My husband never comes home to a clean house, slippers and a martini; he’s lucky if I made it to the kitchen to start dinner. After a long day at work, he usually trips in the hallway on half-chewed crayons to find me sprawled out on the couch with our two-year-old passed out on top of me because she was too busy to nap. I am sometimes in pajamas and if I’ve managed to get dressed, it’s really just second-pajamas. We rush to get dinner on the table then cleaned up before 7:00, when it’s my turn to go to work and write while he takes Ada upstairs. In an ideal world, the evenings are my “office hours,” when I respond to emails, write copy or work on my book projects. It never works out to be an ideal world.
Last night, Travis came in with a bouquet of roses. I can’t remember the last time he brought home flowers so right away, I panicked a little. “What’s wrong?” I said.
“Nothing,” he said, kissing me on the head. “I just thought you’d like some flowers.”
“For no reason?”
“Just because I love you,” he said and smiled.
I was suspicious. “Because you love me?”
“Ah! I knew there was another reason. What happened?” I said, trying to reach the remote to turn off Curious George.
“I’m just…well…I’m just really sorry motherhood is so hard.”
I was stunned. My momentary gratitude was hushed by my mommy self-doubt. “You brought me roses because you think I’m a bad mom?”
“No! I brought you roses because our kid has been pretty rough on you the last few days and I’m sorry I can’t, I don’t know, take some of the mommy-load off of you.”
And, truthfully, the kid has been a very tiny bully the last week. Her word for nursing is “nani.” Last week, she called me “Nani Big Cans.” I told her that would have to be my stage name if she didn’t let me finish my book.
She bit me for the first time on Saturday; okay, not the first time ever but it was the first time she’d ever bitten me out of spite. Thank God Steel Magnolias was on TV and had sort of softened my mommy heart otherwise I would have been Googling “how to sell your baby to gypsies.”
She threw an epic fit in the grocery store and that warning I so tenderly say when she’s in danger, “No, sweet baby! That will hurt the baby!” was used for evil when she went limp on the grocery store floor. As I struggled to pick her up, she screamed “Hurt the baby! Hurt the baby!”
Last night, she bit my butt while I was washing dishes. No lie. She. Bit. My. Butt. I was so startled by the pain, I whirled around and accidentally slapped her across the face with my wet hand. We both sat there weeping and wet, her hair sticking straight up and bubbly where I hit her. Travis watched like we were something to behold on the Animal Planet and said, “You two have a complicated relationship, don’t you?”
“Yes,” I said, kissing her.
“Is it like this with all moms and daughters?” he said.
“I guess,” I said. “Shirley McClaine keeps finding work, doesn’t she?”
When we finally got everyone calmed down last night and were ready for bed, Travis and I met in the kitchen, where we sipped ice water out of Solo cups because the dishwasher was full. We were quiet, staring at the vase of roses he brought home earlier.
“You know what I appreciated most about those roses?” I said. “I loved that they were manager’s special roses.”
“You are beyond weird,” he said.
“No, seriously. That means you listened to me. Remember that day we were at the grocery store and I was mad because Ada was throwing a fit after I took her away from the lobster tank?”
“I guess. That happens every time.”
“Yeah, but that time I pointed out the manager’s special section and even though we were in the thick of one of Ada’s fits, you listened.”
“I always listen.”
“Yeah, but you heard me,” I said.
“Well, technically, I always hear you.”
I threw my hands in the air. “Thanks for buying me cheap flowers, Man! That’s all I’m trying to say. Thanks for listening to me or hearing me or storing the information or whatever scientific phenomenon happened to make you bring me flowers!” He grinned and kissed me on the cheek.
“Geez,” I said, taking his hand to go to bed. “You think my relationship with Ada is complicated?!”
As I crawled into bed, I thought of all the things I had not done: I didn’t get to work on my book at all. I didn’t take down the decorations left from Ada’s party. Had I gone to bathroom? In an ideal world, there would have been enough time for all of that but then, in an ideal world, who gets sweet, manager’s special flowers? Travis kissed me on top of the head as he turned out the light and whispered, “Good night, Nani Big Cans,” and I fell asleep tangled up in my messy, little family.