This is what it’s like.
Having three boys, that is.
Your husband picks you up from the airport – less than 24 hours before he will board a plane to Europe. But that’s another story.
You’ve returned from what can best be described as a lightning fast return to your home state; squeezing in visits with family in not enough time. Dumbfounded at the rate your nieces and nephews appear to be growing, only to realize your own children are growing up just as fast. And if they’d been with you, their aunts and uncles would undoubtedly have thought the same thing.
It’s a nice visit – baby holding, decent temperatures, a jog on a trail, moderately successful Target shopping, a Chipotle burrito bowl – and you return slightly worn out but ready to be reunited with the apples of your eye, who happen to be snoring in the backseat when your 97 Volvo pulls up to the curb at the airport.
Your husband starts with pleasantries. How was your trip? How is the baby? How are the nieces and nephews?
And then the unpleasantry. ‘So, thanks for not emptying the shredder…..’ and he trails off, or doesn’t, who can remember. Because you’re slightly taken aback by – if entirely familiar with – the approach. The blaming the other parent for whatever disastrous thing the children did while the other parent was gone.
In this case, dumping the contents of the shredder all over the basement.
And you may have questioned his blaming you for leaving the shredder residue in its designated repository. After all, what’s next, blaming you because the children dumped the trash out of the trash can? But he has just spent four-full-days-and-then-some with three boys. His three boys, but still.
The matter is dropped or abandoned; the details of ‘the incident’ hazy and the aftermath unaddressed, save ‘I tried to clean it up’ or ‘I spent two hours cleaning it up’.
You walk into the house you haven’t seen for several days. It’s relatively tidy, pretty good really, considering four boys were left to their own devices. But there, in the living room, lies a clump of shredded paper. Which is strange because you could have sworn your husband said: ‘in the basement.’
‘They dumped the contents of the shredder all over the basement.’ As in, the floor below the living room. And, as you walk towards the bedrooms, you notice there are clumps of shredded paper in the older boys’ bedroom as well, which is even farther from the basement than the living room.
[If you had a smartphone with gps you might even be able to enumerate the distance.]
And then you blink and your husband flies away and you blink again and you realize it’s day two of solo parenting and you should probably deal with ‘the basement.’ So you head downstairs to assess the extent of the damage caused when one boy, or two or three, (still not clear on the details) decide to rid a small black box of its shredded contents.
There is shredded paper in the laundry room, mixed with glitter – from another incident the week before. And the obviously cleaned carpet is still littered with paper. And then you look in the bookshelves and notice there are clumps of paper strips in each of the shelves. You open a few game boxes and find paper in there, too. Ditto for the plastic buckets that contain their toys. And the wonky loveseat. And the corner of the room where the accused shredder still sits (unplugged, because you wouldn’t dare leave a plugged-in appliance in a basement where boys play).
Picture this…….times ten thousand
You begin the [second, or third round of] vacuuming. At some point you realize the vacuum cleaner is not actually sucking anything into its see-through basket. In fact it seems wholly incapable of sucking up anything – paper or otherwise. You investigate and realize the black hose is filled to the brim with bits of paper. You retrieve bits of stuck paper with your fingers and toss it onto the carpet [is that irony?] and glare at the boys who insist the three year old is the guilty party.
After unclogging the vacuum’s hose of all its paper, it still refuses to work. Perhaps because its rinsable filter is clogged beyond recognition. As luck would have it, there is a second vacuum cleaner. And it happily sucks up a few strands of paper. And then it stops too, as if it suddenly remembered, ‘oh yes, I did this last week and I’m not doing it again.’
And you consider, briefly, emailing your international-traveler husband, who’s sleeping in a room with a window that looks out onto the elevator inside the hotel. But then you realize your blaming him for two broken vacuum cleaners would be akin to him blaming you for leaving shredded paper inside a shredder.
Still, it’s a coping mechanism, survival technique and you sit down in front of the computer and compose a very short email: ‘Um, so are all the vacuum cleaners now broken?”