Friday, November 19, 2010

What do mommies do all day? Damage control.

People frequently wonder aloud about what stay at home moms do all day. They look at us with unmasked condescension if we report "accomplishing" a trip to the supermarket or the post office. They wonder why we don't have time to turn our homes into sparkling showplaces worthy of the pages of Architectural Digest, and why our other halves don't come home to five course gastronomic triumphs every single night.

I'll tell you some things I do every day: entertainment, catering and damage control. Entertainment and catering sort of explain themselves. Everyone knows little kids need to eat and play, often outside. And most people know that getting out the door with a baby takes at least fifty per cent longer than vacating the apartment solo. That doesn't mean they understand it.

It's easy math, really: babies need an amount of gear and provisions, the amount of which is inversely proportionate by at least tenfold to their age. This means that despite careful staging, some mission critical item will often need to be retrieved from the house after we've made it to the sidewalk.

This in turn means I schlep the stroller back indoors, unstrap the Grape, haul him up three full flights of stairs, remove shoes, put the Grape someplace safe like baby jail (at which point he will wail like he's being stabbed because he thought we were going outdoors), locate the crucial item, scoop up the Grape, reapply shoes and head back downstairs. Fully half the times we emerge from the apartment, I'm a sweaty mess before we make it to the foyer. I tell myself at least I'm burning some extra calories, doing this crazy aerobic interval a few times every day.

But preparing to leave the home is mere kids' play when compared to the mother of all stay-at-home-mother time suckers. Damage control is the true wild card - the factor nobody can possibly understand until they have firsthand experience running interference between a toddler and the big, tempting world.

Today I had to take a phone call about the insurance on our new place. Sound boring? It was. So much so that the Grape decided to break up the monotony by unraveling an entire roll of toilet paper, dumping the cat's water dish all over the kitchen floor (by sitting in it) and smearing the better part of a tube of Desitin into the living room rug.

You might ask why he had access to such amusements, and I'll confess that the first two stunts are regular attention-redirection strategies the Grape employs when his antennae sense my focus veering elsewhere. Lucy the Kitten, a regular partner in the Grape's crimes, provided him with the open tube of ointment. By which I mean she nudged it off the table with her tortoiseshell toes. The Grape seized upon the treasure with such stealth and speed that by the time my brain registered what my eyes were seeing, the diabolical Desitin deed was done.

A ten minute phone call turned into an hour of clean up, and the rug will still need to be professionally salvaged. Drop off and pickup will eat another couple hours of my life.

Damage control also includes excess laundry, like the kind generated today when the Grape enjoyed his first juice box. He drank out of the straw angelically for about four seconds, then gave into the urge to give the blasted carton a hearty squeeze. Which of course resulted in a red fruit punch hose down for his face and his outfit.

I count myself lucky. The juice box incident occurred in a crowded public place. The Grape could have easily doused some humorless man in a dry clean only Italian suit. Like my kid brother did once on an airplane. At least my mom could claim the flight crew issued her kid his liquid grenade. In the Grape's case, I was the genius responsible for the soggy, sticky clothes.

I also spent about twenty minutes this morning re-shelving library books in the Grape's wake. Another five or ten gathering the remains of his breakfast from underneath the highchair. (I so cannot wait to get a dog.) This afternoon, he missed knocking over a pyramid of apples at the farmer's market by about half an inch, and it wasn't for lack of effort on his part. Evidently his wing span far exceeds the width of his stroller.

I practically had to plow through an old lady with a walker to prevent the Grape from leaning out of his stroller to cause Macintosh mayhem. Yesterday evening he had a blast removing all the tupperware from the one accessible kitchen cabinet and hurling it, piece by piece, over the gate and down the stairs.

Two days ago he attempted to flush a wash cloth. And no, he wasn't unattended near the minefield that is the bathroom. I was sorting laundry. He was so excited to be physically proximate to this fascinating domestic task that he grabbed the first thing he could and tossed it in the toilet.

Who knew he'd figured out how to flush?

At least it was just a washcloth. And a five to ten minute fix.

The Grape was so riveted by the plunging show that it hardly counted as damage control. If pressed, I would have classified the activity as entertainment.

Maybe next time we're stuck indoors on a rainy day, I'll let him flush something else. Just for fun.

Or not.

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