I have a secret fantasy. No, it doesn't involve Eric Estrada, at least, not this one. (Hi dad! Grossed out yet?) This is the fantasy I've been nursing for over a month that I call What He'll Do While I'm Away. I'm leaving at the end of this week for five days in London. Five wonderful days that I'm very excited to have. And Dim will have five days off work to Do What I Do. At least, that's the plan.
Let me be frank: I know that my husband is a good, caring, and responsible father. What he lacks in experience with day-to-day issues like meal prep and proper Infant Tylenol doses he makes up for in hard work and responsibility. I have no fear leaving the kids in his care for five days straight. I have no doubt that they will be fed and breathing when I get home. I'm not worried a bit about their health and welfare.
Especially while my mother-in-law's around to bail him out.
Okay, I'm sorry. That's a cheap shot. I'm glad that she's around to help him out. And his in-laws, my parents, are more than willing to help out in my absence. But I want to share my fantasy with you.
He'll have the kids for five days straight. He'll make five breakfasts (actually, fifteen breakfasts, because the kids usually don't agree on one thing in the morning) five lunches, and five dinners. He will run ten loads of dishes through the dishwasher, two or three loads of diapers through the washer, and a minimum of four loads of laundry through as well.
He'll clean the kitchen fifteen times, more if popsicles are involved. He'll vacuum the downstairs rug three times, sweep the downstairs three times, and hopefully mop. He'll take the kids to swimming lessons, dance lessons, and the Greek Festival. They'll hang out with both sets of grandparents. He'll keep his temper, for the most part. He won't spank them to stay in bed, or yell at them for generating lint (I tell you, that downstairs rug MOLTS. I don't know how, but it generates lint in response to oxygen. That's why I vacuum the bastard every other day.) He'll bathe them, and put hair in ponytails, kiss boo-boos and read fifteen stories. Or likely, one story fifteen times. He'll change sheets, hang up wet towels, chase kids around the park, and minister to the whims of a teething toddler. He'll grocery shop, stick to a budget, fill the house with fresh, healthy food, and have children refuse to eat it. He'll arrange play dates and prepare meals from scratch and wash the dishes after everyone goes to sleep. He'll listen to NPR in the kitchen because it's the only chance he'll have that day to hear another adult's voice.
In other words, he'll do what I do - the thousand tiny and thankless tasks that I do day in and day out. They'll be no one around to see him work so hard. Any lint he vacuums will return by the end of the day. Washed dishes get dirty again, and kids continue to work on his last nerve even though he asked them so kindly not to drive him to a mental asylum. Clean clothes get shit smeared on them, literally and, yes, figuratively. The cat gets tortured, and occasionally pees on the bed in frustration. A house full of children is a house full of simultaneous creation and destruction. It's full of big bangs and black holes.
And he'll be at the center of it, trying to keep the chaos to a minimum and setting aside his desire to get away from it all in favor of scrubbing chocolate milk out of the carpet. Any progress he makes during the day will be undone by seven sharp.
He'll struggle. Patience is not his strong suit. But he'll be fine. The kids will be fine. But they will miss me. And I hope he will miss me. Because I hope he will gain a new appreciation for the things that I do that he doesn't know that I do. Sure, he understands at an armchair's distance that stay-at-home mothering is hard. But it's different in the trenches, when you're the one who has to buck up and keep the train running on time using only the strength of your own refusal to fail. Everyone understands that digging ditches is hard, but until the shovel is in your hand, you're not going to have a real appreciation for it.
And here's where the fantasy reaches its crescendo: the point at which it becomes fantastical: it's the part where I get home. Dim will be exhausted. He will put one hand on each of my shoulders, look me straight in the eye and say "My love, I had NO idea." I thought I did, but I really didn't. Damn, you're good at this. Thank you so much for what you do. I get it now. This is really difficult. I love my kids, but I can't WAIT to get back to work."
I want my time away to be a time of rest and rejuvenation for me, but I also want it to be a wakeup call for him. I want him to realize first hand that I'm doing a hell of a lot more than sitting on my duff and spending his money.
Of course, suenos, suenos son. Dreams are just dreams. He'll likely drop the kids off with my parents or with his mom, make use of the babysitter that he doesn't understand why I need. He'll likely use the excuse of "Well, I need to get to the office. That place won't run itself" or "She never showed me how the washer works so I guess it will have to wait until she gets back." I'll probably get home to a linty rug and dirty clothes and a sticky floor. Dim came home to a spotless house, happy well-behaved children, a hand-painted banner, and his favorite home-cooked meal. I hope I don't come home to a barren fridge, a sink full of dishes, and kids with pink handprints on their butts. I deserve a little more respect than that.
It's not fair for me to judge him ahead of time: I can't assume that he won't use the time to walk in my shoes for five days. Maybe he will. I hope he does. He's a good man with many strengths. He's a hard worker, feverishly dedicated to his children, responsible with money, and capable of putting up with a lot, even me. I'm lucky to be his wife, and I know it. I just hope the reverse is true. I hope he realizes how lucky he is - not to have a wife, but to have me as a wife. I'm not expendable, and I'm not interchangeable. I've seen other marriages, other children, and other houses, and I know how good I am.
I just hope that he reads this and realizes that I need him to recognize how hard what I do is. I need him to put one arm on each shoulder and thank me - a thank you of gratitude that a good and loving woman is responsible for the countless cogs in the gearbox of family life. The recognition that what I do doesn't earn a paycheck, but is valuable nonetheless. What I do has value. I have value. Not in dollar figures but in the lives of my husband and children.
So there's my fantasy, people. It doesn't involve a bubble bath and Poncherello. It involves a little genuine gratitude, some appreciation, and a little elbow grease.
And just in case, I wrote down the instructions for the washer.