mama feel better about her day and a great example of what good we can do through sharing our stories of imperfection. The writing and story telling style was perfect too.”
Meghan Rogers-Czarnecki works at her family’s independent bookstore, Chapters Books and Coffee where she loves chatting with customers about good books as well as their personal stories, which are often just as compelling. She spends way too much time reading, negotiating with her three children, and cooking to have any left over for cleaning her house, so imperfection is near and dear to her heart.
Aj: “Jen uses cases of her imperfection to come alongside others, help them rather than focus on herself – in the funniest, squishiest of ways.”
Aj Schwanz is the Chief Manager of Consumption for her tribe at their humble abode in Dundee, Oregon. She writes single-sentence bios for herself and then gives Beth Woolsey permission to write the rest. Beth and Aj share a deep love of well-written words which they usually find in YA fantasy novels and occasionally on a completely inappropriate Canadian television series about the fae underworld, about which they text regularly. Whereas Beth just Makes Up Crap on her blog, Aj worked Real Jobs in the Writing World as a Young Adult librarian and as an editor for Barclay Press.
And we would love to hear your thoughts, too!
One of the hardest parts of writing is wondering how our soul-baring will be received.
Your feedback and encouragement are enormous gifts.
Old Wood Pencil image credit gubgib via freedigitalimages.net