Calling in back-up
Well, we survived a business trip. My husband’s, that is. Spencer went out-of-town this week, leaving me home with the toddler, and . . . well, I was dreading it. I’m so tired after work that I often fall asleep by the end of “Wheel of For- tune,” and Spence has been doing much of the heavy lifting — literally and metaphorical- ly — with Oliver these last few months. My fears were not unfounded. Though I love being a mother, the trenches of parenthood are no joke. Of course kids are sweet when strangers are around, ducking their head against your shoulder, giggling their baby giggles and offering picture-perfect grins. Acquain- tances will be overcome by all the cuteness, thinking of that dimpled smile for hours. Who knows? It could even sway them into entering the sticky, scribbled-on world of parent- ing, too. How tough could it be? Reality is washing your son’s blankets only to have him im- mediately dump oatmeal on one as it’s fresh from the dryer. Like many kids, one of Ollie’s blankies — five of them, similar but in different colors — goes with us everywhere, including daily to daycare. I try to grab a blanket on my way downstairs to avoid trekking back up there later.
It’s not that I’m lazy. I mean, I certainly have my moments, and I wouldn’t deny that I’ve made excuses to avoid having to climb stairs on roughly 1,876 different occasions. But I’m pregnant. I look it, I feel it. Simply walking often requires energy I don’t possess, and going upstairs is a chore that calls for planning and preparation.
Getting myself upstairs is one thing, but getting upstairs with 30-pound Oliver on my hip? That’s quite another. He can’t be left alone for the two min- utes it would take to go up there alone, so he must come along. It’s a process.
Back downstairs with clean blankie in hand, I turned around for 10-ish seconds to grab a bag from the kitchen. When I returned, there was no telltale patter of Oliver’s feet on hardwood. He’d disappeared from the living room. That usually means he’s in the library, where he likes to pull hardcovers from the shelves, but it was empty. So was the nearby office. And the foyer.
That’s when I heard it: a splishing, a splashing. Delight- ed laughing.
When you’re “baby-proofing” your house to guard against little hands getting into things they shouldn’t, there are some dangerous spots you just can’t predict — until your child has outmaneuvered you, of course. So it was with the bathroom.
We try to keep it sealed off. My son knows the bathroom is off-limits — which, of course, makes it all the more appeal- ing. Sometimes I remember to close the door. On Monday, I did not.
I ran in to find Oliver with his second blanket — still bearing that fresh-from-the-laundry scent — being shoved into the toilet.
I cried out with the exasper- ation of tired parents everywhere, and Ollie looked up with round eyes that suddenly filled with tears. I felt awful that I’d startled him from what was obviously an awesome activity, but . . . yeah. Toilet water. Toilet water everywhere.
At 7:30 a.m. before caffeine, I didn’t have the energy to clean up the mess. I shut the door. Look, I’m not proud of it, but we have to know are limits. Cleaning up toilet water was mine.
Pulling a kicking Oliver from the wreckage, I put him back on my hip as we struggled over the baby gate for the third blan- ket of the morning. I was start- ing to regret ever pushing for a two-story house, daydreaming of our old apartment and how “cramped” might actually feel like heaven these days.
On Tuesday, our first full night without Spencer at home, Ollie could see that my fellow referee was unavailable . . . and he was ready. With my defenses down, he fought to grab anything I was holding — tissues, the remote, ChapStick — from my hands. His typical 8:30 p.m. bedtime was stretched to 9, then 9:30, as he fought sleep and pushed the rope of my patience until it snapped.
Gone were my fantasies of an early bedtime, quiet house and TV — with its back- log episodes of “This is Us” — all to myself. After wrestling that monkey into bed for the third and final time, I was too exhausted to even think about putting on an hour-long show. Especially not one that would have me crying in minutes.
By Wednesday, I was begging my sister and brother-in-law to stop by for back-up. Ollie needed a playmate who wasn’t rotund and out-of-breath and ready to pass out by 7 p.m. They came, and they brought pizza.
When Katie and Eric are soon in the parenting trenches themselves, trust me: I won’t forget that. We’ll pay them back. Love means showing up . . . and the purest love usually involves cheese.