One morning last fall, I dragged my toddler across the kitchen floor while he gripped fistfuls of my pants—he pulled them halfway down my thighs before I peeled him off like a tick.
“Mom! Your underwear is showing again!” my Kindergartener yelled helpfully.
It was a rough week.
Then my parents arrived for a long weekend, and the cacophony only grew, interrupting my jazzy mom routine.
My kids sorted through my mother’s bags, looking for gifts and her not-so secret stash of peanut M&Ms. No one wanted to brush their teeth; who had time for that when Grandpa was on his hands and knees in the basement, giving free donkey rides?
My parents expend so much energy entertaining my kids in ways that I never have time for that they get the grandparent munchies. They always bring their own snacks, in a cooler. On the plane. I call it, “The Blue-Ice Barf Bag.” They usually haul things like sliced lunchmeat and cut vegetables in little room-temp baggies that arrive at my house smelling more like themselves than any of us should.
Watching my mother unpack, I felt like I was cataloging the Saturday meal for the Very Hungry Caterpillar: one bag of pink headless shrimp, one pile of soggy French beans, and one floppy gallon of cauliflower. These half-dead stowaways got transferred to their own section of my refrigerator, also known as “The Pit.”
For lunch one day, my Dad, known in my house as, Hey, Donkey!, grabbed a stack of sliced turkey in his bare hand and plopped down on my vegetarian sofa.
“Dad?! Can I get you a napkin?”
That weekend, my parents tagged along on our family photo shoot at a nearby farm. My mother pulled out her own camera that rarely functions properly—none of her cameras ever have—and stood in front of my friend, the real photographer.
“MOM! GET OUT OF THE PICTURES!” I yelled angrily, and my husband soured.
My mother tiptoed backward and motioned at my father to do something to make everyone smile.
My daughter was darting after the downy, immature chickens maniacally, trying to pick them up and cuddle them for the picture. I was shooing the hens away so they wouldn’t poop on my boots.
Dad found a dead tree lying on the ground and straddled it. The kids perked up when he rode it like a horse, but my husband and I were still bickering about whether or not I was being bossy.
So Dad abandoned Tito and took the birch for what it really looked like: a giant penis.
He started gesticulating wildly, as though his lichen-covered log had popped out of his pants by surprise. My older children bent over laughing and for once, my toddler cooperated.
When I was a child and my own grandparents visited, they smelled like coffee and peanut butter sandwiches, aftershave and lipstick. Gran’ma played showtunes on the piano so I didn’t have to practice myself, and when she caught me fibbing about my weekend whereabouts, she never told my mom.
Grandparents open up a valve and let the air out, breaking up the bore of family routine that we rely on, but that easily becomes oppressive.
They may blast through the door with seven dog-eared issues of The New Yorker that we already have, iPads that need updating, and a cooler full of refrigerator rejects, but my parents arrive and I get to put my crazy on pause and actually enjoy my kids. This gives all of us the spit shine we need to glow again.