Last Saturday I awoke to sunlight, birdsong, and the tantalizing aroma of coffee. Judging from the evidence, I had overslept. Either that or I was dreaming. I sighed with dozy pleasure and counted my blessings: I was alone, it was the weekend, and my two young children were downstairs with their father.
Then I heard the sound of chairs being dragged across the kitchen floor, and suddenly I was wide-awake.
When the kids are under my husband’s so-called supervision, chair-dragging usually means one of three things:
1) They are making a fort.
2) They are hunting for glitter glue and similar top-shelf contraband art supplies.
3) They are cooking.
Like many stay-at-home moms, I look forward to weekends with a longing that approaches lust. In my weekly fantasy, my workload is halved on Saturdays and Sundays by my beloved husband, Rich. We linger over idyllic family dinners and long-overdue conversations. Rich entertains our son and daughter, and does housework with equanimity, while I divide my leisure time among books, bubble baths, and back rubs.
Rich means well. It’s just that no matter how much he pitches in around the house — and he pitches in a lot — it’s never quite enough to compensate for the trail of domestic destruction he leaves in his wake. Take his cooking breakfast with the kids. In theory, it’s fun, instructive, and potentially nutritious. In reality, the kids bicker, eat trace amounts of scrambled eggs and ketchup, and finger-paint the entire kitchen with jam.
Call me a wet blanket — I’ve been called worse — but I avoid pillaging the house to show the kids a good time. I believe in maximizing fun while minimizing messes. Rich just believes in maximizing fun.
On a typical weekend morning, Rich gets the kids up, then dresses and feeds them. I follow in his footsteps, picking up discarded pajamas and toothbrushes, closing closets and drawers, and throwing away sticky yogurt cups, half-eaten pancakes, and crumpled napkins. While I’m occupied with this, Rich plays with the kids. They might bathe the dog (inside), simulate a snowstorm (with shredded toilet paper), or do some face painting (with “washable” markers). Rich’s repertoire also includes chocolate ice cream cones (in white shirts), puddle walks (in school shoes), and rainbow-sprinkled doughnuts (in the car) — often all before lunch.
Last Sunday afternoon, while mopping up after one of Rich’s double-bubble baths, I realized with a guilty start that I wanted my tidy, tranquil kingdom back. It’s not that I wanted Rich to go back to work, I convinced myself as I wrung out and hung up the last towel, I just wanted him to slow down.
I considered my dilemma. As an organized person, I craved a neat home. As a loving wife and mother, I wanted my family to have fun. As a stay-at-home parent, I needed a break. Was it possible to have it all?
As I peeled off my wet socks, I had an idea. Instead of badgering my husband about his messy style of play — which felt mean-spirited and never worked anyway — I could simply propose neater alternatives. I decided to show him where we kept the puzzles, reacquaint him with the game of charades, and draw his attention to our large collection of picture books.
I went looking for Rich and found him in the living room playing pizzeria with the kids. They had made pizzas, salads, and spaghetti out of play dough. Judging from the paper scraps, scissors, tape, and markers on the floor, they had made illustrated menus as well. The coffee table was littered with real cups, plates, and silverware, and Rich was wearing a chef’s hat made of paper and staples.
The kids looked like they just might combust from excitement. Suddenly I saw my husband through their shining eyes and — heart swelling with love and admiration — decided to keep my mouth shut. From the doorway, I watched him sashay across the room, serve entrèes, and offer the kids make-believe parmesan cheese.
How can you not love a man who does things like that?
I smiled and turned to leave. Just then our 2-year-old leaped to his feet, knocking over his juice, and the dog sprinted to lap it up. Rich lunged for the dog and missed, smashing a pink play-dough meatball into the carpet with his bare foot. Barking joyfully and tracking apple juice everywhere, the dog jumped on the couch, then over to an armchair, then back to the couch again. Teeth clenched, I shook my head and walked away.
How can you not love Mondays, too?
Jamie Pearson is the founder of the family travel website travelsavvymom.com.