In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have trusted directions given by my six-year-old neighbor.
The little guy was over yesterday to play ping pong and Minecraft with my youngest, but he had to go home, he said, to help his father, a local contractor, prepare for a fireworks show. I thought he said the show was that night, but maybe he didn’t and I just assumed it. In any case, I kept the little ones out past bedtime, loaded the van up with lawn chairs and water bottles, and showed up the the park at dusk to find just one other person in the parking lot.
Above, fireworks, which we will see maybe next week?
She was alone in her own minivan, doing something with her phone. My husband, irritated once again with my failure to double check details, insisted on asking her where the fireworks were if they weren’t here, like we thought they would be. Recognizing the situation for what it was, I begged him not to interrupt her, but my dear husband has that Midwestern sensibility that assumes everyone loves to be helpful just as much as you do, so he (to my horror) signaled for her to roll down her window. Unless I were fleeing from an attacker and wasn’t sure I could outrun him, I would never, ever interrupt a woman on her own.
She rolled down her window sheepishly. “Do you know where the fireworks are supposed to be?” he asked.
“No,” she admitted. “I’m just sitting here, playing a game on my phone.”
They both rolled up their windows; she returned to her game, and we left the park with a vanful of crying children. My husband noted that it was weird that this women was at the park, in her van, playing a game on her phone by herself.
I didn’t tell him, but of course I’ve been there, and I’m fairly sure that most mothers have been, too. Maybe it’s not Candy Crush or Clash Royale or That Dragon, Cancer. Maybe it’s Celebitchy or TMZ, or maybe it’s my two favorite Twitter feeds: Los Feliz Daycare (“Incident report: Helper Pat ‘stole Nola’s nose’ which led to an explosive, stevia-fueled “My Imaginary Body Is Still My Body” think piece.”) and KimKierkegaardashian (“Try on a high-waisted swimsuit. See if it conceals your despair.”) Maybe it’s FB stalking your high school crush, reassuring yourself that it could be so much worse: you could still be living in your hometown, raising children who look like that guy, who turned out so much less handsome than you thought he would, working a MLM scheme to subsidize your salary as a part-time receptionist at your in-laws’ drywall business. (If a review of that crush’s life outcomes doesn’t perk you up, just keep going down the list. You will eventually find someone who would have ruined your life more than the spouse you chose and the children he gave you.)
Hiding at the park is just one way to do it, but we do it all the time. We pick the long line at checkout. [Checker: “Ma’am, aisle 3 is open.” Me (not looking up from the People I’m not going to buy): “I’m fine. Just fine!”] We put the gas cap back on and walk the long way around the car before we get back in, just to avoid the chaos within for a few more seconds. We push the grocery cart back to cart corral slowly, and we pick up a few extra carts, floating in the parking lot, “to be a good citizen,” but let’s get real: those children won’t roast in the van if I take an extra 45 seconds in returning, and I can see them, safely buckled in, from where I am. We lock the bathroom door and turn on an app that sounds like a shower, then try on all our old lipsticks, remembering the occasions for which we bought each, none of which involved children.
Not in every family, but in many, fathers can hide in plain sight because, if Mother is around, children ask her first anyway. (Which reminds me of that joke: “All I want for Mother’s Day is for the children to remember that their father can get them a drink of milk, too.”) We are special and needed and very loved. And we are sometimes tired.
To the woman in the green van at Friendship Park last night at 9:15, who put her children in bed, then pretended to run out to pick up the forgotten gallon of milk so that any requests for another story or another glass of water or another bedtime song could be fulfilled by someone else: Your secret is safe with me. Play on.
***UPDATED to address the concern/condemnation (rising to the level that I “don’t deserve to have children”) that some folks have expressed about this post: I clearly love my family, as a review of my writing here and elsewhere indicates.
I also recognize that, broadly speaking, women do more of the work in a family than men do and that being married increases the amount of work a woman does and decreases the amount a man does. Women parent on average 2 hours, 10 minutes per day, while men average just one hour, 35 minutes per day. And though they work in paid employment for the same number of hours per week, working fathers have about three more hours per week of relaxation time (for fun, hobbies, or being left alone) than working mothers. While some families never fit this trend and most families probably deviate it from it in some ways at some times, it’s still the typical experience for women.
But to be clear: no, my having children didn’t actually ruin my life, though it did ruin my waistline, my shoe size, and, just this week, a spot on the carpet in the van where some contraband bubble gum found a home it doesn’t want to leave. All of that said, I miss them when they or I are away, I cherish even their grubby fingerprints on the glass in the front door, and I like hanging out with them a lot, just as they like hanging out with me.
It’s just that sometimes even Betty Crocker wanted to pretend to be Marilyn Monroe. And there is no harm in pretending that for just a bit.