Home Sweet Home
This was originally posted on December 19, 2005.
My husband had business out of town tonight, and I decided to use the time for a nice evening of bonding with the kids. I had everything I needed to make chocolate fudge (just in time for Christmas) and it seemed like that would be a fun thing to do together before I bathed them and put them in their pajamas. I'd let them stay up for a while playing with some new toys they'd gotten as early presents from family friends, and I'd finish up the Christmas cards.
I turned on some Christmas music to set the mood and had both kids wash their hands with the gingerbread soap that makes everything smell like the holidays. Mary carefully poured the ingredients into the pot on the stove and Peter stood on his little wooden chair to watch it thicken as I stirred. It reached the optimum temperature on the candy thermometer just as I finished explaining the science behind it, and I set it on a back burner to cool while I gave them their baths.
They're still young enough, so I let them bathe together as a special treat. I got them both soaped and shampooed, and read them a story as they played with the brightly colored educational bath toys we've had since Mary was a baby. After the story was over, I gave them a final rinse, toweled them off, and put them into their warm winter pajamas.
The Christmas music still playing softly in the background, they played together with Peter's new train as I finished off the last fifty Christmas cards and organized them by zip code for the post office. I told them it was bed time, so Mary took Peter's hand, led him up the stairs and walked him to his clean and tidy room, kissing him on the forehead before returning quietly to her own room to read a book until I tucked her in. Stories read and lights out, I changed the music to some light jazz, sampled a bite of fudge, and settled down with a good book and a warm blanket on the couch, revelling in the cozy room with its booklined shelves and toys neatly stored in baskets.
Now, my question for you: At what point did you realize this story was fictional? Was it the science lesson over the boiling sugar water? The story being read while two active children played in several gallons of water without a lid? Or did I have you going clear up to the toys in the baskets?
I completely forgot about the Christmas music, so we've already lost the soundtrack to this tender scene. Mary washed her hands with the gingerbread soap, but for some inexplicable reason, Peter's attempt to wash his hands ended up with him sitting on his bottom in the hallway outside the bathroom, crying and blazing mad at his sister, who claimed complete innocence. He lost interest in the fudge shortly after I got out the first measuring cup, and directed his attention to a glass jar sitting on the mantel over the fireplace with its brick hearth. I bet that combination set off a warning signal in your brain -- it didn't in mine, because at the time the water and the sugar were behaving exactly like water and sugar normally behave over high heat. It looked like a holiday version of MacBeth's witches' brew, including the trouble.
Peter pulled the coffee table up to the mantel and climbed on top to reach the jar, and just as I looked up in horror to see him drop it onto the floor, the pot boiled over. I bit my tongue before I expanded my daughter's education in a way that I didn't intend to (I made up the bit about the thermometer, by the way), slapped the pot onto another burner which it promptly covered with a fresh layer of pale goo, and started swiping ineffectually at the mess with a hastily dampened dish towel.
Completely frustrated, I bundled both children upstairs into the tub. I got them both washed, issued dire warnings about excessive splashing, and retreated to my office to check e-mail. I relaxed a little to the sound of their laughter, right up until Mary came out and said, "Mommy, we kind of both threw up." They had laughed so hard that their dinners had landed in the tub, and I will spare you further description of that scene.
After an aghast survey of the disaster area, I abandoned it and put both children into pajamas and plunked them down in front of a video, which they watched until I decided that it was really quite late enough and put them to bed. No playing with trains. No kissing. No light jazz.
In the next twenty-four hours I will boil or launder upwards of twenty bath toys. I will clean out the tub while holding my breath -- I am fortunately not a sympathetic vomiter, but I'm not looking forward to the task. I will gingerly remove several sodden towels from my sink and run an extra load of wash. I will scrub the sticky remnants of the doomed fudge off of the stove top and dispose of a pot full of something that does not even slightly resemble food. I will tidy up the ravaged family room, balancing books onto more books in the futile hope that they will not fall off before they are attacked again. If I have the energy, I'll start the Christmas cards.
Idyllic scene of hearth and home? Not on your life. But I look in on my sleeping children, and I see a couple of kids who are loved. I see a damp-haired little girl who learned tonight that not all recipes work the way you expect, and that you can still have fun trying. I see a pink-cheeked little boy who learned that it's possible to laugh too hard, but that's actually kind of fun too, in a sick sort of way. I see a mom who's tired and sticky and maybe a little cranky, but who doesn't doubt for a minute that she picked the right profession.
This home is sweet, and it's home.