Dust rides the saddle of the figurine horse in my windowsill. Spiders roam the recesses of the house, occasionally making blatant forays into plain sight, spinning webs that reach from lampshade to end table and that are impossible for even the most polite guest to ignore. The living room is littered with the skeletal parts of an assemble-it-yourself desk bought for a son’s birthday over a month ago. By the time it is assembled, school and homework will have ended for the year. Meals are such gourmet fare as French toast one night, scrambled eggs the next, and at least one cheap meal out each week. Preparing a meal “from scratch” is an accomplishment of monumental proportions. Nobody complains about not liking this or that, though, these days. They’re so glad to see anything faintly resembling a meal that they eat it on sight, no questions asked.
The dog isn’t walked, underwear doesn’t get washed on time (the solution: buy more) plants wither and die, carpets acquire a sheen of dog and cat hair, weeds flourish alongside last summer’s dead tomato plants, and dishes are done every three days. We are all still waiting for the housework fairy.
Parenting, too, has taken on a new slant. In our family, significant conversations are maneuvered into available time slots. There are four minutes each weekday morning when I can ask my high schooler how his classes are going while we’re on the way to his school. After he’s dropped off, I have another four minutes for discussion with my grade schooler as we whiz toward his school. At 3:00 each day, faithfully, the phone rings and I get the report on his day. When there is a major emotional crisis, it is dealt with courtesy of Ma Bell. Mentally, I am home each day at 3:00 Monday through Friday. Physically, I am stuck in an office.
Arriving home one afternoon with only an hour until my evening class, I find my living room filled by an old friend and her two teenaged boys. Could they stay for a few minutes while her oldest son finished his tennis match? Of course! I am delighted that she dropped by, but their unexpected company precludes any chance of that day’s laundry getting washed. With boys involved in baseball practice and a husband who coaches, nobody will be home to tend to the basics. The next morning brings the realization that one son will have to wear his baseball uniform dirty, and the other will have to borrow undies from his sibling. I am resentful that I have to choose between my laundry and my friend.
Other aspects of my new life are less than thrilling, too. Am I not now supposed to be a more scintillating conversationalist, with much more of interest to say than before? Frankly, I don’t think anyone is any more interested in how many times I had to retype a report than they were in how many times I had to change a diaper. And to be honest, when I do have something interesting to say, I am usually too tired to say it. There are many days when I am asleep on the couch in front of the television before it is even time for the kids to go to bed.
So this is the life of the career woman. While I cuddled warm, milky smelling babies and wondered what lay ahead, beyond those confining and lonely days of their infancy, I’m sure I would have given serious thought to returning to work sooner, had I known how glamorous it would be. Had I known that I would rise daily by 6:00 a.m. to assemble lunches and notes to teachers and bus drivers, to dispense food to the pets, provide clothing fresh from the dryer, put out the garbage, unload the dishwasher, create breakfast, agonize over a diminishing wardrobe, and depart by precisely 7:45 a.m. to avoid tardiness at school and work, I would have leaped at the chance to return to the world of work outside the home. Only it would have been in the field of time management, as an expert. Or perhaps as a physicist. Nobody understand the concepts of energy, matter, and gravitational pull more than a mother returning to work fulltime.