I‘ve been telling the kids how we’re going to do a “day in the life slice” of their lives. Similar to the book, What Happens on Wednesdays, filled with all the activities that happen in a day. Then I imagined how my watercolor captioned life might look documented on the pages of a storybook.
Awoke naked, with coughing in my ear. Without having to open my eyes, I know it’s Abigail. I know her cough. What are you doing in here? I thought I told you you couldn’t come in. “I told her she could” Phil says. “Oh, okay.” A few minutes later, I feel Lucas climbing on me, whining that he wants to “sleep next to Mama.” I am beyond tired, trying to catch up on a weeks worth of too little sleep. It doesn’t work that way. Fine, Lucas can sleep next to me, so long as it’s only my feet. I can’t have two sick children coughing in my face. It was one thing when Abigail was coughing into my hair and ear, but to have another one right up in my face is too much sick. I roll over and turn, throwing my body to the opposite side of the bed, with my head at all their feet. Lucas will have no part in this, insisting he sleep next to all of me, not just my feet, so he joins me down below, yanking covers over both our heads. Now I’m in a contained bubble tent of sick as he coughs into my hair and ear. I fall back asleep.
Eventually, and it could be minutes later, they’ve stirred out of bed, and I’m alone, sleeping. Phil walks in, asking what the deal is with breakfast bars, can they have one. “Yes,” I say.
“And you’re getting up now, right? You’re taking care of their breakfast, right?” FUCK OFF. “Yes, I’ve got it,” I mumble, not moving. Phil leaves to give them breakfast bars and make their lunches, a duty he thankfully agreed to take care of daily. I ghost walk to the shower, where I condition, shave, and brush. Towel up, deodorant, leave-in conditioner. Sports bra, thong, tank, running shorts, hair still in a towel. No makeup or sunscreen. No socks or shoes.
In the kitchen, I take down two bowls, fish out two spoons, milk, whole-grain Kix, napkins. They’re still in their pajamas. I ask if they’d like fruit. They don’t. Today, I don’t argue. Despite the shower, I’m still in a half-zombie sleep. They’re at the kitchen table eating, asking for TV. “Not today,” I say. They don’t argue. I’d asked Phil twice yesterday, and twice the day before that, if he’d please cut up the melon (a cross between a honeydew and cantaloupe) because I can never get a knife through, ever. He hadn’t done it. Lucas protests about the Kix. He’s never tried them. He wants something else. “Not today,” I say again. He tries them, likes them. “Yummy,” he says. “Mikey likes it,” I say.
I sort through papers on the kitchen counter, piles of them. Handouts from school, announcements, birthday party invitations. I remember that we need curiously strong, but tiny, magnets. I don’t have time to add it to my list (I’ll do it now). A list is due soon where we itemize Kindergartens for which we plan to enroll. There’s a splash-a-thon on Sept 20 or 21st, where they need sponsors. I have to submit money and ask people. I hate that my to-do list is taking over my life, and that I’m not getting any work done, at all. I don’t add it. I find strawberry hulls and stems in a Montessori activity bowl. I pick them out, toss them, wipe down the counter and add random plates to the sink. The kids are finished eating. I tell them to please get dressed, remembering that Lucas has waterplay, which means he needs a plastic bag, a towel, a change of clothes. I collect these things and add them to his backpack. Their breakfast bowls are still on the table. Lucas is in his bedroom, putting on his swim gear. Abigail is pretending to get dressed. Likely making piles of books, playing Octomom with naked dolls, tucking stuffed animals into her bed. “Brush your teeth,” I yell out. I know that they won’t.
Phil walks into the kitchen to say goodbye. “Can you please cut up the melon?” I ask.
“No,” he says.
“Please, I asked you twice yesterday, and you’d said you’d do it.”
“No. Do you know why? Whenever I ask you to do things, you always give me pushback. Always. You always have a reason why you can’t do something. I can’t even be sick, I can’t have that even, without you saying that you’re sick too. Everything always involves you, is always about you and what you need.”
Does this tank top say DUMP ON ME or UNLOAD or TAKE IT ALL OUT ON ME? I don’t know where this is coming from. He’s stressed at work. There’s a move. He always feels as if he shoulders everything. Nothing here is really new. He will attribute everything this morning to what I did wrong. How he had to wake me, how it shouldn’t be his job. He doesn’t let up.
“Could this stuff not always be lying around?” “This stuff” is a pile of 2 catalogs, 3 thin magazines and a pair of green safety scissors. I’d taken them out on Monday night for Lucas’s “Show and Teach” project for the letter “Dd.” Each week he is to find three objects that begin with the featured letter of the week, to cut them out, paste them to a piece of construction paper, and “Show and Teach” the rest of his class on Tuesdays.
Last night Phil complained that he wanted to be able to eat dinner on a clean table without having to move things. “Things” was a single lunch tray I’d set out for a learning activity. On it were sight words I’d cut out. I work with the children constructing funny sentences on the tray, an activity they love to do. Phil does plenty of things, especially roughhousing physical stuff that I don’t like to do—wheelbarrow racing with Lucas to strengthen his shoulders and improve his low muscle tone. I read to them. I research learning activities. I tape words throughout the house that correspond to the letter of the week at school. I find tins and fill them with miniature pompoms, add tweezers and have them sort the pompoms by color—a fine motor skill task. I try to present a new game each day after school. I do it at the kitchen table… the only table in the house where they can sit still and where I have their full attention.
Phil tells me he’s tired of having to always move things. “I know you have a hard-on for Montessori right now. I know that’s your ‘Bet, ba, ba, bet. Bet,’ that you’re single-minded about it, that it’s your pet of the month, but you don’t have to involve me and make me read the books. You want to do it, God bless, but I shouldn’t have to see it, move it, or have anything to do with it.”
And by “it” you mean “teaching our children,” I think. I am angry. I know he’s a wonderful father, an involved father. That he really does want the best for them, but right now, it feels like he’s not fighting with me about a philosophy or teaching method. Since moving here, without a nanny to pick them up from school, I’ve become very involved in teaching the children, organizing a playroom, making arts and crafts always available to them, building blocks and age-appropriate puzzles, lacing toys, etc. I don’t turn on the television. I’m making a real effort. And it’s insulting to hear him refer to the interest I’ve taken, how hard I’m trying, as a single-minded hard-on that I’ll lose interest in at any moment. It’s hurtful.
“I shouldn’t have to move this cup of crayons every day,” he says. I want to scream, TOUGH SHIT. IT’S FOR YOUR KIDS. WHO CARES IF YOU HAVE TO MOVE IT EVERY DAY IF IT MEANS THEY’RE LEARNING?! I am angry. Why doesn’t he research the games and make it fun for them to learn? Read to them under a fort with a flashlight the way I do? Because he’s not me. I’m not even asking him to be. What I am asking for is for him to back the fuck off and shift his focus. If he wants the house to be orderly and clean all the time, he can hire a housekeeper.
Yesterday he wanted a gold star for cleaning the toilets, as he’d promised he would. And I gave him the verbal equivalent of one. “Yes, thank you for doing them! They smell nice and clean! Thank you.” He had to ask me if I’d noticed. And I realize it would have meant more if I’d offered the thanks without a prompt.
“And look at these bowls on the table,” he adds pointing to their breakfast remnants.
“Phil, are you kidding me? I’m in the middle of sorting through papers and cleaning, and you want to—“
“They’ll still be here when I come home from work.”
“No, they won’t.”
“There’s always something. And why did you move things off my bedroom side table?”
“I told you I was moving them. I asked first. I put them into your bedside table drawer because we were having people over.”
“What I mean is, why do you bother moving my things, when your bedside table is a mess right now?”
“Yes, right now it is full of books and medical records because I have to take Abigail for her pre-op appointment tomorrow with a new doctor, and…”
“And you always have an excuse.”
“Phil, if people were coming over, I’d shove that shit in my closet. I wouldn’t have everything out. But they’re not coming over.”
“Like I said. An excuse for everything.”
He leaves the kitchen. I am fit to be tied.
Yes, the children should have put their bowls in the sink. Of course. I also have priorities. There is still a towel on my head. The kids still aren’t dressed. I haven’t taken my vitamins or eaten anything. Their backpacks still aren’t packed. None of us is wearing shoes. I’ve HAD IT.
“Forget Friday,” I say. I am in the kitchen by myself, still sorting through school papers, pushing window crayons back into their box. I know he is in the living room but that he can hear me. “Just forget it. There is nothing to celebrate. I am not happy. I can’t live like this. I don’t want you to get me anything. There’s nothing to celebrate.” Friday is our five year wedding anniversary.
I can’t even say things are at their worst. They aren’t. This is bickering. It’s small stuff, but it feels bigger than small. I think because I feel worn down. I’m tired. I want to be with someone who gets me. I also know that these types of arguments would happen with anyone, do happen. But maybe in that scenario one of us would make a joke, offer up some levity. This isn’t even a shouting match. We’re not yelling. I don’t know how I feel anymore, but “like celebrating” isn’t it.
Phil leaves for work without saying goodbye. And I am relieved. We need to leave for school in fourteen minutes. Abigail is finally dressed, though she’s pulling at her skirt and doesn’t like the clothes she’s picked and put on.
Gel in my hair. Vitamins. My socks, sneakers. Her socks are too big. Cream on her chin. Sunblock on faces. Lunches into backpacks. She says she wants to wear long pants. “Not an option,” I say, presenting her with hers. We’re finally in the car—the one Phil had said I “keep a mess by letting them bring toys in.” I remember that I need a gym bag and my wallet, run back inside, quickly grab my laptop and charger. We’re finally on the road.
We arrive on time. Kisses, hugs, see you later after Karate. Abigail’s clothes don’t match, teeth aren’t brushed, hair is brushed but without barrettes, and I don’t care. I get to the gym, grab water with lime, step onto the elliptical machine and realize I have not packed headphones. I have not packed my surf-shelf. I cannot use the laptop I’d packed. Going to the gym without headphones is about as productive as a sterile man. I walk out.
I pull into our driveway and feel compelled to clean out the car, rid it of tissues, cup lids, broken necklace beads. I should be working, but instead, I clean because I don’t want to hear it. Inside, I put on rubber gloves. Forget the work list I have waiting for me, the life part of my life. I wipe down the kitchen table. Clean dishes and drinking glasses, load a dishwasher, water a plant. I’m still angry, and it’s not even noon.
Worse still, I know there’s a whole other side to this story. Or, perhaps that should read “better yet.” For better or worse, I should not have cleaned; I should’ve worked. I know that parts of that other sided story will be valid. That I, too, could stand to re-shift my own focus, that I could try to be more sympathetic about how things feel in his shoes, as the sole-provider in this house, the only income with a family full of wants and enrichment classes and thinner clothes. That lately I’ve been so quick to bow out, to walk the careful steps of “I should walk out,” that I haven’t been trying. I’ve been blaming. And hiding. Avoiding. I also know that I’m not always as decent as I paint myself out to be and that every relationship is co-created. I also know that watercolors can be diluted. But if you don’t lift a mistake off the page quickly enough, it leaves a permanent stain.