It feels like the kids and Howard are always extra rambunctious or grouchy on the days when I am tired. Those are the days where I drive up to my house and see the scattered pieces of some broken plastic toy across the pavement in front of our house. Then I remember that Gleek and some neighborhood kids had made a game of smashing the thing and they’d wandered off leaving the pieces. Of course they didn’t clean it up. Cleaning up rarely occurs to children and only sometimes to teens. Cleaning up becomes automatic for people who’ve been in charge of cleaning up long enough to know that life is better if the work is done first. The garbage cans were out by the curb too, waiting for me to bring them in. I looked at these small tasks, only a couple of minutes each, and realized that it fell to me, not to do the tasks, but to make someone else do them. The tiring part is that making someone else do them takes longer than doing them. It takes more energy too, but I simply can’t do all the tasks all the time. I have to make sure that others do them enough that they learn the “clean up the messes” impulse that they’ll need for the rest of their lives.
The house is a wreck, of course. I have been busy over the last month. We had vacation, then a major convention, then the Strength of Wild Horses shipping, then fetching Kiki from college. I haven’t had time to do things nor to make others do them. So I haul the kids from their games and require them to carry in the groceries that I fetched from the store. Then they eat the dinner I provided by spending $5 at Sam’s club for a rotisserie chicken. Not exactly home cooked, but more suited to our newly frugal budget than ordering pizza. The budget is new too. I remember how it goes from the years when we first launched into cartooning full time. But the habits are rusty and I’m still figuring out how they fit with the newer configuration of our lives. Back then I had time to bargain hunt for the cheapest whole chicken available and then to roast it myself. I work differently now and my solutions must be different.
Howard is having a rough day. He alerted me to the fact via text while I was still at the store. I look around the chaos of the kitchen, dirty dishes everywhere, kids wandering around and squabbling while they serve themselves food. I try to gently correct the rudest interactions and remind them that they can speak kindly to each other and still get the outcomes that they want. The kids listen. Maybe it will take this time. Probably not, but it is like making them clean. I have to keep modeling and reminding so that they can practice the empathy for others that they’ll need their whole lives. The chaos in the kitchen is perfectly calibrated to punch all of Howards anxiety and stress buttons. I am not surprised when he disappears back to his office, it is good of him, because he chose the kinder and more empathetic disappearance rather than venting his stress out loud. I am sad that he’s having a rough day, not just for him, but for me. When I’m tired and he’s happy, then I’m not so tired. That’s the truth of hard days. It is not that my family saves up chaos and grouchiness for the days when I’m tired, it is because I’m tired that everything feels extra grouchy and chaotic. Even things that would normally be fine.
I load the dishwasher, because that makes the kitchen better. The kids eat and are re-directed toward their evening homework activities. In the wake of all that, there is some quiet and some order. I sit facing the cleared counters, my back to the rest of the house. I’ll deal with the rest tomorrow. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll have a full night’s sleep instead of the insomnia I had last night. Tomorrow I will do the laundry and vacuum, or make one of the kids do those things. For now, I will rest as much as I can. And I will remember how very fortunate I am to have all of these things which sometimes make life feel chaotic.