Last night held one of those moments where I stopped in the middle of the melee and thought, “THIS is what those ladies in Safeway probably mean when they widen their eyes and say, “FOUR kids? THREE are boys?! Oh, you are in for it.” They assume my life is chaos every waking hour.
It’s not, not even close, but when it is, it reeeaaally is.
I was supposed to have dinner with my girlfriends, my beloved gals from college days, who gather monthly to make sure we stay connected through all of life’s changes. We call ourselves ThirThur, because we meet on the third Thursday of the month. (Actually that’s not even true anymore, but SecWed just never had the same ring.)
Since it’s set on our calendar, Mike knows I’ll be heading out around 6 to make our 6:30 dinner. Except this day, his CFO asks for a last-minute 5 – 6PM meeting downtown, and to his credit, he texts me to ask if this is okay.
I text back, “Work comes first so of course — but since it’s downtown could you tell him you need to jet at 5:45?” He says no problem, and I resign myself to making and feeding the children their dinner, a task I’d hoped to relegate to him for my night out.
One of those girlfriends, Kelly, stopped by to greet the kiddos, since she hadn’t seen them in several months. They go into an elevated state of energy when we have company they love, so making and serving dinner was loud, overwhelming and chaotic; it was like herding feral puppies just to get everyone seated at the table.
I texted Mike a touch of an SOS:
5:36PM “The kids are driving me insane with their energy. It’s because Kelly is here but will make it so hard for me to get dressed and ready. Please hurry.”
5:54PM “Left 10 minutes ago!”
I uncharacteristically write, “Bless you my love” because I truly was so grateful he was honoring our deal so I could get out of the house on time.
Kelly takes off so she can get ready for our dinner out, and I clean dishes and wipe the table before heading upstairs to get dressed myself.
I stood in the closet trying to pick a maternity top that made me feel dressy enough to be out to dinner, only to find after putting it on that the first one has a mysterious water-like stain right in the middle of it.
I choose another — and discover a different faint mark in the midsection of this one. I’m horrified that my clothes have stains I didn’t know about. Then I realize it’s amusing that I’m shocked by stains on my clothes when I am cooking for and running after four children all day. There shouldn’t be a surprise factor here. But what’s to be done? Wear an apron? Are rubber gloves and a hairnet far behind?
After donning outfit number three, I start fussing with my hair and makeup. Arden is hanging out with me in the bathroom, as I always dreamed my daughter would, when Henry walks in, eyebrows high and little palms face-up in a surrender pose.
He says, “Don’t be mad.”
Few words cause me to panic faster.
“What is it?” I ask.
“Jameson did something. He really did. But don’t be mad.”
“WHAT is it?”
“Don’t be mad, it’s broken.”
“Henry, it is so, so much worse for me when you draw it out like this. WHAT is?”
“You know that Christmas train that turns around and makes music and…he broke it.”
“Do you mean the snow globe!? Is it shattered all over the floor??”
“Yes,” he says, eyebrows higher than ever, hands of supplication still raised.
Henry doesn’t have a dishonest setting, so I know he’s telling the truth, and yet I’m baffled that such a thing could occur without me hearing it. I’d heard a thud a few minutes prior, but nothing like the sound of an enormous snow globe shattering.
A glimmer of hope flickers in me that perhaps a piece of the train around the snow globe has broken off, and that’s the extent of it. I don’t give a flying French hen about the globe itself, I just really, really don’t want to deal with the aftermath.
I reach the bottom of the stairs and look down the hall at huge shards of glass cascading up the hallway, a lake of water across the hardwoods, and wet, goopy glitter everywhere. Jameson and Hunter are frozen in front of it, and Jameson’s socks are soaked, but he isn’t crying, so I hold my breath that he hasn’t cut himself. They’re each holding a white trash bag, presumably to clean with, and I notice the rolled-up rug in the adjacent bathroom — trash bags and pushed-back rugs are stunning acts of household preservation from my preschoolers, and perhaps this is what keeps me from completely losing my mind.
At this point one may be thinking, the negligence! What kind of mother leaves a 2.5, 4.5 and 6 year old downstairs when she is upstairs?
This mother does, every single day, because that’s life. I cannot stand next to them every moment; there are chores to be done, things to grab upstairs, clothes to change, diapers to attend to — we all can’t be in the same room all day. Nine times out of ten, nothing happens.
This was not one of the nine.
I tell everyone to sit across the bottom stair so I know they aren’t near glass, and I gather paper towels, rags and a broom. I begin gingerly picking up glass fragments, hunched over and painfully reminded that I’m eight months pregnant.
I look at the row of boys and say, “Who did this?”
Hunter and Henry: “Jameson!”
Jameson: “I did!!!!”
His shamelessness is disarmingly endearing, and I salute myself for not having yelled or screamed so far. It is an achievement that I hope will be recorded in my Book of Life.
After a few minutes of cleanup they get restless on the stairs, and start to tussle. I am having none of that, so like the genius I am, I send them to another floor away from me. It worked so well the first time.
“Go up to the playroom so I can clean — go! Go play!”
They run up the stairs and I resume cleaning until it occurs to me to call Mike so he’s forewarned about what he’s walking into. It’s also now 6:20, so I’m a liiiiiiiitle curious how much longer he’s going to be.
After I describe the fiasco, he says, “I’m five minutes away, you’re doing great, I’ll be there soon,” and I sigh and unroll more paper towels.
I text my girlfriends the situation, and tell them I’m going to be very late, so please, order your wine and begin your evening. One writes back, “We’ll order you two glasses of wine!” before remembering I’m pregnant and writing, “I realized it after I wrote it.”
By the time he walks in I’ve got 95% of it cleaned, and I’m eerily calm. He sends me back upstairs to finish getting ready, Arden joins me and gives me a hug, and then runs back to the playroom.
One minute later she comes back in.
“So how mad are you right now?” she asks.
I sigh and say slowly, “I’m fine; I’m not mad. Didn’t you notice I didn’t yell at all? I’m fine.”
“So how much madder would you be if something else happened?” she asks tentatively.
I look over at her with my hands frozen in the creation of my topknot.
“What happened? You can’t be serious. What happened?” I ask.
“Umm,” she looks at me nervously. “Don’t be mad.”
Those magic words again.
“I don’t want to tell you. Let’s just not go look,” she decides.
I turn to walk down the hall to the playroom but notice the twins’ door is closed with the light on inside. I open it.
Henry is up on his bunk bed, Hunter is sitting on the floor.
“What’s going on?” I ask them.
“I’m grounded,” Henry says sadly. He’s already meted out his own punishment, which is precious, but makes my anxiety triple.
I start walking toward the playroom but Arden runs ahead of me saying, “Don’t go in! Don’t look!” I push past her and open the door to find our brand-new light fixture dangling from the ceiling, hanging on by one teensy wire.
I gasp and say, “It’s been ONE MINUTE! How did this — ” but I see the plush football as Arden says, “They were playing football.”
I return to the boys in their cowed positions and calmly say (where is my award for non-yelling excellence!?), “We will not be playing football in this house. Is that clear?”
Hunter: “Yes, Mom.”
Henry: “Yes, ma’am.”
There’s nothing like a “yes, ma’am” to rip my heart out, so I walk over to him and tell him I love him, kiss him on his cheek and rub his hair. Just then Mike gets wind of what’s happened and his face is a storm, but I say, “I did NOT lose it over THAT down THERE so you are not losing it up here,” and he inhales deeply but doesn’t lose it.
I announce: “I am out of here. I am gone! Goodbye, family. I am now 30 minutes late.”
Arden follows me downstairs, all reassurances, with maturity that makes me adore her to the point of cracking open.
“Mom, you’re just going to have the best time tonight. It’s going to be so great and you’ll just have the best time at your dinner.” She grabs me halfway around the waist, because I no longer have one, and kisses the baby belly before racing back up the stairs.
The girls text me not to stress, and for the first time maybe ever, I don’t. I just drive. I don’t drive like a bat out of hell, which is what I would normally do when I’m even five minutes late. I just drive. I recount to myself what didn’t happen: no one cut themselves. I didn’t yell. I didn’t cut myself. I didn’t shame/blame Mike for being late, or not being there when I had to deal with the mess. Somehow, grace got through.
In short, it wasn’t a disaster. It was a broken snow globe. And this might be the first time those two were not synonymous. Which, really, makes it a victory.