la motte













 Max, some time ago... 



to exhaust, to wear out

Max has paired an orange-and-blue T-shirt with red sweat pants. I gaze at my son, thinking about how I need to explain to him the basics of fashion. For one, he needs to learn the rule on colors that clash: "No wearing orange with red!" 

On second thought, forget about the color wheel! Precious few years remain in which I'll be able to witness daily this wake-up-and-dress-with-abandon innocence. Besides, my mission this morning is not to critique Max's wardrobe, but to find him a project.

Earlier, at the breakfast table, when I could no longer eat in peace after the kids began bouncing off the walls, I realized I might channel some of that energy... into home improvement! 

"You know those baseball cards of yours?" I ask Max.

My son looks lost.

"I mean, the basketball cartes..."


"Oh... I'm talking about the cartes de foot—the ones you like to trade with your friends!"

"Ah, oui..."

"Well, if you sweep the back patio—really well—for, say, one-half hour and not five seconds—then I will buy you a pack of those cards. How much do they cost, by the way?"

"Quarante centimes," Max answers, grinning from ear to ear.

"O.K., that'll work!"

Max begins his chore with gusto, sweeping, swooping, and swiveling that brush-on-a-stick. Occasionally he stops to admire his reflection in the porte-fenêtre....

He turns the broom sideways... and heaves up the make-believe ten-ton barbell. When the champion weight lifter is satisfied with his world record, he returns the barbell/broom to its vertical position and resumes sweeping the patio.

Noticing him push the broom hard against the ground, making great exaggerated swoops, I intervene:

"Max, you are going to wear yourself out if you continue like that! Watch me," I suggest, taking the broom. Accomplishing a few feather-light sweeps across the patio, I begin to sing:

Il ne faut pas t'épuiser
Non, non, non, ne t'épuise pas...

I sing as only a mother can, before her child and no other, belting out the make-it-up-as-you-go tune.

Il faut pas t'épuiser
Non, non, non, ne t'épuise pas...

I stop the broom in its tracks, to experience a flashback of a similar scene. I am at my mom's cabin, near Saguaro Lake, back home in Arizona. I am pushing a three-ton broom around the living room.

"Here, give me that!" my mom says, stubbing out her cigarette. She proceeds, light on her feet, to sweep the hardwood floor of her salon. She is in full make-up, though we are an hour's drive from civilization, and her hair is gathered into a French twist and secured by a battalion of bobby pins. She is wearing cowboy boots, the ones with the spurs. Instead of singing, she's humming. "Don't struggle so," is her message. "Lighten up and the job will be easier."

"Watch this," she says, sailing across the room, with the broom in her hands. In the background, televangelist Freddy Price is spreading the Word, causing us to pause now and again to shout "Amen!"

Mom's got that broom and she is fluttering across the wood floor, with the lightness of a butterfly.

"I used to sweep like you," she says, "until I learned to sweep like this!" As I watch her, an overwhelming urge is building in me to sweep! I want that broom just as I want to try on a new pair of roller skates. My mom hands me the broom and returns to her desk to paint her nails copper. Behind her, there is a wall of books. I recognize the hardbound editions; I can still see them perfectly in my mind, just as they were placed on the bookshelves of my childhood.

There were, among others, Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, James Michener's The Source, and My Mother/Myself by Nancy Friday. And there was Mom's treasure: William Gurnall's The Christian in Complete Armour, the epic masterpiece written between 1655-1662. She had the giant red leather three-volume set.

Her library aside... the image of my mom sweeping returns to me whenever I find myself making a brick wall out of any hard-to-begin activity, whether it be writing or washing floors or rearing children. The more I push, the more I struggle, the more I wear myself out and despair.

I hand the broom back to Max and return to the breakfast table to observe him from the window. He pushes the broom, stopping to pass it between his legs, then sweeps, sweeps, sweeps, to stop again and make another pass. Only a kid could make a basketball out of a balai. Only a mother-in-spurs could tame a two-ton broom into becoming a butterfly.

As for me, I'll quit building brick walls today and remember to flutter instead of fluster, to pass or dribble instead of pound and tremble, to lighten up like the papillons that fly across the soon-to-bloom poppy fields outside my door.

Il faut pas t'épuiser
Non, non, non, ne t'épuise pas...

French Vocabulary

le petit déjeuner = breakfast
la carte = card
les cartes de foot = soccer (trading) cards 
quoi? = what?
quarante centimes = forty French cents
la porte-fenêtre = French door
il ne faut pas t'épuiser = you mustn't wear yourself out, no... don't wear yourself out
le salon = living room
le balai = broom
le papillon = butterfly

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