During the 21 months that I was at home alone with Leta I developed a system of Getting Shit Done that involved multitasking on a level I had never experienced. In college I worked at a bakery and one of my responsibilities was closing up shop every night, a job that included an endless list of chores like mopping floors, scrubbing sinks, counting money, and alphabetizing orders. After two weeks on the job I had streamlined the whole process down to a 17-minute sprint and was rarely out the door after the last customer had left the parking lot, but even then I never would have believed that one day I would be skilled enough to breastfeed while disinfecting a toilet.
Being a stay-at-home parent is a lot like being a castaway in the sense that you’re sort of forced out of desperation to figure out how to survive. I remember thinking during the first two weeks of Leta’s life that the house would always be a wreck or that the dog would learn how to walk himself, that I wouldn’t ever be able to do anything more than take care of the kid. But just like someone stranded on an island eventually gets hungry enough to figure out how to spear a fish with a tree branch, I wanted a pair of clean underwear so badly that I learned how to balance the laundry on one hip, the baby on the other. I know, you’re trembling at the enormity of my domestic capabilities.
I’ve mentioned before that Jon’s process is different than mine and part of that difference is the urgency with which he does things: NONE. But what I have come to realize is that he hasn’t needed to develop that particular part of his process because he has in me a back-up mechanism. When I was alone with Leta every chore seemed to hinge on whether or not the one right before it got done. Now there are four hands where there were once only two, so Shit Can Get Done simultaneously. Yes, that’s right. Chores being accomplished at the same time. I wouldn’t be lying if I said that from the perspective of a woman who has been doing all the chores by herself for almost two years this is the equivalent of really awesome sex.
What I have to give Jon credit for is the breadth of his domestic journey since he started taking over the house last fall. The magnitude of what he has learned can be demonstrated in three recent episodes, the first one involving his butt and a chocolate muffin. Sadly this story does not include the phrases “shot out of,” or “was inserted into,” although nothing would make me happier or my father more uncomfortable.
Jon accidentally sat on a chocolate muffin we had bought at the airport on our way to Austin, and the fudge-like consistency of the melted chocolate chips formed a peculiar shape on the beige canvas of his khaki pants. Instead of asking me to scrub his butt for him — and taping it to sell on eBay — he asked me for a wet wipe from my purse. Five minutes later he returned from the men’s room looking as if his existence had never collided with that of the chocolate muffin. The stain was gone and in its place was a perfectly clean stretch of khaki fabric. I nearly choked on my disbelief, my husband a stain-remover, a chocolate stain-remover. I couldn’t have been more surprised if he had shot a chocolate muffin out of his butt.
The second instance happened just yesterday after several hours of intense house-cleaning. I had spent the morning straightening up the front part of the house and then took over playing with Leta while Jon finished up the kitchen and bathroom. Each surface in those two rooms requires its own brand of cleaner, and while I have been very specific about certain surfaces like the granite countertops, I’ve let him figure out his own process for everything else. As we were getting ready for bed I noticed Jon inspecting the work he had done earlier, looking over the toilet and the tiles on the floor. “I can’t tell you,” he said, “how much I love that Comet spray cleanser.” Really? Because I can’t tell you how hot that makes me.
And then one night a few weeks ago in what will be one of my most cherished memories of parenthood, Jon gave me the most valuable gift a wife and mother could ever hope for: validation. Our babysitter went out of town and for an entire week he didn’t get his usual brief break in the afternoon to work on projects. By the fourth day he started to look a little haggard, and by the fifth night his right eyebrow was twitching. The minute-to-minute upkeep of that kid was wearing him down, and on the sixth night when she refused to eat any of the six different things he had made her for dinner the tiny threads holding together his sanity snapped. My husband, The Patient One in the Relationship, finally gave into his frustration and yelled, “HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO GO PLAY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET?”