Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Great Issue of Our Time

Every morning, when the mother of small children is awakened by the soothing sounds of someone screaming at her, as she is changing diapers and making bottles and parking toddlers in front of the television and snorting coffee grounds while also injecting the liquid form intravenously, she is confronted by the great existential question that permeates motherhood and to which there is never, no, not ever, a right answer:

To leave the house, or not to leave the house. That IS the question.

The internal debate on this matter never fails to be fierce. Both sides are girded with strong argumentation and logic. On the one hand, if a mother chooses to leave the house with her young offspring, the preparation alone could finish her off for the day. She must pack a duffle bag full of items for every contingency--food for 3 days in case they get caught in a rare August snowstorm; diapers, enough wipes to thoroughly clean her children even in the event an oil tanker spills on them; extra clothes for everyone, including bystanders; umbrellas, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, swimsuits, snowsuits; iPods, iPhones, DVD, VHS (in case of unforeseen time travel; a flask of whiskey and/or Prozac, for either herself or the children, situation and law enforcement presence determinant; and, if the terror alert is above Orange, supplies to turn the duffle bag into a makeshift dirty bomb shelter. And, of course, the children, who must be loaded and unloaded and loaded and unloaded in sequence interspersed by unpacking and unfolding, packing and folding strollers and/or other equipment. Then of course you have the timing of the outing, which must be in between the naps and solid feedings of the younger child, unless of course, you want to bring more equipment. This gives you about 47 minutes to work with for the actual outing.

If all that goes well, you still run the risk that the destination you have chosen will not be up to the high standards of one or both children, who will then make everyone within a mile radius of them aware of their displeasure. For instance, we took Charlotte and Lawson to the Natural History Museum recently, to meet Charlotte's demands to see dinosaurs. To be fair to Charlotte, her parents did take her to the museum on a Sunday in August, the height of the DC tourist season. It was packed, which distressed both her and Lawson greatly. In addition, she was only mildly interested in the dinosaurs, highly disappointed as she was that they were not "real" dinosaurs, i.e. living dinosaurs, but only bones. We tried in vain to explain to her that their moribund state was actually to her benefit, as "real" dinosaurs would not be so friendly and docile but would in fact eat her. She was unconvinced, so we pushed on in our quest to please her, excitedly gesturing at whale bones, recreations of African huts, mummies, butterfly cocoons, taxidermied elephants, and precious gems while she either looked bored or whined loudly that she wanted to go home. Lawson also occasionally threw a fit. We looked like Idi Amin's personal advisors, hovering about the petulant dictator while timidly assuring him that the snails he was being served, while not imported from France exactly, were still exquisite, while he decided whether he would have them tortured and killed or merely tortured. Or killed. Speaking of African dictators, did you know Mobutu's full name for himself meant "The all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, goes from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake"? Well, Charlotte's full name means, "The all-situation whiner who, because of her shrill voice and focused desire to test to her parents' love for her, especially while in public, goes from fit to fit, leaving destruction and misery, not to mention population control, in her wake."

In fact, the only thing worse than leaving the house with small children is NOT leaving the house with them. In my mind, it always seems much easier to stay home with the children; after all, no luggage or equipment transport is required. And we have so many toys. So many toys. If each toy only entertained Charlotte for 5 seconds, simple math would suggest she would be occupied well into her 50s. But simple math does not apply, as it rests on the assumption she has any interest at all in any toys, when in fact she is only interested in amusements that involve bossing around, hanging onto or otherwise affixing herself to, and/or requesting activities that require the assistance of her mother, the very same mother who is trying to dress and feed herself and another child, occasionally pee, vainly tidy her house and otherwise create order in a world of utter chaos. A day spent solely at home with two small children is a very long day indeed, particularly as it seems the children involved view it as an opportunity to conduct scientific research on the outer limits of human sanity. This is in fact their usual mode of operating, but the distractions of the outside world can sometimes give their subjects a moment of relief. At home, in their natural environment, they are completely focused on this mission. It is hard to explain the torture that ensues to someone unfamiliar with the scenario--usually the reaction is "How bad can it be?" Instead of wasting my precious energy trying to convey the inexplicable, I will simply say that it can be very very bad, and if you would care to see for yourself, it is unnecessary to await an invitation to babysit. You may come at your leisure. Then you will see that--much like Roseanne Barr singing, Britney Spears mothering, Elizabeth Taylor marrying, Sarah Palin speaking, Paris Hilton existing--things can be much worse in fact than they are imagined.

Then there are the worst of occasions, those when you have no choice about on which side of this great debate your day will fall. Sometimes you must leave the house, perhaps to get on a plane with your small children, a fate worse than death, which would be greeted as a mercy, worse than life in a prison cell with Snooki. And other times, you must remain trapped in your home by a hurricane, which is what we are facing this weekend. Let's just say that trees falling through the middle of my home is only my second worst fear.

Did I mention they are predicting massive power outages? Shudder.