Last Sunday sucked. Really, just completely sucked. It was one of those days when being a single mom feels like an interminable life sentence rather than a gentle joy.
I awoke Sunday morning to discover that my younger daughter and her sleepover friend had made “oobleck” in my kitchen at the break of dawn. If you’re not familiar with oobleck, it’s like a homemade goo…. somewhere between playdoh and glue. Its only ingredients are water, flour, and cornstarch. And it was all over my kitchen. In every nook and cranny, covering every horizontal and vertical surface — I actually had to ask them if they had purposefully smeared it over all the surfaces?? — and clogging my sink drain to the point that the disposal could only muster a weak whine when turned on.
I was furious. I am not a morning person on the best of days, but this kind of thing makes me crazy. It especially makes me crazy because I know that they would not have dared to do this at my ex-husband’s house. No, they only pull this kind of naughtiness at my house. So, the sleepover friend went home and my daughter went to her room to have a good, long think about why she’d created such a mess in our home.
I swallowed my frustration and hurt and sense of complete unfairness, put on my rubber work gloves, and started scrubbing. Nearly 90 minutes later, my kitchen smelled of vinegar (the only known means of removing oobleck from wooden cabinets, I learned), and I was reaching for my morning cup of tea.
But my girls and I never really recovered our day after that. We were all kind of exhausted by the emotional upheaval of the morning. I felt like my job was mostly to just get us all to bedtime without any more tears — theirs or mine.
And then, after dinner, James called. Our conversation went something like this:
J: I was wondering if your daughters would like to join me for ice cream this evening.
Me: You mean all of us?
J: No, I mean your daughters. And me.
Me: Really? Why?
J: Because you need a break.
And so that is how James came to take my daughters out for an ice cream cone and a stroll downtown while I stayed at home, drank chamomile tea and laid in my hammock staring at the sky. By the time they returned home nearly 2 hours later, we were all in much better spirits.
I was married to my ex-husband for 11 years, and 8 1/2 of those years we were parents. I do not recall — not once — him ever offering me a break when I was overwhelmed. I remember asking at times, and feeling that the help was reluctantly provided or that a trade could be made, but never did I feel that he was simply stepping in to carry my burden for a little while so that I could recover my balance. Never.
As I lay in the hammock that evening, I contemplated the small gift James had given me — and my girls. The gift of space and time to recover from our little emotional hiccup. The gift of feeling cared for and cared about. I examined that little gesture with awe and amazement, feeling certain that James would never — could never — understand how much it meant to me. Not as some grand declaration of love, but just as a small token of one person caring for another. And it was truly and exactly perfect.
And I wondered if this was what it felt like to be with someone who understood that parenting is not always a joy. It’s not always those special, tender moments that are made for Kodak pictures. Sometimes it’s annoying and frustrating and stressful, and — damn! — how wonderful it is to not have to pretend otherwise. Parenting is hard enough work without trying to be June Cleaver every single day.
The next day, when I saw him, I kissed him and thanked him. “What for?” he said. “I guess just for being you,” I said. “And for being different than what I’ve known before.”
But what I meant was, thank you for rescuing me.