I was watching The King of Queens the other night. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I grew up there, I get a little homesick, whaddaya want from me? Anyway, for those of you who don’t or won’t watch it, the show centers around the hilarious exploits of a child-free Queens couple and their friends. In this particular episode Carrie Heffernan, the wife, was lying down on the sofa, her feet resting up on the sofa back cushions, reading a magazine. Her husband, Doug Heffernan, bursts into the living room, makes an announcement and they begin arguing. Now the arguing after a declaration, I get. But seeing someone lying around reading a magazine in the middle of the day was like watching someone go to Saks and pick out whatever she wanted price tags be damned. Simply amazing!
And then I realized that when you have little kids, you very rarely get quality downtime at home. Home has a whole new meaning. Home is a four-letter word.
Now of course, home is our family headquarters. Beyond providing mere shelter, it is a refuge, a place that provides security and comfort. A place where love exists as a spirit, as well as in the choice of furnishings and decorations. It is where we gather to eat and sleep. It houses our belongings, those both ordinary and sacred.
But it ain’t no place to relax.
When I talk to mothers of young children, I hear things like, “If we stay home, he goes bonkers, and then I go bonkers.” “We simply had to get out of the house.” “Staying at home is hell.”
Home used to be a place to chill or to get things done. With children, however, home is a place to be rushing out of or rushing home to. The rush home is often followed by hustling into a meal or into bed. Home time necessitates almost constant entertaining and supervision. I might be able to check out for a few minutes – to clean something, talk on the phone or (gasp!) check e-mail – but this little break usually doesn’t end well. Hearing nothing, I might merrily check back in to the shock of Aria walking atop the dining room table, Riley having gone Jackson Pollock on the walls or Aria having a touchy-feely session with the toilet bowl. And that’s if the break isn’t interrupted by screaming because of a fall, bump or sibling smackdown (really fun when nature’s called). In the house, an innocent oversight like forgetting to close a door or drawer means a child stuck hanging over the ledge of the tub or walking around with a stapler. Am I starring as the black female lead in the Myth of Sisyphus? I finish packing a diaper bag and find the contents all over the place; I’ve folded laundry only to catch one or both kids gleefully flinging items to the floor; I finish giving bath and discover Riley sliding naked on the unswiffered floor. Back up the hill again.
At home it seems that the kids and I have contradictory agendas. Mine is to try to maintain order and safety. I don’t consider myself a neurotic, rule-bound sort of mom. But I do hyperventilate a little bit when the place starts to look like some kind of toddler frat house/jungle gym with stuff everywhere and kids jumping on the furniture. In turn, my children, in developmentally appropriate fashion, are trying to discover new things and test boundaries. Aria should be experiencing what it’s like to walk out of the room and away from everyone. Riley should try to do as many things for himself as he can, such as open the fridge and change his own diaper (hello potty training!). Modern homes probably offer too much temptation to little ones. All they see is so much interesting stuff, stuff that mommy and daddy use regularly and they can’t; in addition to furniture that is ideal for pushing and climbing and jumping on - ideal for inappropriate use. At home, the kids seem to walk around with a mischievous twinkle in their eye, a twinkle that translates to, “B---h, you get in my way, and it’s on!”
That’s not to say that we don’t have some wonderful and regular rituals at home. Making muffins with Riley on weekend mornings. Tumblebacon, Riley’s word for flipping and rolling on the bed after bath and before sleep. Tickle fights. Living room dance parties. Snuggling up together reading a book or watching yes, Caillou. It’s not that home is never fun, it that staying inside for indefinite periods is almost always hellacious.
Being outside, however, is completely different. It’s like leaving well, Queens, and finding yourself in Paris. Life is beautiful. We can breathe again. We are all free. I am free from ever-present chores and straightening up, and the kids are (relatively) free to roam. The children enjoy so many new sights and sensations, and I gain some insight into what they’re experiencing as I explain things. There are people who smile at us and want to say hello, as well as other moms and kids to hang with. The kids are far better behaved, and almost never have meltdowns outside. It’s almost a shame to have to come inside for the obvious and inevitable.
Being a mom in Chicago, I thank God it is currently summer. Even when it is crazy hot, we can find some sprinklers on a lawn, or we can head to the lakefront. When the weather is decent in Chicago, you take advantage of it, especially with kids, because for much of the year, being outside is anywhere from questionable to impossible. Talk about needing that Survival Delivered app. Or maybe just a way to make winter a verb for us, as in, "No, I'm afraid we won't be able to attend your Super Bowl party. Our family winters in Turks and Caicos."