Last week, I went out of town for four nights. To Atlanta, to visit one of my very best friends, who has brand-new twins.
Before I say anything else, I have to say this: HOLY MOTHER, newborn twins are hard. I mean. They are HARD. I actually caught myself thinking wistfully of life back home with my three kids, ages 6 and under, and how I would be able to catch up on rest when I returned. If that tells you anything. And really, that is Crazy Talk. Nobody catches up on rest here in this house. The only thing one catches up on around here is cleaning. Except one never, ever catches up on cleaning. Ever.
So. The twins were a lot of work, but they were sweet and snuggly and oh-so-precious, which made up for their sleeplessness. And in the meantime, my husband was in full charge of our children, which made for a little break for me, twins aside. Here is what I envisioned upon my return–my husband, draped lifelesslessly over a chair, the house a wreck, the children covered in filth, and a rousing chorus of, “Thank God you’re home!” Because things fall apart if I’m not here, right? And my job is so grueling, surely it would bring any man (or woman!) to his knees. I mean, these kids, I’m always grousing about how they are so much work. “Let’s see how they do without me!” I wondered to myself.
And here is how they did: just fine. “How’s everything going?” I asked my husband tentatively during my phone calls home. “Fine!” he’d say cheerfully. “Really?” I’d ask. “No big deal,” was his response.
No big deal? Seriously? NO BIG DEAL?
“Well,” he admitted. “I’m a little tired. But really, don’t worry, we’re fine.”
So that was good, right? That everyone was fine, and I was free to enjoy my visit with my girlfriend and her crazy newborns (I say that with love, because all newborns are crazy). Except it wasn’t good. It was offensive.
“What is the deal?” I wondered. “My job is HARD. Taking care of those kids is HARD. Why is it so easy for him? Am I really that much of a weenie?”
And then I arrived home. The kids were fine. Mostly clean, maybe a few pieces of food stuck in their hair. The house was mostly picked up, but there was a thin layer of–how shall I say–GOO covering everything. And food splatters. Food splatters on the floor, on the walls near the kitchen table, on the kitchen cabinets. I probably could have identified the majority of meals my husband prepared for the children, just by analyzing the food splatters. There was laundry rolling out of the hampers and cat hair tumbleweeds rolling across the living room floor.
It was bad, people. Bad.
And even more than that, it was validating. Because THIS–the streaks of goo all over the kitchen windows–THIS is why having full custody of the kids for four days was “no big deal.”
“Well, Betsy,” he told me, “I figure if the children are all alive upon your return, I’ve done my job.”
And yes, he did. The kids were alive, and for that I am grateful. They were fed, and their toys were (mostly) put away, and they even received a bath (or two). But the reason it was “no big deal” is because that was it, the surviving, and that was all that was expected. And it’s fine! Really, it’s fine, and I appreciate my husband for holding down the fort, but my point is just that they DO need me around here, and it really is a big deal if you’re doing more than just surviving. If you’re wiping the goo off the windows and filling the cats’ dishes with water. (It was bone dry when I got home. Just saying.)
And my other point is that, yes, we can do most anything, given a finite amount of time to accomplish our task. Five days with the kids? Yes! I can do it. There is a conclusion in sight, a light at the end of the tunnel. But how about this? How about five YEARS with the kids? How about 10? 15? How about day after day of goo wiping and food preparing and searching for shoes and no end in sight for any of it? Well. That will make a sister tired. I love these kids, and I’m grateful for this stay at home mom gig–really, I am–but there’s no end in sight.
Thank God, there’s no end in sight.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have layers of goo to address.
(Betsy Swenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)