Sometimes I make parenting decisions that make me wonder whether some day I might find myself saying to the two year old, “Hey, buddy, would you just grab that running chain saw and bring it over here? No, it’s the one next to the super sharp knife.” Last night’s questionable decision was suggesting that we eat dinner in the family room so the kids could continue to watch the football game. (My judgment may have been a bit clouded by the fact that the kids were actually interested in a football game. It may have been clouded by the fact that I was interested in the football game. Most likely it was clouded by the scent of porky deliciousness in the air.) Approximately 168 iterations of “Stop watching TV and eat!” and 33 floor-bound pieces of carnitas and corn later, it was clear this was a questionable parenting decision. (OK, it was clear long before that.) It may not be as bad as that whole running chainsaw thing, but it’s a step closer than I’d like to be.
After many days and far, far too much couch time, tomorrow marks the official end of my holiday season. I face the thought of shaking off the remnants of two weeks of vacation and putting on my big boy clothes with mixed emotions. There is that part of me that would like to win the lottery and spend each of the rest of my days with family and friends lounging and having fun. Sadly, that part of me (as well as the rest), in addition to rarely playing the lottery (which I understand actually makes my chances of winning lower, albeit only slightly, than those who do), hails from a family that lacked the forethought to amass billions (or even millions) of dollars. So, it is back to work I go.
Then there is that other part of me. The part that is happy to be returning to the office, for I simply cannot say, “Stop hitting your sister!” or “Get off the table!!” or “Get your fork out of your hair!!!” one more time. That part of me is, at times, very, very small. Like when I am with one of my children cuddled up close on the couch watching A Christmas Carol or sharing a hot chocolate and some Christmas cookies. And then, there are the other times — those times when I am counting to three for the umpteenth time or mopping up that full cup of milk that inexplicably got knocked over after my eldest failed (despite being told repeatedly) to stop recreating The Nutcracker at the dinner table — when I simply must go back to work.
The office is a safe haven — replete with bottomless cups of coffee, ample time for mindless web surfing, actual adult conversations, and meals that rarely involve a prayer to “just make it end.” My wife has no such safe haven. She has shown up at work seven days a week, 13+ hours a day, for the last three years and change. No sick days. No vacations. All of this by choice (a choice she makes many times a day, no matter how many times she has said, “Why are you putting that in his ear?!?”). I certainly didn’t ask her to stay home with the kids, though I’m grateful every day that she does. She has other options. She could return to her successful legal practice in a heartbeat, yet she doesn’t. She, a Princeton grad with far more intellectual horsepower and potential than her husband, has happily showed up for work on Project Stop Doing That every day. Frankly, and I say this without an ounce of insincerity, I don’t know how she does it.
There seems to be a tendency in households where one spouse “works” (that is, goes to an office, factory, construction site, etc.) and the other “stays home” (which is a misnomer of the grandest variety) to undervalue the contribution of the professional caregiver. Or, rather, to overvalue the contribution of the one “bringing home the bacon.” I sincerely hope that my wife knows how much I value her — how much I respect all the work (and it is work) she does every day.
So, if you, like me, are leaving a loved one behind with the Finger In The Nose set, consider keeping the whining to a minimum. Or, if you, like my wife, are sending a loved one off to work, remember that it isn’t all fun and games for us either — we are, after all, leaving behind what we love most in the world, even if only for a few hours. And you might think about “whipping up” one last family breakfast, if only to give us one more chance to yell, “Get that out of your nose!!!” before we head back to work.