It would certainly be worth it to Tammy, who agonized about leaving the kids in daycare, as all moms must. It would be worth it to the kids, who would get to stay home with mom, instead of being shuttled around every day. And it would be worth it to me — what price can one put on peace of mind, knowing where your kids are and that they are being well cared for?
Even though we do live on a fairly tight budget and an unexpected expense can force us to play a kind of “bill roulette” — a fun game in which we decide which bill can wait to be paid double (and probably with a penalty) next month — we have never regretted our decision. It has worked out great for all of us, and we have had more lucky breaks than bad ones, all things considered.
A few weeks ago, as I approached the end of the academic year and the beginning of my seven-week hiatus from teaching college English, we made another decision. Tammy would get a part-time job, and I would stay home with the kids. This plan seemed to offer several advantages. We would be able to attack our credit card debt, Tammy would get a needed break from the pressures of spending virtually all of her waking hours in the company of toddlers, and I would get a chance to bond with the kids by spending more time alone with them.
Last week was the first full week of our new experiment, and I’m not sure any of us is fully aware of what hit us. Tammy worked four consecutive days, from 4 p.m. until nearly 11 p.m. This meant that she would have to make several major adjustments, ranging from reconciling herself to her first prolonged period away from the kids to the development of new sleep patterns. The kids, of course, had to adjust to life without mommy at dinner and bedtime — a cataclysm, given the major role she generally plays in these events.
I do not yet know how to talk about my own adjustments, so sweeping and profound are they. In my defense, I have made dinner for the family many times, and I regularly bathe, dress, brush teeth, read books, and tuck in one of our kids while Tammy handles the other one, so I know my way around a spaghetti with garlic bread dinner, or a tube of Desitin. I know The Cat in the Hat by heart. I know which drawer the pajamas are in. I know that Kayden will not drink water unless it is drawn from the kitchen sink, and that every night she will invent a new excuse to get out of bed at least once. I know it will be a battle to get her to finish her milk at dinner.
I know that Jack will fuss and squirm like a worm trying to avoid a fish hook if he is not permitted to feed himself, which would be dandy were it not for the troubling fact that he executes the old “spoon to mouth” maneuver with his tiny cargo of food intact on about one out of 10 occasions. The rest of the time, he spills it in his lap, or on the floor, and simply licks at the spoon like a cow on a salt block. He is inventing a new eating disorder — “motorexia,” the gradual starvation of a toddler who has not quite mastered the motor skills required to feed oneself satisfactorily, but who is, like his mother, too stubborn to admit he cannot do something himself and will not accept help from others.
I know all of these things, but I know them as discrete pieces of information, individual challenges that can be faced and conquered one at a time, in a thoughtful and measured way. What I do not know — and I cannot comprehend how I will ever know it — is how to deal with these issues when they are all woven together in one glorious tapestry of chaos. Everything must happen, yes, but must it happen all at once? Barking dogs, ringing phones, burning casseroles, visiting neighbors, crying children — so many verbs. Who knew there were so many verbs to contend with? And what is so bad about a little credit card debt? Isn’t that what bankruptcy is for?
Better run. Sounds like Kayden is trying to put her brother back in the dalmation costume. He hates when she does that.