Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Evening Rush Hour

By Melissa Stanton

(Ignore the date, above. The following is an article from my "archives." Versions of this essay appeared in my book, The Stay-at-Home Survival Guide, as well as in Chesapeake Family magazine.)

It’s 5 p.m. on a Wednesday. We’ve been home for less than a half–hour, but my eight-year-old son is already arguing with one of his four–year–old twin sisters over whose turn it is to sit on the sought-after red chair. As I mediate the chair debate, I’m clearing snacks and drinks from the kitchen counter while attempting to wash watercolors off of my other daughter.

Channeling Goldie Hawn from her Laugh–In days, my own golden–haired girl has decorated most every surface of her exposed skin with purple and green paint. Before I can scoop her into the sink for a wipe-down, I have to empty the dishwasher to make room for the dirties awaiting their turn. I’m also ready to keel over from the stench of the hamster cage, which I planned to clean after doing the dishes and starting dinner and getting my son to begin his homework … until my painted lady made her debut.

During times like these I look at the chaos of my kitchen and the whining children who are fighting me, each other, and the order of my home and I wonder, as the Talking Heads asked, “How did I get here?” What I wouldn’t give to go back in time ten years, when 5 p.m. would find me in my Manhattan office, working at a job I enjoyed and later, when I felt like it, heading home to an evening alone with my husband, or out with friends. At that same time on any given weekday in my present reality, I don’t want to be in the company of my bickering, havoc-wreaking, relentlessly needy children.

But as the day turns to night and the harried activity begins to wane, I can describe to my husband, with a laugh, our daughter’s experimentation with body art and her exhibitionist second act, when she shed her clothing and ran naked through the house as her siblings screamed in delight. When I tried to dress her, she took hold of my face, declared “No, Mommy,” and gave me a big kiss on the lips.

When there’s finally calm in my kitchen, and I start sorting through the paperwork that generates from and for a family of five, I can talk to my other daughter about how amazing she was in her karate class that day. I can enjoy her smile and the enthusiasm she can’t contain about finally being able to play a team sport, like her big brother does. “I’m still so excited about soccer,” she tells me, nearly a week after her first Saturday-morning practice. My dark-haired daughter never holds back her emotions. While her bad moods are horrors, her good ones can be truly grand.

Once the girls are in bed, I can have one-on-one time with my son the way I did before his sisters arrived. When he asks, “Mommy, will you cuddle with me tonight?” I try to say yes. I know that in a year or so, he won’t even want me within arm’s reach. When I describe the changes to come, my son assures me, with complete sincerity, “That won’t happen, Mommy. You can cuddle with me until I leave for college.”

Would I ever trade the life I have with my children? Of course not. Just don’t ask me that question late on a weekday afternoon.

Like many moms, my day revolves around constant demands, mini-crises, and someone always having a need that (they believe) must be immediately met. We can all picture the idealized image of motherhood, either from a TV commercial or our own pre-kid fantasies, wherein one complacent child quietly colors while his mother sits at his side smiling and sipping a mug of herbal tea. That’s not me, nor—especially if you have more than one child—do I expect it’s you.


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