By Carlee M Franklin
Every mother knows that few moments spent alone are rare and fleeting and must be fought for with religious fervor or men with white coats that buckle in the back will be on your doorstep. For me this is doubly true, for I work full time on an evening shift and my husband, who has always helped out at home—God bless him—has a herniated disk in his back and kidney stones and can’t do more than lie on the couch and moan. At this point a man cold would be a blessing because he’s pretty much down for the count. So now my morning consist of waking early to pack lunches, yelling at my kids fifty times to dress and brush their hair, and herding them to school. Once kid-free, I clean up their mess and make dinner for hubby to reheat while I’m at work. Then I dress in something other than sweat pants and throw on some mascara and blush, calling it makeup, rake my hair, and race off to work.
So those moments when I’m not doing laundry, not scrubbing toilets, not cooking, not cleaning, not shopping, not wiping noses or bottoms, not breaking up arguments between children—those moments when I’m alone and can do whatever the fuck I want—I LIVE FOR THOSE MOMENTS.
I’m fairly certain I’m more likely to get a pet unicorn for Christmas than have many of these minutes of alone time.
So on the day when all the housework was done and dinner was simmering on the stove, and I didn’t have to race off to work, had two kids safely ensconced at school, and hubby was well enough to stay the whole day at work, I blissed out. I brewed the perfect cup of tea, turned on the fireplace, and pulled out a brand new adult Christmas coloring book. I’d bought a new pack of pencil crayons and an electric sharpener. I was so giddy with excitement, I sang along with the radio. And I colored. In the lines. With no one asking me to wipe something or look at something disgusting they had found. No one interrupted my silent reverie. I was in heaven for ninety minutes.
I did my best coloring, as if I needed to prove that it could be done, inside the lines. I blended colors to make it more realistic. I was so freaking proud of myself, as if coloring is difficult. I even took a picture of it and texted it to my husband, as if it would disappear before he could drive to the house.
And then the fire alarm went off. The potatoes boiled over and became mush that stuck to my stovetop. I had to run to open the doors and windows or perish in the smoke. I waved a towel under the fire alarm. I explained to my concerned neighbors staring at my house. And through all of it, I kept my shit together. Why? Because I got to color all by myself.
I scrubbed the stove, salvaged dinner, and then my alarm went off, reminding me to pick up my kids, who I now adored and thought of as angelic little cherubs in need of motherly love. I couldn’t wait to see them. Like I’d been trekking through the Sahara all afternoon and they were the drink of water I’d been searching for. I actually missed them. My overworked, grinchy heart grew three sizes.
With kids in tow, we walked through the front door and fell into our usual routine. Kid One was choked Kid Two had bothered him at school. Kid Two needed a snack and did I want to see her booboo from when she fell at recess. Hubby slammed the door and moaned about his back and asked if dinner was ready. I sorted through half-eaten lunches, picked up backpacks and coats and boots off the floor and put them away. The kids argued over whose turn it was to play on MY computer. Good times, I tell you. Like a symphony. Because I had ninety minutes alone. And I could have ninety more minutes tomorrow. Just the thought of having two days in a row to color silently made me downright cheerful.
Until Kid Two found my book. In all the excitement of the fire alarm and getting the kids, I forgot to hide it all away. Her little face lit up as she examined my pencil crayons and tested my electric pencil sharpener so many times the damn thing caught fire. I wish I was kidding, but I’m not. It was smoking and I had to throw it away.
Hubby kept groaning about being hungry and Kid Two was trying to sneak a bag of chips while I cut the roast and finished the gravy. And somewhere amongst all the chaos a little voice asked me if she could color in my book. I said no. Hubby said yes.
Guess who she listened to?
I gritted my teeth and told her it was a special book and she could color in it only if she tried very hard to stay inside the lines. And to her credit, she meant to. She started to color carefully, thoughtfully, with purpose, inside all those little lines. Until she didn’t.
She decided, after she had colored her few ornaments on the front cover, that it needed something more. More green, apparently, to make it look like the ornaments were hanging on the tree. So. Much. Scribbling.
In. My. Book.
I cannot begin to describe how much my heart sank when I saw what she did. Like God Himself was smiting me for enjoying being alone.
I did what any sane mother would do. I told her what a beautiful picture she colored and snatched that book away. And then I went online to create a group chat and bitch about my kid. Because if you don’t have a mom squad you can bitch to, you burst into flames and set your family alight. I was not disappointed. There was the usual condolences, the virtual hugs. And there was the story from a dear friend, mother of four, who related all too well to my tale of sadness. And not because her kids had destroyed her coloring book. Her hurt was deeper, lasted longer. This is what she said:
When I was seven, I got this BEAUTIFUL Barbie coloring book for Christmas, and my parents went out on New Year’s Eve, and we had a babysitter, and she COLORED ALL THE GOOD PICTURES IN MY ENTIRE COLORING BOOK.
AND!!!! She wrote her name: “By Misty [name retracted to protect the injured party], the babysitter, December 31, 1986.”
IN BLUE INK that BLED THROUGH THE PAGES.
I TOTALLY understand. I’d like to say you’ll get over it, but… ahem.
DIE, Misty, DIE.
I laughed so hard I cried. And then I cried for her little seven-year-old broken heart that apparently never healed. Because Die, Misty, Die.
So mothers, I urge you to take your alone time so that you don’t want to smother your kids in their sleep. However, this alone time comes with a price. Take it from me. And take it from my friend, because these kinds of prices keep charging you thirty years later.
Carlee M Franklin is a YA author, sandwich lover, and chocoholic who hates spiders. She studied creative writing and history at Vancouver Island University. You can find her writing late at night when the house is quiet and she can hear the voices in her head.
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