Before I had children, I assumed I would never let my car or my house descend into the sticky-wrapper corndog mess in which I’d found my parent-friends living. As in many other matters, it wasn’t long before reality mowed me down and cut my hair without asking.
I’d like to make my children sit and eat at the table each night like good little 1950s TV characters who don’t use their shirts as napkins, but we’re frequently too busy for that.
Besides, strapping my kids down with seatbelts is the only way to get them to eat fast.
We have plenty of leisurely Sunday dinners during which my kids get to poke at their roasted cauliflower and ask earnest, thoughtful questions like, “Mom, why didn’t you name me ‘Lightening Bolt’?”
But if I need them to eat and run, I do it in the car.
While I’m plotting paltry shortcuts and circling roundabouts on two wheels, my kids are usually jostling around in the back of the car, trying to keep their water bottles upright and shouting things like,
“Mom, I kind of barfed in my mouth!”
No big deal.
Does it really matter if you add one more layer to the stench of bodily borscht that wanders out of the car when the doors open?
My gorgeous, regal, and incontinent Rhodesian Ridgeback, Tenzin, has a bottomless bladder despite the row of maple saplings he wilts each morning. He dribbles more than my 1930s bath fixtures. He does this all over my minivan floor mats. And no, you can’t crank a 10 year-old dog’s junk closed; my toddler has tried that with kitchen tongs.
That same toddler blew wet bubbles out of his fish lips for fifteen minutes in the car the other day until he was covered, chin to nipples, in warm spit. I turned to hand him a napkin and my breath mint slid down my throat and into my tonsils—I hacked it out onto the dashboard and kept the napkin for myself. My older two discard banana peels in the wayback as if they were flicking fuzz off their sleeves. They wipe their nostril treasure on the windows where it hardens into salt-flavored Sun Chips.
If I allow myself to try and stop this, it turns me into the type of mom I don’t want to be. But last week, when I found a fraternity of meat-eating fruit flies living in my cup holders, I realized it had gone too far.
I had my car professionally cleaned, and I felt celestial for thirty seconds. I sped away from those car wash guys and my fifty bucks like I’d already proven I could live without all the apple cores, loose Lego heads, smashed Craisins, and things that look like pebbles but are not.
I got home just as my cleaning friend was finishing up my floors. I slipped my shoes off and walked around on my toes, reveling in the perfectitude that was my house, my car, and surely something about my life itself:
Could I suddenly listen to my friends, my children, and my spouse as much as I should or wanted?
Would I no longer say inappropriate things in front of my mother or inadvertently insult my in-laws?
I felt odd and weak, clutching guiltily for something I knew I couldn’t have.
Five minutes later, my children arrived home from school.
I held my breath.
They walked into the foyer, inhaled two little lungfuls of natural cleaning fumes (“IT SMELLS AWESOME IN HERE!”), and dropped their backpacks and jackets in a heap. Then they bowled their shoes back toward the front door, leaving a lane of sidewalk dirt that would inevitably make its way between my bedsheets.
“DUDE!” I said loudly, pointing wildly to the twaddle at my feet.
“Ahh. Sorry, Mom,” my daughter said sheepishly, as she picked up her jacket and flung it down the stairs toward the mudroom we never use. That was better. And that would have to be okay.