The Wife Works

I wrote this a few years ago when my wife decided to get a job.  It was quite an ordeal.  Enjoy…

My wife has never “worked”.  Oh, sure, she’s been sequestered at home with infants for days on end, changing diapers & doing housework, and she’s even done that professionally at daycares.  But, this was the first time she ever got a real job, outside of the home, with a paycheck that didn’t smell like baby powder.  She got a job with Southwest Airlines as a reservation agent.  She talked to people on the phone, helped them book air travel or change reservations – perfect job for her, since she loves to talk.  Being on the bottom rung of the seniority ladder, hers was the night shift – from 4:30 pm until 1:30 am – and her days off were Wednesday and Thursday.  That left three weekdays where I was the one at home, sequestered with small children for hours & hours, plus both Saturday and Sunday evenings.

I thought I would make a pretty good “mom” at first.  After all, I was pretty good at my complicated computer job; surely I could handle a couple of rugrats for a while.  Besides, it would be fun to spend some time with the kids.  I got off early and made it home usually about 3:30pm or so.  Just enough time to say Hi to my wife before she rushed out the door.  That left me with 7 or 8 hours alone with the kids, until I would tuck them in to bed and take a well-deserved nap until I had to get up at 5 or 6am for my own job.  No problem.

My initial idea was, this’ll be great!  I can get so much done without my wife home.  I had started a project, installing a new bathtub & shower in the master bathroom.  Perfect!  I’ll use all my newly acquired free time to finish it up!  I worked a little every day on the bathroom, and I took the kids to the hardware store once or twice to get supplies.  Bad idea.  They enjoyed it at first, getting to spend time with Daddy and go shopping, but after a while I think it traumatized them.  Now all I have to do is say “Lowe’s” and they start crying.  So I thought, I won’t drag them all over town looking for GFCI outlets and CPVC plumbing, I’ll just concentrate on cooking.  It was a good chance for me to experiment with all the different types of meat that can go with rice from our new rice cooker: beef, sausage, fish.  But it turns out my kids hate rice.  After a week or two, all I had to was mention “Chicken and Rice” and they’d start crying again.

Have you ever heard of the monkey-ladder-banana-shock-collar experiment?  No?  Well, this is how it goes.  You take a bunch of monkeys, fit them with shock collars, and put a banana on a string at the top of a ladder.  When a monkey climbs the ladder, he gets zapped.  Pretty soon, they all learn to stay off the ladder.  Then you take a monkey out & replace him with a new monkey, without a shock collar.  If he ever tries to get on the ladder to get the banana, all the other monkeys attack him.  Pretty soon, he too learns to stay off of the ladder.  You repeat the process until all the monkeys now have no shock collar, and yet, they pounce on any other monkey that attempts to retrieve the prize.  I am not an evolutionist, but I never knew how much I had in common with monkeys before.  Every time I get up to grab the banana, the little monkeys attack me.  If I want to cook, they beg for McDonald’s.  If I want to go shopping, they whine & cry.  If I do manage to get them out the door, they take f-o-r-e-v-e-r getting in the car and belted up.  And if I want to go to the bathroom, they always manage to have some urgent need that causes them to pound on the door, or they decide that’s the best time to settle an old score with each other.

So, after about three months of this, I’m a frazzled wreck.  I come home and plop down on the couch.  I distractedly wave a limp hand at my wife as she leaves for the night.  I spend hours watching the kids play a video game that I swore I would delete, but I can’t bring myself to erase the bloody, violent gore that’s keeping them entertained.  Around 7pm, they start saying they’re hungry, so I ask their permission to make food, and give them some very nutritious choices: fish sticks or ramen noodles?  By that time, they’re pretty hungry, so they’re willing to let me go into the kitchen for a little while.  If I take too long, of course, they start fighting or doing dangerous stunts on the banister to get my attention.  After I administer first aid to cover the scrapes & bruises from the triple-axle they attempted to land on the sofa (but missed), they eat their fried calories with soda pop, and beg me to play with them on the trampoline.  Most days I decline, but out of a feeling of oppressive guilt, I sometimes spend 30 minutes playing Tackle and Tickle Two at a Time.  It’s exhausting.  They run & squirm to get away, as I try to get them both into the middle of the trampoline, on their backs, and tickle them at the same time.  At 8 years old, my oldest boy is getting more and more strength, and my aging bones and sleep-deprived body can barely keep up.  After a few times of managing to defeat them and defend my parental honor (can’t let a kid beat me), I collapse exhausted and rest a moment before I get the first aid kit again.  (It’s incredible how much battering those little noggins can take without breaking, but they sure do bruise easily.)

After coming indoors and settling the daily dispute over who’s playing what game first or which movie they will watch as they go to sleep, I finally get them settled in around 10:30pm.  My heart has stopped pounding and I no longer fear imminent death.  I am a total zombie.  I can’t open my eyes all the way, but for some maddening reason they won’t close either.  I can barely move as I crawl over to pray with them and hug them good-night.  I silently add a PleaseGodMakeThemSleepICan’tTakeItAnyMore right before we all say Amen, and I slither into the bedroom.  Sleep still escapes me as I watch three consecutive reruns of Malcolm in the Middle on the Tivo, envious of their close-knit family unity, and I nod off just before my wife comes home all pumped up from her day.  Usually, all she does is throw her purse with her keys on it, from across the room onto the chair by my head, then clamor into the bathroom as I try to gather myself up & stumble to my office/bedroom in the garage.  Other days she’s feeling real good and singing the operatic solo to Oklahoma or plunking out a new song on the piano.  At last, in the solace of my garage room with its single floor mattress and window air conditioner, I can find rest for my weary soul, for a few hours before I have to get up for work again.  That is, if I’m not accosted by the 2-inch roaches that invade our house and have become immune to everything except industrial chemicals.

I guess I’m not much of a mom after all.  I can’t seem to get the kids to do anything they don’t really enjoy.  It makes me feel too guilty.  I even tried bribing and it didn’t work.  I said, I’ll take you to see Ratatouille, the new Disney film, if you go to the hardware store first.  No, take us to the movie first, and then we’ll talk.  I can’t win.  I no longer work or cook or clean or anything while my wife works.  I just spend hour after hour after hour praying for a miracle and trying to figure out why I, magnum-cum-laude graduate from a 5A high school and self-made genius computer programmer, am no match for the sweetest, kindest, cutest 6 & 8-year olds you ever saw.  I guess in the end, I’m just a human.  Just a soft, gewey, stupid human.  No, wait.  I’m weaker than that.  I’m a dad.