Mama Said There'd Be Days Like This

Earlier this week my son was invited to a sleep over at his cousins’—my sister’s— house. It worked for me because I had plans to meet my husband in New York for dinner at one of our favorite tapas restaurants. With JP sleeping over at Erin’s I wouldn’t have to worry about rushing home to a sitter or being overly conscious about how many sangrias I consumed. It was really perfectly planned. But somehow I messed it up. 

I guess it all began to unravel that morning. Jim had been on a business trip since early Monday and it was day three of going it alone. I’m a veteran travel-widow and two nights away is normally a breeze so I was surprised when I found myself feeling overwhelmed by the day that lay ahead. 

It wasn’t that is was abnormally busy. In fact I didn’t have to be at Erin’s until 2:15, in time to drop JP off, get him settled and then pick up my Mom and drive her to a follow-up appointment for a lung surgery she had this winter. But before all of that I had to get my car to the shop in order to get a broken side-view mirror fixed in time for drive down to Philadelphia on Friday. I had also hoped to give my gnarly fingernails a quick manicure before I went out that night. It was already 11:30, I was still in pajamas and JP was in nothing but his underwear (a new practice in my house).  

Just as I was headed upstairs to get myself together, the doorbell rang. Braless and sweaty from a marathon session of cleaning earlier that day, I peeked out the window to see a neighbor who volunteers at the church across the street. I knew she was here to collect the money for the Bible School JP will be attending next week and I silently cursed to myself as I remembered that I still hadn’t found the box of new checks I needed for payment. I opened the door and plastered on a smile that I hoped would distract her from my droopy breasts. When she spotted my near-naked son she apologized for dropping by so early but her face said otherwise. It said something like, “I’ve been up since 6. What type of household is this?” 

After assuring the church lady that I would drop the check by later that day, I told JP I needed to take a quick shower, anticipating a very small window between coming home from the doctor and catching the 5:30 train in order to meet Jim by 7. (Did I mention this was a work dinner? One where I would be expected to be appropriately dressed and irresistibly charming?) When I got out of the shower I called down to JP, as I normally do, to make sure nothing happened in the 4 minutes I had been occupied. Normally this is just a reassurance. Not today. 

JP came up the stairs, his hands covered in some black substance. “What’s on your hands?” I asked as I began to fill the sink with soapy water. “Oh, that happened when I opened the door for the man.” 

Uh, what???

“What do you mean JP?” I said, trying to veil the panic in my voice. “What man?” 

“There was a man at the door and he was driving a police car and I told him you were in the shower and he had two boxes for you that had black stuff on them.” I racked my brain. A policeman with packages? Was this some new kidnapping scheme I didn’t know about because I delete all emails pertaining to such things? Was it the UPS guy? He doesn’t usually come until the evening and rarely rings the doorbell. Besides I wasn’t expecting any packages from UPS.  

Just as I was trying to coax the details from my notoriously aloof 4-year old, the phone rang. I ran downstairs, still soaking wet from my shower and wearing nothing but a towel. It was another neighbor.

“Hi Ellen. It’s Keith. Just wanted to make sure everything was okay over there.”

Uh, sure. Why?

“I just saw JP running down the street in nothing but his tighty-whiteys. When I asked him if you knew that he was outside, he said no.”

Grrrrr.

“Thanks Keith, he also just opened the front door to a package-toting cop so let me go and figure this out.”

I thought about telling him he wasn’t wearing tighty-whiteys, only really small boxer briefs I hadn’t had the time to replace but I didn’t want to come across as superficial. I hung up, turned to JP and made another attempt to piece together his story. While he recounted the events I tried to remember if I have ever warned him about opening the door to strangers. My gut told me I had not. I got mad anyway and yelled that he knew better than to leave the house without me. I put him in time out.  

By this time it was after one o’clock, which gave me about an hour to do some small things around the house and get dressed. Easy. But the phone rang again, this time it was Jim. He was stuck in Chicago because of tornado warnings. He hoped to be in the air within the hour but would call me back to confirm. I always feel bad for Jim when he calls home on days like this. His voice is pleasant, chipper even. And he expects that I will be happy to hear from him. But the truth is he has a talent for calling at the worst possible times and I’m usually short with him because I think how lucky he is to be so completely clueless as to what a normal day here is like. 

The next few hours were equally chaotic. I dropped JP off at his cousins’, picked up my mother and drove the 20 minutes to her surgeon’s office where we waited 90 minutes to be seen. When my Mom saw me anxiously checking my phone for the time, she suggested I postpone my night out which prompted me to snap, “What we should have postponed was this appointment!” 

We finally left in time to hit rush hour traffic so that when Jim called an hour later to ask what train I would be on, I was at my limit. I poured into him. Not only did I miss the train, I told him, but I shouldn’t have been expected to go to New York tonight anyway. He should have come home, I yelled, not landed in LaGuardia Airport, which is 15 minutes from our home, and rushed into the city to meet with the very same colleagues he had spent the previous three days with while his wife and child were home alone! I went on to rant about how I had spent the entire day worrying about everyone else’s needs but still had nails that looked like I cleaned toilets for a living, which by the way, I do! Not to mention that JP was almost kidnapped by a man posing as a police officer, either before or after he streaked our neighbors, I don’t really know because I had forgot to ask which I’m pretty sure makes me the worst mother in the world!!

He must has sensed that this was no ordinary bitch fest, that I was truly at the end of my rope because he calmly explained that he was going to cancel the dinner and come home on the next train. I hung up the phone and began to cry. I cried for making my husband feel bad when I knew he only wanted me to have a night out in the city, my favorite place in the world. I cried for neglecting to tell my son that danger can come unexpectedly, sometimes even to our front door. I cried because it felt like I failed at everything I aspire to be, which is a good Mom, a supportive wife and a reliable daughter.

A little while later Jim walked in and without saying a word, hugged me until my tears dried up. “I’m sorry,” I squeaked. He suggested we go out to eat. 

Over bruschetta and linguine I rehashed the days events. Either lubricated by wine or calmed by retrospect, I found myself laughing as I told Jim about the fashion show JP gave the neighborhood. We pieced together the mystery of the police officer when I checked my phone and realized I had a missed call from our plumber, who also happens to be a volunteer fire fighter and was scheduled to drop off the sconces we ordered for our bathroom this week. He also said that he had moved the box of checks to the basement last week and had forgotten to tell me and he was sorry because he knows I question my sanity when things like that go missing.“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” he said as he poured the last drops of Chianti into my glass. “You are a really good Mom.”

The tone in his voice told me he meant it. “I know,” I said.

And I meant it too. I think. 

Ellen Askin Bailey is a stay at home Mom, a wife and a daughter. Some days are harder than others. But she wouldn’t change a thing.  

 

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