by Gabriella Herkert
What was I thinking? I should never have left my husband alone with the kids for two whole days. A forty-seven year old, Harvard-educated engineer couldn’t hope to hold his own against an eight-year old boy and six year old girl. Especially not when they were my progeny. He was outmanned and outgunned and I guilted myself for the twenty miles it took to return from a weekend of fellow women, mothers all, who had inconceivably managed to retreat for forty-eight hours of blissful adult interaction without a single melted crayon or runny nose.
Mom’s home.’ Kevin, my eldest, called, slamming out the screen door and racing to the car before I’d fully stopped.
‘Yeaaah,’ Melissa screamed, flying behind her brother to clamour at the car door. She wasn’t articulate but she did have volume, my little girl.
I got out of the car and was wrapped in effusive hugs, small hands grabbing at my hands and clothes. They seemed whole but I counted fingers anyway, running my hands along my daughter’s shoulders and touching my son’s hair.
‘Did you have fun with Daddy?’
‘Yeaaah,’ Melissa bellowed.
‘Uh huh,’ Kevin agreed.
I let Kevin take my small overnight bag and we headed into the house. He dropped the suitcase inside the door and raced off to his room. I caught my toe in the strap and nearly went down, catching myself on the half-wall that divided the entry way and the living room.
‘We had hot dogs and kool-aid and Daddy made me eat yucky carrots and Orphan threw up on your bed but she’s not sick no more.’
‘Any more,’ I corrected. Great. I looked at the dog, stretched length-wise in front of the fire, snoring loudly.
‘Orphie doesn’t like carrots neither.’
Which would explain my bed.
‘Were you a good girl for daddy?’
‘I’m always good,’ small hands planted on hips, Lissy gave me a look of complete exasperation as if no sane person could possibly question her continual goodness. My kid? Yeah, right. I’d better check to make sure they hadn’t buried him in the back yard.
‘Honey? Pete?’ I called.
I heard a mumbled hello coming from the laundry room. Not dead, after all. Trying to eliminate the evidence of the carrot feeding, probably. Not much chance of that on a white comforter but I appreciated him trying.
‘I wanna slide on the slide and swing on the swings and go really really high up so I can touch the birds,’ Melissa sing-songed, jumping up with her arms straight out. She ran, dervish-like, out of the room, barreling into Kevin’s bedroom.
‘Mo-o-om,’ Kevin cried, ‘tell Lissy she’s gotta knock.’
I wandered into the laundry room. Peter was starting the dryer. He turned to me. His sandy blonde hair was rumpled, his shirt had what appeared to be a ketchup smear and his blue eyes were glassy.
‘Hi,’ I said, trying to fight a smile. Welcome to single parenthood. ‘How was it?’
‘Fine,’ he said numbly.
I kissed his cheek. ‘Everyone seems to have survived.’
‘Yeah,’ he didn’t sound convinced. ‘How was the retreat?’
‘It was great. I’m so glad I went. I really appreciate you pitching in and helping out, Pete.’
‘Sure, sure,’ he mumbled.
We went into the kitchen and I poured some coffee from the pot. One sip told me it was yesterday’s coffee. It was bitter enough to make my fillings ache. I poured it out in the sink and started a fresh pot.
‘What did you do?’ he asked.
‘Talked, walked, laughed.’
‘Sounds nice,’ he said.
‘It was. It makes for a really nice change from the daily routine. How did you enjoy your opportunity to play Mr. Mom?’
‘That was probably the longest you’ve been away since Kevin was born, right?’
‘Except for that weekend we took to Whistler three years ago.’
‘Yeah,’ I said, laughing.
‘If I never said it before, I appreciate all you do. I really appreciate it,’ Pete said fervently.
‘That rough was it?’
‘Well, Kevin’s learned to drink his milk through his nose and some old woman said she was turning me into the police for abusing Melissa after she threw a fit at the grocery store. We missed ballet because I didn’t know that the kids were supposed to wear fairy wings or something and Kevin’s baseball game was supposed to start at noon but didn’t start until 2:30 and there are like three hundred innings or something.’
I got up and poured Pete and I coffee from the fresh pot. He picked his up and drank, closing his eyes and shuddering.
‘Um, real coffee.’
‘Did you finish the project you were doing for work?’
‘How? They never stop. Not for one minute. And they always have to be someplace or they’re hungry or they’re thirsty or the dog just threw up on the bed or something.’
He was preaching to the choir. In the ten years of our marriage, we’d maintained pretty strict roles. He was the breadwinner, working six days a week to give us financial security and I was the mother, tying shoes and carpooling to lessons. He’d never been one of those husbands who whined about it and I loved him for that. But he had taken me a little for granted. The look in his eyes showed new appreciation and even respect for what I did. Icing on the cake.
‘Daddy?’ Melissa asked from the doorway.
‘Do I have to wear underwear? Tommy Martz said his brother said that you don’t hafta wear underwear except to school but I don’t hafta go to school today so I’m not.’ Melissa grabbed the hem of her pink flowered skirt and exhibited the truth of her statement.
Pete’s face flamed, his eyes got wide and his mouth dropped open.
‘Ask your mother.’