My husband is away on a week-long business trip. Our nanny is on her 6-week vacation. After three days of being alone with them, last night I had one of those I-hope-no-one-who-reads-my-blog-ever-sees-me-now kind of a moment. I’m in the middle of cleaning up after an elaborate, health-conscious, culturally-educational meal of braised sea bass, tofu with mushrooms and minced meat and a special rice dish with baby bok-choy, edamame and carrots. I’ve got dishes piled up to the ceiling in the sink, a table full of half-eaten food and wondering why I had gone through the trouble of cooking any of it. I’m trying to load the dishwasher as fast as possible, with B tugging at my pants saying, “Mama, don’t wash dishes.” It should have been a sign. Well, the girls decided to go into the rice cupboard, dump out 2 giant cups of uncooked rice on the floor, then throw it at each other. “What are you doing? Stop! STOP! I knew I shouldn’t have kept this here where you can get to it!” I go upstairs to get the vacuum. When I come back, they had gotten into the flour and was smearing it all over the cupboard door. I grab their hands and pull them into the living room. “Stand here. And don’t move!” I’m absolutely fuming.
Hours later, I realized two things:
- You cannot keep up a household the same way you did when you have a husband AND nanny.
- Of the three most important people in B and M’s life, two of them are gone. And they are desperately trying to get my attention.
I’m still recovering from my burst of anger and ensuing exhaustion from cleaning, but I decided to have a conversation with them anyway. At bedtime, I held them and said, “Mama yelled very loudly today, didn’t I?” Nods all around. “Mama is very tired today, so when you threw rice everywhere, I got very angry. I’m sorry I yelled at you.” They don’t say anything. “When Daddy and Ayi are not here, I need you to help me keep the house clean. Can you help me?” It’s a lot to ask of a 2-year-old, but they nod anyway.
You really can’t stay mad at a toddler who tries so hard to keep her promise. The next morning, they both clean up breakfast without a fuss. But then on our way to school this morning, B confesses, “Brooke didn’t clean up.” I ask, “What didn’t you clean up?” She says, “Brooke didn’t clean up Play-doh.” I ask, “Do you want me to help you clean it up?” She says, “No. Brooke clean up Play-doh by herself.”
It took three days of exhaustion, misery and way too much yelling for me to learn this: No more elaborate meals or extensive clean-ups. It’s time to break out the disposable bowls, plates and take-out menus. They need time doing Play-doh, storytime and cuddles with me more than ever. The acting out is merely their way of getting my attention. I’m putting aside the idea of keeping the perfect home and ready to get on with the real ‘work’ of raising twin toddlers — tickling, chasing, singing, laughing and oodles of hugging.