Saturday, October 23, 2010
I remember being shushed when I was little, usually in the middle of the day. “Your father is sleeping” was a phrase that was constantly batted around, the words nattering around my head like mosquitoes that wouldn't leave me alone. My father occasionally worked the midnight shift at the coal mine. When they weren't on strike. I often wondered what it was like to spend so much time deep, deep underground, leaving the sense of the outside world behind him as he boarded the elevator and descended. Each night the black earth swallowed him whole, only to deliver him to us the following morning. When I grew older I found myself working through the night for a time. After I returned from maternity leave, the store where I worked in NYC offered me an overnight shift. I was responsible for overseeing several shelvers. Our job was to get as many books as possible put in place for the holiday shoppers to peruse and perhaps purchase during the day. Every night I boarded the train with T in his sling. People would give us the strangest looks, as if to wonder why a baby would be out at such a late hour instead of sleeping in his own little bed at home. Nowadays I work underground, though the windows keep me apprised of the weather outside. And just like my father couldn't help but bring his work home--the coaldust covered his face, hands, and clothes--my work clings to me when I leave for the day. Spilling over into my car, my house, the rest of my life; it seeps, oozes and cannot be contained. 'She noticed her books spilled on the floor of her car. That was the way it was with books: you forgot they existed; you carried them around as though they were part of your body. Then you looked down and you were wading in them.' (From Four Spirits by S. Naslund)
Last night T went to bed with one last request. "Please will you wake me up at chore time to help you?" he begged. Pleaded. Nearly cried. "But it will be late," I stalled. "It will be cold. And...late." Because yes, children should learn to help with household chores, and yes, parents should encourage any eagerness towards hard work that our kids accidentally reveal, and yes, it's nice to have help for the dark, cold final round of animal duties. But jeez. Having boys help you feed horses means it takes twice as long and there's all that panic about huge platter-sized hooves landed on wee child feet. And if they help you walk the dogs there's a constant stream of observation when what you'd really like to do is read the book you're juggling among the leashes. Having my boys help makes the work harder. T could sense my reluctance and, connivingly, stayed awake until he heard me rustling around downstairs with coats and boots and leashes. "I'm too scared to sleep," he called cheerfully as he launched round the staircase landing. "Is it chore time?" So we did the chores together. He wore the headlamp, blinding me at every turn. He threw a flake of hay. He held Pope's leash. He found the two eggs our 20 chickens managed to produce (all in a day's work). He fed the dogs their treats and decided he too needed a snack, so I sent him back to bed with a cream cheese bagel and instructions to brush after eating, which I know he forgot, which I issued knowing he'd forget. And then I returned to my spot on the couch in front of The Office (American version, though I love both) and finished my wine, realizing our collaboration hadn't been painful. T has reached a useful age. Soon my boys will be able to handle the chores all on their own while I supervise from my warm house. Which is exactly why I had children: free labor. Oh, and because I like to steal their bubble gum while they sleep.