I’ve been trying to think of a metaphor for my life lately, and, of course, because I’m a mom, the image that came to mind was of a toy—blocks. Old-fashioned wooden blocks with letters of the alphabet engraved on the sides, the kind of blocks that go together haphazardly, making towers that become more unstable with each additional cube, and crash down in spectacular and noisy explosions, not their modern descendants that are made out of plastic and link together in a patented way that results in more complex structures and avoids most gravity-related collapses. On the bottom of my tower, I have allowed for an A block, for me, with a C block on top of that for my husband, followed by M, Z and E blocks for our children. Onto those I’ve added an H for home, and all that entails, a W, for work, and another W, for writing. To this already shaky structure I’ve lately stacked E for extracurricular activities and a T for teaching a class.
All it took to send this already shaky edifice crashing to the floor was I, for illness—a non-specific malady whose main symptom can be described as feeling like sh*t, with a little bit of fatigue and a general malaise thrown in for good measure. I would have attributed it to a chronic and/or terminal condition, if it did not appear C was suffering from a similar complaint. Neither of us is capable of feeling or expressing sympathy with the other’s maladies, because we each already feel so overloaded that picking up any additional task that the other has dropped is more than we can take.
I arrived home last night at a quarter to six, after making the long and ridiculous gymnastics run after work, to find said husband sitting on the couch, complaining of the above-noted symptoms, and not cooking dinner. So, already exhausted and crappy-feeling, I proceeded to throw together a dinner that NO ONE ATE. Let me start out by saying, I love to cook…I love to cook elaborate meals that have lists of exotic ingredients longer than my arm, take hours to prepare and result in culinary delicacies (or would, if I had more skill in this area) that cannot be found in a 50-mile radius of our home—mung dal with sweet potato parathas, cheese enchiladas in simmered tomatillo-jalapeno sauce, roasted vegetable-stuffed crepes. Needless to say, these are things my kids don’t eat. I hate to cook when it involves coming home from work late in the evening and throwing together spaghetti and butter or boxed macaroni and cheese, while three hungry kids hang shrieking from my person.
So I was not sympathetic, when, 45 minutes later, I threw a frittata on the table that was both, somehow, undercooked and slightly burnt, and C just rested his oh-so-ailing head on his hand and stared at his plate. “You could have mentioned that you were not in the mood to eat,” I hissed. “I could have just heated up leftover spaghetti!” I did heat up spaghetti, for M, who refuses to touch eggs, and even though I have sworn off cooking multiple meals, I just did not want to deal with his complaints. He ate up his plateful in record time. E and Z begged for ketchup, licked it off their plates and cried for more. I went upstairs to run the bath.
Sitting in the bathroom, waiting for them and doing a Kakuro puzzle, I could hear the ketchup battle continue to wage downstairs. “Serves him right,” I thought, but I could tell they were hungry, but not going to eat the crunchy broccoli in runny eggs with blackened and slightly funky Swiss cheese over the top. Who could blame them? I went downstairs, dumped the frittata in the compost, gave them each half a banana, a tangerine and sections of grapefruit—their favorite kind of meal anyway—took them up to the bath, and started stacking blocks again.