I remember once when we lived in Texas—long before you were born—talking with an acquaintance of ours who stayed at home with her young daughter and, at the time, was expecting her second. I was curious about what sorts of activities she did with her daughter during the day, but then I made the mistake of trying to ask about it. In fact, I worded it in about the worst way possible: “So, what do you do all day?” I asked.
I cringe now, remembering how I felt when I said it, realizing how awful it sounded and knowing I couldn’t take it back or reword it once it was out there, hanging in the air awkwardly.
What do you do all day?
Granted, I didn’t mean the question the way it sounded—I wasn’t accusatory or incredulous but rather seriously curious about what sorts of fun things her daughter enjoyed doing—but the truth is that I had no idea what it meant to stay home and take care of children. I had no idea what it took to keep small human beings from killing themselves, which of course is the minimum required, and certainly no idea what it took to be a good, attentive parent.
I had no idea how hard it was to do even the most basic of tasks while caring for young children. Everything is magnified to the nth degree.
I am now, of course, more than aware. Trust me.
Let me tell you a story.
This morning I decided just before breakfast, around 8 am, that we would go to the food co-op in Lexington and then be back for lunch, because I had a meeting at the bank at 1 pm.
Now, I know enough not to overschedule—one small accomplishment for the day is quite enough, and going to a single store is often that one small accomplishment.
So, we eat breakfast.
Then I get the toddler dressed. Put a ponytail in her hair.
Then I remember that we have company coming in to town tonight so I better strip the bed upstairs and check on the state of that bathroom. I patiently help the toddler up the steps. Stripping the bed involves letting the preschooler help take the pillowcases off. Keeping the toddler off the bed. Keeping the toddler from going down the stairs by herself. Keeping the toddler from getting into my art collages across the hall in the art room. Then I go downstairs holding the toddler’s hand and the sheets in my other arm, dropping a pillowcase, waiting for preschooler to come back up the stairs to get it.
Then I gather up some towels to put in the laundry with the guest sheets, and we all go down the stairs to the basement to get it started. You take turns pretending to crawl on the floor and “hide” under a chair that is inexplicably in the laundry room. I convince you we do not have time to build a tent in the TV room. I check the dryer—before breakfast, your dad had already started a load. It’s still wet in there after one full cycle, so I start the dryer again. The dryer repairman is coming tomorrow.
I start the washing machine with the sheets and towels. We go back up to the main floor, slow step by slow step.
Then I remember that the store I’m going to has glass recycling, which we don’t have in our town, so I load all three bins of recycling into the back of our car. I’m pretty proud of myself for remembering to do this. I figuratively pat myself on the back.
Then the toddler needs a diaper change, which reminds me that it is garbage day and I need to take the stinky bag out to the curb, where the garbage can is already sitting. I remember that the kitchen trash is also full, as is our downstairs bathroom trash. I take all the trash out.
Then I realize I still haven’t gotten myself dressed for the day, so I do so, deciding that short sleeves and flip-flops are adequate because it’s drizzly but will probably warm up by the time we get to the store. And I hate to deal with jackets while we’re at a store. I spritz myself with perfume instead of showering and put some eye makeup on.
I remember that it will need to be a fast lunch before my 1 pm meeting, so I start water boiling on the stove to hardboil some eggs. Both of you love egg salad. I silently applaud myself again for thinking ahead.
Then I get the preschooler dressed, and we have a discussion about what matches and what doesn’t. Let her decide about her hair. Find a matching headband.
Then I pack snacks for the drive down in the car, and add sippy cups of water, and make sure we have a change of clothes for both girls, in case of motion sickness, as has happened before on this drive.
I remember to put the eggs in the pot of boiling water.
I become aware that it is taking a ridiculous amount of time to get ourselves ready for the store. I decide I will write a letter to you about it later today, and so begin to catalog in my mind all the tasks that I’m doing and you’re doing and how funny this might seem tonight as I relive it.
I remember that we need some bulk items at the store, so I take the canisters for flour and sugar and put them out in the car. Go me. I remember to grab the cloth bags. I make a list of items we need to get at the store, so I don’t forget while we’re there.
Then I run back down to the basement to check the dryer—this time, it’s dry—so I empty the dryer and put the wet sheets load in and start it again. Run back upstairs.
I move the eggs off the heat.
Both girls get shoes on; the toddler also gets leggings. The preschooler goes to the bathroom one more time.
It is now 10:15, more than two hours after I decided to go to the store, and we are ready to go.
I usher you out onto the deck in front of me, grab my phone and purse and diaper bag, and pull the locked door shut behind me, tugging hard to hear the latch click… and at that exact moment I realize the keys are still inside the house. I look at the car helplessly, and then raise my hand to shield my eyes so I can see through our glass back door. The keys are hanging right inside the door. On the hook. Where they belong.I push on the door, just to check, but it’s locked. Well-locked.
Your dad is in his executive cabinet meeting, so I try calling your babysitter, who has a spare key to the house, and her phone goes to voicemail twice. I realize for the first time just how cold it is outside, considering none of us is wearing a jacket. It’s in the low forties. It isn’t drizzling, but everything is still wet. I walk us over to our friends’ house, just around the block from us. They have a keypad lock on their back door, and I know we can get inside and be warm there, while we wait to get in touch with someone.
At their house, I take your wet shoes off, give you your car snacks and waters, and go find a charger for my phone, which is compatible with theirs. I plug it in and let you watch Dinosaur Train for a few minutes, mooching their wifi.
I get a call from your sitter and find out that she has the key but can’t get to us because it is the first day of class at the seminary—can we get to her down on campus, about a mile away? Yes, we can.
I pack us all up again, and we walk back to our house, get the double stroller out of the shed, the double-thick outdoor blanket from the back of the car to bundle you up, and head down.
I’m still in short sleeves and flip-flops, pushing seventy pounds of child in a double stroller, but we’re making progress, I think. Everyone I pass is bundled up in a hoody or winter jacket. I make it to campus and get the key, about the same time I admit that there is no longer time to get home, get in the car, and drive to Lexington and still be back for my 1 pm meeting. So instead I promise you a cupcake from a bakery up on Main Street, as a reward for being so good and noncomplaining all morning.
The bakery is closed.
I try to go inside one of my favorite boutiques in order to get us warmed up for a few minutes and the double stroller doesn’t fit through the historic building’s door.
So I truck it home, now having gotten more than a day’s workout in, though still incredibly cold, and by this time, you’re disappointed you aren’t getting a cupcake and also begin whining that you’re cold.
We make it home, and I splurge and let you drink some homemade cocoa while watching more Dinosaur Train. You spill it on your shirt and pants.
I make lunch–egg salad–and then begin the process of getting you ready for quiet time, changing diapers, getting the preschooler’s bedtime friends out of the room as well as her clock that lights up, and getting her a clean outfit. I put her cocoa-covered clothes in the sink and wash them out. Just before laying the toddler down in her crib, I happen to check my phone and see a text from your dad. Are you coming to the bank?
It is 1:05. And I’ve forgotten about the meeting.
It’s only a few miles away, so I holler to round you up, attempting the impossible task of rushing you, and the toddler indicates that she has yet another dirty diaper in need of changing. I change it. We get in the car. We make it there at 1:15.
That is a day in the life, girls. A day in the life.
What do I do all day?
Well, let me tell you…