Monday, November 7, 2011

I have no idea what will happen next: April 20, 2003

This column is from an era when I was spending most of my time at home with my son -- something I never, ever thought would happen. Absolutely no way. And now I am the breadwinner for a family of four -- something else I never, ever thought would happen. Absolutely no way.

I have no clue what to expect from life; you don't, either. We do what we must when we must, and the rest is just making sure everyone has the most fun possible.

So what if no one vacuums; everybody is happy
    I left the grown-up world of full-time work two years ago this month, and my career has been stalled at the roadside so long it’s been stripped for parts.

    The adult in me cares about this, even worries about it, but her voice gets harder to hear all the time.

    She’s the woman who thought fingerpaint was gross. She got annoyed if there were bread crumbs in the butter tub or globs of peanut butter in the jelly jar.

    She washed her hair every single day and carried a pager. Her CDs were stored in alphabetical order.

    The grown-up me would have been scared out of her mind that a stack of envelopes with little plastic windows is piling up in the bill basket, and the check register shows $26.34 in the bank right this minute.

    I’m not knocking her, mind you. The grown-up me has her place, and she surfaces occasionally to keep things from spinning into total chaos. I am her, she is me, we know each other well and will probably not be apart indefinitely.

    But right now I have this precious, finite window into my own past, this opportunity to have a second childhood while I supervise my son’s first.

    I have never had — never will have — a better reason to play. In the last two years I have rediscovered the smell of Play-Doh, taken long walks for the sole purpose of finding pine cones, sat in sand boxes while my feet were methodically buried by busy toddlers, picnicked in my front yard even though the grass was wet, and learned to love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

    I have realized that it doesn’t matter if my son’s new shoes get utterly filthy on their first outing because he won’t fit into them for long anyway. And it turns out no one cares if I don’t vacuum the house for a month, or if dinner is a frozen pizza because we were in the yard throwing rocks into a puddle when I could have been inside cooking.

    My second childhood has been a lot more fun than my first, mostly because I’m spending it with my little boy, Jack, who will turn 3 next month.

    Jack is excellent company. He has never once suggested he’d be better off if I spent more time cleaning his room and less time throwing balls in the house. He never complains if I decide to take him to the park instead of grocery shopping. He doesn’t even notice if I wear the same clothes two days in a row.

    This is not what I envisioned when I decided to become a mother.

    I honestly thought I was going to do it all: work full time, keep the house clean, cook, play with my son, lose all that baby weight in six months. And I would be ever so happy and fulfilled by it all.     

    It took me about a year to figure out that it just wasn’t going to work that way, that it wasn’t even going to be close. At the end of that exhausting year — after I finished kicking myself for failing to be perfect in every way — I made a list of what really needed attention and what could slide. Jack was at the top, which made the rest of it look pretty trivial.

    Then I drew up a budget of what needed to be bought and what we could do without. Turns out all we really need is a dry place to sleep and food. These days, on 60 percent of our previous income, that’s pretty much all we buy.

    So the house is dusty and disorganized, and the bills are sometimes late. The cars are old, and no one washes them, and my dreams of doing it all and having it all are shot full of holes.     

    I have never had more fun.     

    I could not even begin to do this alone. My husband, to my endless amazement, never comes through the door after work asking what’s for dinner, or if I washed clothes so he’ll have something to wear tomorrow, or if I bought milk and eggs like I said I would. He doesn’t gripe about how broke we are, and he never asks me when I plan to get myself back into the world of paycheck-earning wives.

    He just wants to know one thing, and he asks Jack every evening: "Did you have fun today, buddy?"

    It took me two childhoods to realize that’s what matters most. 

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