Columns Small Talk

Her ‘nothing’ is really something

‘Hi, hon. What did you do today?”

A simple question asked, with no malice intended, by a husband fresh from his organized, one-task-at-a-time, hour-for-lunch, coffee breaks, conversation-with-adults place of business.

Why then does the question make me bristle with frustration and draw a complete blank?  I know I have been going nonstop. I feel like I have been cheek-by-jowl with negotiators in the Mideast.

But I know that any trace of those efforts are lost in a house and children which are once again sticky, spattered, cranky, matted and streaked. Not exactly a glossy-bound, year-end report with three-color graphics.

I wince to remember that I had once been a childless working person who sincerely posed the classic question. “What does she do all day?” Well … nothing, of course.  Eat bon-bons, watch soap operas … oh, and respond promptly to the every whim of those enormously whim-filled creatures in her charge.

Let’s begin our day at 5 a.m. with the high-pitched sound of “Mommy!” (Never “Daddy!”  Researchers remain baffled.) This noise does not abate until all other siblings also are awakened. Cartoons must be swiftly tuned in, with the full debate renewed over what they may and may not watch. That settled, you give them a cocoa fix and try to grab a shower. Midway through your hair gel and underarm deodorant, you are questioned as to why you cannot stop and do a puzzle, read a book and where is their waffle with syrup, no butter, lightly toasted? Then comes the hunt for clean clothes that match and the trick of getting shoes and socks on. Civilization comes hard to preschoolers.

The morning is filled with brief encounters with crayons, paints, puzzles, Legos, hide’n’seek, popcorn, juice, emptying the linen closet and every toy in their box, then on to the park.

By midmorning, my son has used his clothes to wipe hands and nose of everything from peanut butter to Playdoh, missed his potty aim a time or two, and has rolled through the park. Things have begun to stick to him.

Once home, he leaves a trail of sand and clothes beginning at the door. My daughter has gotten her button-down-the-back dress turned completely around in an attempt to undo it herself, nearly hanging herself in the process. She is clean but has decided this dress is unacceptable for midday wear.

I head into my son’s room for fresh clothes but must move his play table away from the closet door (all things migrate in a random patter in children’s rooms … deadly in the dark). As I grab it, my fingers stick to hit. As I move the table, I step into an unidentified wet spot. I don’t ask for details.

My concentration is now fully derailed. Blot the wet spot, wipe the table and …  now what the blazes did I come in his room for anyway? My son jogs my memory as he races by buck naked. Finally, everybody is dressed again and I have a minute of peace as they begin playing.

I limp off to put the dirty clothes and wet rags downstairs and face the ever-present dinner-breakfast dishes. No sooner have I donned my rubber gloves then my daughter comes in screaming with a toy her brother broke. I sprint upstairs to referee and plug in the hot glue gun for repairs. I will probably forget about it, though, until it has melted a hole in my desk … again.

Back downstairs, the troops now chant viciously for lunch, lunch, lunch. The balance of the day is filled with variations on this theme including the post-bath towel races, the jammy debates (too hot, too cold, too scratchy), dinner and (gasp) bedtime, and there you have it.

I’m pressing Funk & Wagnall to add a second accepted meaning to the definition of “nothing.”

Jean Gillette is celebrating summer, offering one of her columns from 1992.