Yesterday was Election Day. In recent years, that has come to have a different kind of significance in the Jones family. A few years back, the company I work for started giving its employees Election Day as a paid holiday (I think the union negotiated it so that union members could be free to 'get out the vote', but that's a story for another time and place). It's not like I needed the extra eight hours to fit voting into my day, but hey, a day off is a day off.
For the last few years, Molly, while basically a stay-at-home mom, has been taking on little odd, part-time gigs here, there, and everywhere, to bring in a little supplemental income. Mostly, she proctors state licensing exams a few days a month - if a plumber, say, wants his journeyman's license, he needs to pass a state exam, and Molly is one of the folks wandering up and down the aisles, making sure nobody cheats. She really appreciates the 'quiet time' in the exam room.
Anyway, a few years back, Molly got the idea of working elections. It actually pays pretty well for a one-day gig, and it's a ton of hours (usually 15-16). But - it means that, on my newly-minted paid holiday, I'm playing Mr. Mom all day. Which isn't all that big a deal - it's not like I'm phobic of looking after my kids, or anything. It's just that I don't do it very often in such a, um, all-encompassing way. I can put a meal together, but I don't know where everything is, so I'm a bit slower and clumsier than I'd like to be; in general, Molly is well-dialed-in to running the household on a daily basis, and I'm a poor substitute at best. But, for the extra couple hundred bucks, I'll soldier through.
Yesterday, Molly got up early - she had to be at the polling place by 6AM. I got up and got breakfast for the school kids, and saw them out the door. One of the kids opened the box of cheerios from the bottom, so the box was 'upside-down' as it sat on the table; but if you worry about stuff like that, you'll never make it in the parent biz.
So, it was just 8M and me at home. And he was still in bed. So far, so good. And I got 8M off to his pre-school mid-morning, so that left me with a few hours to catch up on my reading. This Mr. Mom thing was going really smoothly; I was congratulating myself for the confident, competent manner in which I was pulling it all off.
I should interject here that Molly had spent the weekend canning applesauce - about 50 quarts' worth. My wife is an incredibly hard-working woman (for those of you who read the Bible, Proverbs 31 gives a striking description of Molly). But, with the election taking her out of the house, there was still a fair bit of cleanup left to be done - the kitchen floor, in particular, was a sticky, grungy mess, and I promised that I would mop the kitchen floor for her.
Anyway, I got suitably caught up on my reading before the kids came home from school; I was feeling relaxed and on top of the situation.
Both 4M and 5M had flat tires on their bikes, and Molly wanted me to press them to repair their bikes. When you have a big family, you really need your kids to be as independent as they can manage; having their bikes in working order means they can get to their friend a mile-and-a-half away without hitting Mom up for a ride. Well, the bikes had suffered from benign neglect a bit more than just flat tires, so I wound up spending 45 minutes or so sweating and cussing over the irritating little maintenance items that we hadn't planned on. But the upshot was, that we got a couple working bikes where we'd had none.
I left the bikes, and went back to start mopping the kitchen, but when I got there, the dining room floor was covered with cheerios, while 6F and 7M sat at the dining-room table, reading and having their after-school snack. "Why are there cheerios all over the floor?" I asked. A reasonable question, it seemed to me.
"Oh - 8M spilled them."
And you just left them? You didn't bother to clean them up?
"I didn't make the mess."
I'm exasperated by that whole line of thinking, but, see, now I've got a situation. Where's 8M?
8M, why did you dump cheerios all over the floor?
"I just picked up the box and they fell out."
6F and 7M at this point helpfully point out that the box was opened at the wrong end, so 8M thought he was turning it right-side-up, whereupon all the contents of the box fell out on the floor. I'm starting to get exasperated, but I haven't lost it yet; still clinging to a degree of control.
Then 5M comes wandering through the dining room, blithely crunching through the cheerios strewn across the floor. Which wouldn't have been as bad as all that, except that cheerio dust is stickier than you might think - it clings to the bottom of shoes. Which meant that, once 5M's feet hit the living-room carpet, they left a trail of cheerio-dust footprints. In fact, it was then that I noticed a whole set of cheerio-dust footprints crossing the living-room, and also heading down the hall in the opposite direction.
You guys just tracked crushed cheerios all through the house!
"Oh - sorry."
I have to say that I'm proud of myself. A younger, less mature me would have erupted like Krakatoa. Instead, I simply told the kids to go outside and play for a few minutes. While I collected myself and swept up the dining room. Then I called them back in and handed them the vacuum-cleaner to tend to the carpet (I could accept that the original dumping of the cheerios had been an accident, and, at any rate, 8M isn't quite up to the task of sweeping the floor just yet; but walking through the mess and tracking it onto the carpet - that was culpable, people, and you're gonna clean it up).
Which they did, and, in due time, order was restored. I mopped the kitchen floor, got dinner (fortunately, we had a good crop of leftovers in the fridge), and got the kids to bed. So that, when Molly finally got home about 10PM, I was quietly reading, the very portrait of paternal competence.
"Wow - the kids are in bed?"
Oh, nothing I couldn't handle (ahem).
"Wow - and you even mopped the floor!"
"I'm impressed! What say we head to bed?" she says, with a distinct twinkle in her eye.
Sounds good to me, dear. What did you have in mind? . . .