I have this friend who, when we had met up after a while apart, as soon as pleasantries were over, would lean in close, look me fixedly in the eye and ask, “so…how are you, really?”
I was living a relatively untroubled life at the time so this always flustered me. I was fine…I think? No, I was. I was fine. Really! Totally fine. Anyway, it’s not a question that is designed for a positive answer, and I truly was fine. I wished he’d stop. These days I miss it. As you become a grown-up, the number of people who are willing to listen, really listen, when you need to get something off your chest becomes smaller every year. And when it’s a flu season and school holidays double-whammy, even I start to wish for more people around to chat to.
Parenting has its good weeks and its bad weeks. This week was rough. I’m a bit sick but not sick enough for Barns to take time off work. We are potty training one of the bubbies (attempt 3). She’s doing well with it this time but it’s spurred her into a sleep strike. We’re so tired. The kids are in a phase of intense sibling rivalry focused around my time and attention. I’m starting to feel like Dear Sugar’s decapitated head of a black-haired plastic princess. Barns is stressed about work, and, well, you get the picture.
Eventually things reach a crisis point. Last night I asked Barns to drain the soba noodles for dinner. He picked up the pot, took a look at the sink full of dirty dishes, and announced he was going to drain them in the garden. He returned some time later and set the empty pot down on the bench.
“It’s okay,” he said. “I’ll just make more.”
“What? What happened to them?”
“I lost them.”
“You… lost… them? Are you…are you okay?”
“I’m just hungry. I mean…it’s kind of funny, isn’t it? I’ll make some more. Let me fix it. ”
He looked at me with his big brown puppy-dog eyes. Poor tired bastard, I thought, and I did what any compassionate wife would have done and kicked him out of the kitchen. Later, fed, in bed, the children finally asleep, I asked him what had happened.
“Did you like, trip? And drop them? I still don’t get it.”
“No, I just got it wrong when I drained them. I made the gap too big. It was dark. When I looked in the pot, they were mostly gone. So I tried again and lost the rest of them.”
This is when I started to see the funny side. It was a while before I could talk again.
“It’s that mental image, you know. You standing there in the dark, calmly pouring the noodles on the ground. Twice!”
“On the path, actually. I was trying to kill weeds with the boiling water. I slipped on them later when I went to throw out that stock that went bad.”
I lost it again but eventually managed some sympathy.
“Oh, lovey. Are you really okay?”
“I think I would have done it even if I wasn’t this tired. You know how clumsy I am.”
I don’t even slightly believe that but I’ve decided to leave it there for now. I’ll also tackle Barnaby’s worrying belief that our garden can absorb any amount of kitchen waste on some other day.
And then last night was another bad night. Not as bad as some this week, but bad enough. We lay in bed next to each other this morning, as Nora’s whispering from her room became steadily more insistent, playing a familiar game of chicken. Whoever admits they are awake first on the weekends, by the unwritten laws of parenting, has to be the one to get up and deal with the shit show that is trying to make breakfast when the toddlers are tired.
I cracked first. “You know I was up in the night, right?!”
“You were up? You know I was up too?”
“I… did not know that.”
“So…we’re just lying here, each being cross with the other for not getting up now when we were the one who got up in the night?”
That about summed it up. In the end we both did breakfast. Then we made a phone call.
Some weeks, the bad ones, it’s only your love for your kids that gets you through, or other weeks it’s the support of your partner. Sometimes it’s just sheer tenacity, holding onto the knowledge that kids change in the blink of an eye and bad times don’t last. Today it’s our community. Thank god it’s Saturday! Barnaby’s brother’s family are babysitting while we sit in our favourite restaurant, ignoring each other and eating popcorn chicken. I’m writing this and Barns is lost in a book. When we pick our kids up later, nothing will be different except that we’ll be a bit lighter, which is all the difference in the world. We’ll finally be, well, fine. No, really.