Today was a full day and the kids were pretty wiped out. For me that’s exciting because it means maybe they’ll all crash pretty quickly, and it’s only after everyone else is asleep that I get to enjoy My Time. Yes, that’s with a capital MT. Sadly, it’s Saturday, and My Time tonight, like every other night since became a father, consists of a date with Microsoft Word. And that’s if I’m lucky. Because while going out for a beer is eternally preferable to sitting at home pecking away on the laptop, a quiet evening with a few pages in Times New Roman is infinitely better than dealing with kids who won’t sleep, and since tomorrow is Mother’s Day I’ll feel more obligated than usual to take the little girl off Mom’s hands until eleven or twelve or sometime around dawn.
My three-year-old boy won’t go to sleep by himself. I have to lay there with him until he’s unconscious. This is the by-product of my wife’s insistence that babies should not sleep alone, it’s too scary for them and they need the psychological comfort of knowing Mommy is always there. Well, now my son is extremely psychologically uncomfortable if I am not there to help him fall asleep. If he’s anything like his big brother I’ve got another two years of this crap. Then it’s the girl’s turn to be scared just like she’s been taught.
But like I said, after today they were totaled and I was able to slip away from my kid at 8:30 – a relatively early start to My Time.
It had turned chilly so I grabbed a pair of jeans from the closet along with a pair of socks – this was enough to make my kid start this eyes-still-closed whinnying routine and I had to lay back down next to him to nudge him back to the la-la land side of the fence. After another escape I stepped into the hall, stoked to go make myself a little coffee and get some writing done, only to find the kids’ dirty clothes all over the floor along with a wet diaper and an empty pack of wet wipes. Into the bathroom to rinse the diaper (we use the cloth version as much as possible – not without its undesirable consequences) and I find more dirty clothes. I also find the floor is wet and I have to get new socks.
I turn off the hall light – my wife has also trained the kids to be terrified of the dark – grab the dirty clothes and go downstairs where I immediately step on a plastic dragon. On my desk is the mail I hadn’t yet gotten to; among the junk is one of those bulk advertisement things disguised as a local newspaper. In it I find out there’s a summertime running race series in the area. I’d do it if I hadn’t already told my kids I’d be taking them camping in July. Maybe they’ll forget but I doubt it. Their memory lapses seem to be of the short-term variety. ‘Go brush your teeth.’ ‘Okay.’ (Ten seconds later) ‘Go brush…’ (Count to ten) ‘Hey what did I just say?...’ ‘Umm…time for a story?’
Into the kitchen I dump the clothes on the floor next to the basement door; I’ll bring them down later. I also figure on cleaning up later the plastic Easter eggs my little girl has taken out of the box by the basement door and tossed all over the floor again. I remind myself to take them down to the basement next time I go down and don’t have my arms full of dirty clothes. How long ago was Easter?
Along with the dirty clothes I’d dropped the junk mail and the empty pack of wet wipes on the floor. I fish it all out from the kids’ t-shirts and socks and drop it on the floor over by the back door, to go in the recycling bucket next time I go out to the porch. In the process I step on a toy piano.
On the counter are the leftovers from dinner, which have to go in the fridge. There are also two Lightning McQueen cups, a mug, a thermos and a Thomas the Tank Engine sippy cup, all with tea in them. Plus there’s still some tea in the pot my wife used to brew it all. I grab the mail and wet wipes pack off the floor and step out onto the porch. The paper and plastic go in their rightful bins, I grab a large plastic bottle for all the tea, and then I step in a puddle where the rain from today had leaked through the porch roof. Then I step on a soccer cleat. Two cleats and two shin guards go into my son’s soccer bag which gets tossed out of the way, back inside socks off leftovers in fridge tea in plastic bottle cups mug thermos sippy pot all rinsed and balanced on all the other dishes already washed and drying bottle of tea in fridge and fish out the plastic egg I just kicked under said fridge.
Time to fire up the coffee maker, which I meant to do after pulling on my jeans and my first pair of socks a half hour ago. Then upstairs for a fresh air of socks.
In the kitchen cabinet where the coffee filters are my wife has put a bag of brown sugar. Right on top of everything, which includes an assortment of spices, unidentifiable powder in Ziplocs and some Gerber mush called ‘Vegetable Risotto with Cheese.’ I should eat so well. A little rearranging and things make more sense in there, and I go to put the filter in the coffee machine when I see a bunch of ants crawling around on the machine and the countertop.
We had an ant problem last Fall, until our neighbors gave us this little plastic box with stuff we would do well not to touch to our bare skin. We put it under the sink behind the garbage can and continued killing ants on the countertop. But by the time Winter came and the ants had become a distant memory. Until tonight. So I go about smushing them one by one with my fingertips and flicking their sorry carcasses into the sink and I make some coffee – and in the process see more ants on the windowsill, creeping around these little plastic cups half filled with salt and pepper – remnants of a project my son did at school several months ago. None of us, I bet, can say what the project was about or why these little cups are still on the sill. There’s also a tiny Ziploc with a brick of salt, along with a ceramic thing stuffed with rubber bands and twist-ties. Next to this is a tiny toy engine, probably one of Thomas’s friends. It’s a pain trying to kill the ants with all this other crap in the way, I’d toss the lot of it into the trash if I weren’t such a nice guy. I go for the coffee; there’s a coupon on top of the canister – for Dunkin Donuts. There are also two more ants.
Coffee’s brewing and I get the laptop set up on the dining room table. Tonight I figure I’ll work on the Cambodia travel book. I can hear the wife snoring, which to me is a welcome sound. It means she’s asleep. She’s perpetually tired since she has to sleep next to our one-year-old girl so the little thing doesn’t grow up with a sub-conscious fear of abandonment. All night, every time either of them moves the other one wakes up. The silver lining to all of this is there seems little likelihood of my wife and I having any more children.
The dining room table needs a wipe-down. Crumbs and invisible but very real sticky spots where my boys sit. I grab a cloth from the kitchen and get into another ant-killing session. They seem to be coming out of a crack in between the window sill and the wall. They’re smart, it seems. As soon as I smush one they all start scrambling for cover. I decide to give the counter around the sink a wipe-down; lots of crumbs around. On one side of the sink there’s a bottle of kids’ vitamins (first ingredient: sugar); a jam jar, empty and clean inside and dusty on top; a heavy glass beer stein from the Hofbrauhaus in Munich which we use to hold our big utensils; and a wicker basket with fruit and random pieces of hard candy from Halloween. Across the way is a bottle of canola oil that I find is coated with a greasy film. Wash bottle, wash hands, move stuff and wipe counter and move stuff back, kill more ants, wipe down the table, rinse cloth wash hands kill ant coffee’s ready pour a cup.
As I settle down to the table I hear footsteps. ‘I try to close my eyes but I just can’t sleep,’ my older son says as I watch him stumble into My Time. I suggest reading a book since that always put me right to sleep – usually in the library in college. He sets up shop at his desk, also in the dining room, while I hit the floor because I’m way behind on my pushup count for the day. One minute and fifty reps later I’m all warm and I think maybe I should go put on some shorts. ‘I’m hungry,’ my kid says.
Lots of leftovers in the fridge but nothing appealing for ten at night so I give him the peaches my little girl didn’t finish this afternoon. There’s not much left but I give them to him anyway and cross my fingers he's not so much hungry as bored. Then go back into the kitchen to kill more ants and fish out the plastic egg I kicked under the fridge a minute ago. Back in the dining room I hear my wife talking upstairs, probably to our daughter. I hold my breath. Before I pass out the talking stops.
‘Where’s your phone?’ my son asks. ‘On my desk,’ I say. I know what he wants – to check the world clock to see what time it is in Japan. He sits down across from me and starts fiddling, then without looking up says, in front of the dish that is suddenly, magically devoid of peaches, ‘I’m still hungry.’
We’ve got some nan in the fridge. ‘Ooh yeah, nan!’ ‘Toasted?’ ‘Ooh, yeah!’ While it’s toasting (half a piece for now) I clean the crumbs off the catch tray. No ants in the toaster yet. More on the sill. Does it occur to these ants that their buddies who venture out from that crack in the wall aren’t coming back? I really want these ants to be smart enough to understand this. A few have gotten up onto the rim of the tall skinny vase with the fake flowers that are always in the way when I’m trying to make coffee. I reach behind the trash can under the sink and pull out that little plastic ant killer thing from our neighbors. It looks dry as the crumbs on the catch tray but I put it up on the sill anyway. The trash, I see, needs to go out.
I step back into the kitchen; my son is standing there with the spoon from his peaches. ‘I want to wash this.’ What a dude. ‘So go ahead,’ I say in a way that, out of anyone else’s mouth, would make them sound like a real asshole. ‘I can’t reach the water.’ ‘Then go wash it in the bathroom!’ The ants, it seems, are getting to me.
‘Nan’s ready,’ I tell him. Then I get to wiping down more of the counter – under the toaster, behind the toaster, under and behind the rice cooker, under and around two kiddie snack containers, one with old peanuts, one with older some other kind of nuts. And there’s a small plastic dish my wife wants to keep for something or other, or so she said two months ago. I swear no matter when I finally throw it away she’ll ask me where it is thirty minutes later. I can’t hear her snoring, but she’s not talking anymore up there either. The hall light is on again for some reason. My son comes back out of the bathroom, holding up his clean spoon.
‘Where can I put it?’
‘How about where we keep the spoons?!’
I hand him his nan on a plate and follow him back into the dining room. Coffee’s cold. My laptop is still closed, but it’s making noise like it’s working on something. Like overheating. My son picks up my phone and flips it open. ‘How do I look for something on google?’ (You don’t, I want to say.) ‘What do you want to look for?’ ‘What is dirt made of?’ Good question, actually. I get trapped walking him through the typing and searching process, then he needs help getting to a place with the answer to his question, then doesn’t know to scroll down to the article, then gets hung up on a word like phosphates or something and closes my phone.
I hear the hot water heater kicking in. Which reminds me I forgot to shut off the hot water heater. I grab the dirty clothes and head down to the basement where I step on a pirate.
Back upstairs I see my son has inhaled his nan. ‘Can I have the other half?’ Back to the toaster, then wash his dish from the peaches (my son, apparently, only does spoons), kill more ants, pour more coffee, sit down. My son has my phone again. ‘What’s Sydney?’ I have a mouth full of tepid coffee. ‘What’s Sydney?’ I swallow. ‘What’s Sydney?’ ‘It’s a city in Australia. We went there, remember?’ ‘No.’
I hear my little girl crying. Fortunately it doesn’t last. What does it say about your life when you actually want to hear your wife snoring? Suddenly the CD thing on my laptop pops open. My laptop itself is still closed. There’s no CD in the CD thing. Someone, obviously, has it in for me.
The toaster dings, my son goes to get it but then says he’s scared he’ll burn himself taking it out. I’m mumbling to myself on my way to the toaster. Christ you’re not going to burn yourself as long as you’re careful. I take his nan out and tear myself off a piece and burn my fingers on the scorching inside part.
Give the kid his toasted nan. Put the rest of it back in the fridge. Wipe the counter. Kill more ants. Step on the piano again. ‘Dad, where is the Bronx?...’
Lately I’ve been telling myself I’m going to start going to bed earlier and wake up early before the kids are up, to try to do my writing then. Who knows? I think. Maybe I’ll get more done. Maybe tomorrow morning I’ll double down, bring the laptop to Dunkin Donuts for some guaranteed isolation (if I can remember to conveniently forget my cell phone) and then use that coupon to get away on the cheap for a nice Mother’s Day breakfast.
But who am I kidding? I’ve always been a night person. I’ll always be a night person. That’s fine, I’m not interested in my kids developing a fear of a healthy breakfast. And I’ve got a coffee maker. I just wish I could have My Nights back.
‘Dad, I’m still not tired…’