A week before I wrote this scene, I went through a situation where one of my kids had diarrhea run down his legs, so I had to clean him up, get laundry going, manage the other kids were running around the house getting into trouble, and dealing with a phone call all at the same time. I modified some details for the book, but how overwhelmed Margaret felt was exactly the way I felt. :D
Margaret wiped the sweat from her brow as she bathed Charles. Charles giggled, filled the cup with water, and dumped it on his head. This sent him into another round of giggles before he filled the cup again. She breathed a sigh of relief and turned from the metal tub set to the side of the kitchen.
“Doug, can you hand me that towel?” she called out.
She went to the other tub and added more soap to the hot water before she scrubbed Charles’ pants on the washboard.
Doug dutifully came over to her with the towel in his hands.
She motioned for him to give the towel to Charles when Bob came running into the room. “Ben’s on the work table!”
A glance over her shoulder showed her that, sure enough, Ben had dragged a chair across the floor and was standing up on the table. Without a thought, she dropped the pants and rushed to get Ben down, but it was too late. He’d already reached up on a nearby shelf and pulled down the canister of sugar. As she pulled it out of his arms, the lid popped off and some of the brown sugar settled to the table and floor. Before Ben could bend down to lick it off the table, she put the canister down, picked him up and placed him in the highchair.
“Doug, how do I get this tray in?” she asked.
She struggled to make the thing fit, even as Ben squirmed out of his seat. She grunted and set him back down just in time for Doug to reach her and latch the tray into place. She took a deep breath to settle her nerves. Alright. She’d get Charles out of the bath and dressed. Then she’d tackle the sugar.
“Uh…Ma?” Bob placed Charles’ new clothes on the kitchen table.
“What?” She spun around in time to see Bob pointing to Charles who was dumping cupfuls of water out of the tub. “Charles! Stop!”
She avoided the sugar-coated floor and hastened to the happy boy.
“Here’s the towel, Ma.” Doug shoved it in her face as she took the cup from Charles.
She stared at the towel and tried to decide what to do first. Did she take care of Charles or the large puddle on the floor? Everything was happening so fast. If everything would just stop for one moment, she could figure out how to best do what and in what order.
“Get more towels for Ma,” Doug told Bob.
Bob bounded out of the room, and before she could warn him to avoid the sugar, he jumped over the spot. She breathed a sigh of relief. At least one thing was going right! The last thing she needed was to track sugar through the house. She took the towel and mopped up the floor as best as she could. Then when Bob returned, once again jumping over the sugar, she got Charles out of the tub and dried him off.
Someone knocked on the front door and she groaned. Of all times, why did someone have to stop by now?
“I’ll get it, Ma!” Doug bounded out of the kitchen.
She wiped the sweat from her face with the towel and threw it down so she could put a clean diaper on Charles. Granted, the kitchen table probably wasn’t the best place to do this, but the floor was still damp.
Bob shook his head. “You pinned it in wrong. It should go the other way.”
Sighing, she removed the safety pin and turned it over so she could insert it through the cloth. Sure enough, the hold was more secure. She picked up the other safety pin and got ready to put it into the other piece of the cloth at Charles’ hip when a man and woman entered the kitchen.
“They said they have some pots you will want to buy,” Doug said, following them.
“What?” Margaret pricked her finger, rubbed it against her thumb, and tried to get the pin through the fabric again. She glanced at the couple. “May I help you?”
The woman raised her eyebrows. “Is that child still in diapers?”
Margaret immediately felt like shoving the couple out of the house. Really, wasn’t she having enough to deal with without putting up with the woman’s shocked tone? She finished fastening the pin and gave the woman a look she was sure expressed her annoyance at the question. “Did you come here to ask what I do with my children?”
“No,” Doug piped up. “They want to sell you pots.”
The man smiled. “We apologize, ma’am. The boy is right. We represent the Anderson Kitchen Supply Company, and we thought you might be interested in new cookware.”
Charles sat up, so she quickly grabbed a shirt and put his arms through the sleeves.
“I have enough pots,” she replied, wishing they would leave.
“We offer more than that,” the man continued. “We also sell baking pans and kettles.”
The woman nodded. “We also offer pot hooks. I notice you don’t have any in this kitchen. If you had some hooks, it would clear up some of that shelf space. I have a couple I use in my own kitchen, and I don’t know what I’d do without them.”
“It does save up a lot of room,” the man agreed.
Margaret buttoned the boy’s shirt, glad that her focus was on the task at hand because, otherwise, she might not be able to hold her temper in check. She hated salespeople. If she wanted to buy kitchenware, she’d go to the mercantile.
Doug and Bob stared at the couple while Ben made raspberry noises.
“I am fine with what I have,” she finally said, realizing she had to say something. She stood Charles on his feet and got the pants ready for him to put on. He held onto her shoulders as she instructed him to place his foot into the pants. “I don’t need the extra room.”
“May I check your cookware?” the woman asked, already stepping to the side of the table and toward the shelves.
“No!” Margaret took Charles into her arms, even as his pants dangled on him, so she could dart in front of the irritating woman. “I’m sorry, but in case you haven’t noticed, I’m busy. I have a houseful of children to take care of, and the last thing I need is for you to go through here and tell me what’s wrong with my pots and pans.”
The woman’s eyes grew wide and she let out a light gasp. “I certainly didn’t imply to overstep my bounds. I thought as a woman who does a lot of cooking, I might offer some advice on a better set of cookware.”
Charles kicked his legs until the pants flew off of him and onto the sugar that was still on a part of the floor.
“Oh my,” the woman said, just noticing the mess. “You certainly do have your hands full. Are you sure you can handle all of this? I do know a nanny who might be a big help.”
That’s it. Margaret couldn’t take it anymore. “I would be able to do this if I didn’t have unwanted company trying to sell me something I don’t need or want.”
The woman blanched. “There’s no need to be rude.”
“Rude? You come in here and insult the way I take care of my children while you try to make a sale, and you call me rude?”
The woman stared at her as if she couldn’t believe her ears.
The man cleared his throat. “We’ll leave you to your work, ma’am.” He took something out of his briefcase. “You might like to check our catalogue. At your convenience of course.” He set it on the kitchen table. “Come along, Mildred. We’ll try the house next door.”
Mildred gave one last look around the room and muttered, “My children were out of diapers when they were two,” before she left the house with the man.
“I’ll get one of Ben’s pants, Ma. Charles can still fit ‘em.” Bob ran off down the hall.
“I can wash up the pants,” Doug said. “I helped Pa with this. I know what to do.”
Overwhelmed, she glanced around the kitchen. Never in her entire life had she ever felt that everything was out of control.
Bob returned with the pants. “I’ll watch him, Ma. Go ahead and clean up the sugar.”
She stared at Bob as he told his younger brother to hold onto him so he could help him into the small pants. Then she turned her gaze to Doug who started scrubbing the pants along the washboard. Ben banged on his highchair but laughed when Charles fell down while Bob tried to get the pants around his waist. Finally, she went to the drawer and pulled out a clean cloth. As she pumped the water to wet it down, her tears started to fall.