I pull up to the house and put the car in park. I open the gate, then the front door and immediately hear my children bustling upstairs with their grandparents. “Hey guys! I’m home!” I call to them, but before they answer I’m thrusting up the garage door and rolling the garbage cans from the street. I expertly pull the car in, not too far to the right, not too far to the left, not too far forward. Just right.
I step heavily up the stairs, checking my watch as I open the gate. 5:30pm. I left the house exactly 12 hours ago.
* * * * *
My daughter wiggles in my lap, whining that she wants to watch a movie. “What are we going to do right now?” I remind her. She rests her head on my hand and sulkily recites our plan: homework, then one, maybe two episodes of Daniel Tiger. “We may eat dinner between the episodes.” This possibility incites yet another meltdown and I hug her lean, sinewy body closer to mine, smoothing her hair out as I whisper in her ear.
My son, not yet one, sees our embrace from across the room and makes plain his desire for similar attention. I wave him over and he smiles, crawling full steam ahead. In a moment he’s pulled himself up at my knees.
“Family snuggle time!” I cheer. My daughter begrudgingly obliges, and I hoist her brother, balancing him behind her on my knees. He is thrilled to be included but he is inadvertently pulling her hair and she cries out in pain and frustration. Her wails set him off and suddenly they are both crying. I struggle to keep him on my knees and his hands out of his sister’s hair. How will I manage until their father gets home? Managing two kids can be so, so hard.
* * * * *
“I’m going to leave him in here, to watch Daniel Tiger,” I tell my husband, but it’s more a question than a statement. Is it okay? He’s not even one.
He nods in agreement.
I try to silence the voices reminding me that his sister never saw a lighted TV until she was two years old and at eleven months he’s already watched entire 22 minute programs. He deserves a TV free infancy too! A snarky voice chides. Oh he’ll be fine, it’s only one episode! another pleads. She’s clearly the one who has to start the laundry.
Glancing back as I haul cloth diapers down the stairs I see my son transfixed, his cherub face bathed in the glow of the screen.
* * * * *
“How about five more bites and then we’ll read the new Capitán Calzoncillos,” I bargain. “I bet you can finish your whole hot dog,” my husband counters.
I flash to the article I recently read about what all preschoolers need. “The power to control how much they eat,” was the first thing on the list. Are we hurting her by requesting these bites? What happens if she wakes up hungry, asking for food in the middle of the night? It’s happened before and I’m not doing that again. I don’t even think she’s old enough to make the connection between not eating and waking up hungry. I’m not sure what we should do.
“That was three!” my daughter smiles triumphantly, mouth full of half-chewed hot dog.
* * * * *
“This is the last chapter and then I’m turning off the light.” My daughter shifts her body, clearly agitated by the impending end of our story. Slowly, she turns her face and spits at me.
I turn off the iPad and lay it next to me, surprised by my calm. I knew the meltdown was coming and I’m almost thankful I have this opportunity to hold my ground; at least it will feel like I’m accomplishing something.
She promptly melts down.
I stay with her. I tell her I love her and I’ll be here when she wants a hug. She writhes and howls and kicks her long, strong legs, but is careful not to hit me. (This is progress.) She wants to read it now. It will be so long until tomorrow after school. She’ll be waiting and waiting for me.
“I’ll pick you up early,” I assure her.
“No! Don’t pick me up!” she screams.
“When do you want me to get you? How about right after you’re done on the playground?”
She nods her head and whimpers. “And then we can finish the story?”
“Then we can finish the whole book,” I promise.
After much shushing me and telling me not to talk, she lets me lie next to her and hold her close. I push my nose into her cheek and tell her I love her. She sighs.
We pull up the covers and perform our bedtime rituals. I realize she hasn’t gone to the bathroom yet but she assures me she’ll call me when she’s ready, as she always does.
Ten minutes later, when I go to check on her, she is fast asleep. It’s only 8:35pm and she’s usually not down before 10pm. I worry that she didn’t pee before she fell asleep but I know there’s nothing I can do.
I close her door quietly behind me and trudge downstairs to deal with the laundry.
Would you share a vignette with me?