I like to drink coffee with my husband in the morning while he gets ready for work. He has the sort of job where you have to shave and get dressed. I have the sort of job where you have to do neither. I tend to feel defensive about this, particularly when he asks, “So what are you up to today?”
The question sounds flip. Up to? ‘Up to’ is a phrase used for kids and retirees, people with tons of free time. There is no way in the world Sheryl Sandberg’s husband asked her what she was up to when she left the house at five this morning. My answer is at once “not much” and “you name it!” I’m defensive because it’s impossible to explain what I do all day without inducing a coma: drop off the kids, go to the gym, go to the market, call the orthodontist, pick up the kids, prepare the food, clean up aforementioned food, find the socks…
And it seems that every time my husband calls me during the day, I’m goofing off. I picture him hunched over his desk with a vein throbbing at his temple. He pictures me as whomever Donald Trump’s married to right now. If I’m out to lunch I shush the waiter and say something like, “hang on, I’m looking for the plunger.” If I’m taking a nap, I clear my throat a few times before answering.
I actually get a lot of stuff done during the day, but very little of it is visible to my husband. In fact, to the untrained eye it looks like nothing happens at all around here. When he leaves in the morning, I’m in my pajamas and the kitchen’s a mess. When he comes home at night, I’m in my pajamas and the kitchen’s a mess. How can I explain to him that, though the pajamas are the same, the mess is a totally new, fresh mess? Hello, those are dinner dishes, not breakfast dishes.
I want to explain to him the critical distinction between “still” and “again.” The children aren’t still hungry, they’re hungry again. The dishwasher’s not still full, it’s full again. (Ditto for the pajama thing, I’ve had at least two costume changes since I put them back on). In French there’s one word for both ‘still’ and ‘again’, which I find fascinating. Maybe French housewives don’t care what their husbands think they do all day.
The stay at home mom’s job is pretty much just getting things back to zero. Getting the fridge and the stomachs back to full, getting the beds back to made, getting the dishes back to clean. Getting the children up and out and then home and back in bed. They awake imperceptibly bigger and further along the path towards moving out. And then moving back in again. It’s a loop.
There are days when herculean effort is made with absolutely no result. One day I got a call in the morning from the school saying that my son’s shots weren’t up to date. Apparently there were going to be dire consequences. So I called the doctor and used all of my powers to get a noon appointment. I pulled my kid out of school, headed to the doctor’s office, and waited an hour only to hear that the shots were indeed up to date and that the form had been misread. I returned to the school to explain this to the nurse, and then had time to fill my car with gas before returning for pick up. This is the sort of story I would never make my husband sit through. But that day, it was what I was up to.
Occasionally I have something on my calendar that might register with my husband as an actual event, and I milk it. I’ll mention over four mornings worth of coffee that I have a meeting scheduled at the elementary school. I’ll remind him that I’m on the Executive Board there. Because they asked me to be. I was appointed, you see. I pronounce it Ex-ec-u-tive and raise my eyebrows as I say it. He seems adequately impressed, and for a minute I feel like I’m wearing Sheryl Sandberg’s pajamas.