Poor Toddler has been running a fever off and on since Sunday, so she had to miss her last day of school yesterday. Which meant she also missed her class Holiday Party. Determined to make it up to her, I told her that we would have a fun day. I told her that when she woke up from her nap, we would make Daddy a birthday cake. This seemed to lift her spirits a good bit.
The day began as all Wednesdays do. PJ-clad Toddler, Baby and I hung out in the living room. We played with Legos and read books and watched some cartoons. We made messes. But unlike most Wednesdays, I was determined to keep the place clean. "It's Daddy's birthday, guys," I said. "We are going to clean up every time we make a mess, okay?" The girls looked at me and nodded. Both of them. We were off to a good start.
While I was fetching some coffee, Toddler dumped her crayons all over the living room. She scattered them with skill - a few here, a few there. I walked back into the room and she looked up at me and grinned, proud of her hard work. I smiled. "Now where is your crayon bucket? We have to clean up, remember?"
Very seriously, Toddler looked at me and said, "It's for sale."
"Okay, it's for sale, but where?"
"Under the Christmas tree," she replied. What a little entrepreneur. Selling her used goods to Santa.
We cleaned. And made messes. And cleaned. And made messes. The girls helped me load and unload the dishwasher. Team work was in full effect. I can do this, I thought, admiring the continued peace and order of my surroundings.
I ordered lunch from a diner and we had a picnic in the living room. I ordered the girls their absolute favorites - macaroni and cheese, chicken fingers, fries. We spread the goodies out over the coffee table. Neither girl ate. Not a thing. Hmmm. I tried to coax some food into their little bellies, but to no avail. We all cleaned up the lunch we didn't eat. Fine. Time for nap.
As both girls napped, I buzzed around. Cleaning some more. Empowered by this sudden surge of domesticity. By four, both girls were up again. I told them that it was time to head out to the grocery store to buy cake ingredients. The kids seemed jazzed. Baby crooned a singsong, "Bye bye" over and over and got her own coat. As we left our building, Toddler said something to me."Mommy, our house is very messy. We need to clean it up."
"Okay, babe," I said.
And moments later, we were at the store. I pushed our impossibly gargantuan stroller down narrow aisles. I only ran over two people's feet. They both happened to be old ladies.
This was when the day started to take a slow and utterly poetic decline. We found our cake mix. Yellow. And our frosting. Chocolate of course. We bought a little carton of eggs. Organic obviously. We bought rainbow sprinkles and candles. Once home, I unpacked the ingredients to get started. The girls started to run wild. I tried to get them to eat dinner. But they were on a full-on boycott of all things other than mini black-and-white cookies. Fine.
Not to be deterred, I got going on the cake. Like a good girl, I read the conspicuous text on the back of the box. I measured out water. I poured the mix in. Toddler pulled over her little stool to help. I let her crack the eggs. Then I began a fruitless search for vegetable oil. In a panic, I hopped on Twitter and asked whether I could substitute canola oil. I got several amused replies telling me that, yes, I could use canola. (Thanks, guys.) I added the canola. We were on a roll.
I began to stir. Baby ran around the kitchen island. Toddler took it upon herself to do the dishes and managed to spray herself with copious amounts of water. She asked me to take her wet shirt off, so I did. And kept going. I let Toddler stir. She did a fabulous job. We put the cake in the oven and set the timer. And that's when the spiral really began. Both girls took turns crying. Baby had Toddler beat. She cried and cried. I realized that she seemed a bit sick. Her diapers confirmed this. I tended to my weepy Baby while Toddler ran around and seized the opportunity to make messes that I couldn't tend to. Baby was inconsolable and ended up going to bed at 6pm, well before her Daddy, the birthday boy, got home.
When the cake was ready, we let it cool. And then we got to work with the frosting. Toddler and I took turns with the knife. When I wasn't looking, Toddler gauged big chunks out, explaining that "she needed to test it." Once frosted, I wrote a very sloppy, "Happy Birthday, Dad" in bright blue frosting. Toddler was impressed. I took a picture. To have proof. (See Exhibit A above.)
And then Toddler asked if she could add a few sprinkles. "Of course!" I said. She dumped half the jar on, rendering the words unreadable. Whatever. She added her rainbow pizazz.
And then she said she wanted cake. After saying no to food all day, this mess of a cake looked fine to her. I explained that we had to wait for Dad to come home. She cried a bit about that and then ran into the living room. I hung back, trying to attack the latest mess. Toddler was a little too quiet for my liking, so I went in to check on her. There she was, shirtless, in her little yoga pants, rolling around on our white chairs. Cute as can be. I marveled at her whimsy, her spunk. And then I saw something. I squinted.
"Is that chocolate on your chest?" I asked.
"Yup," she said. "It is."
(To keep things anonymous, I provide you with the above shot. You can see the elbow chocolate. There was a lot more on her chest. Trust me.)
Anyway, I got closer to the chairs to assess the damage. Sure enough our lovely white chairs now have very sophisticated spots of store-bought frosting on them. As I was wiping her down, Husband walked through the door. Into a home that looks exactly like it does every Wednesday evening - covered with a film of filth and frenzy. Toddler skipped to him and threw her arms around him. "We made a cake for you!"
And the three of us gathered around that messy cake in our messy kitchen. We lit candles. Husband and Toddler blew them out together. I made many wishes. Even though it was past her bedtime, we cut Toddler a slice. She took it and bounced off into the living room. And I took this opportunity, this first quiet moment of the day, to throw my own arms around my guy.
"Happy Birthday," I said. "I tried. I did."
Husband smiled. And hugged me back.
Here's the thing: I did try. I really did. And I didn't exactly fail, but that order I was so determined to create? For once? It never quite manifested. And this left me over-thinking things like I so often do. This left me pondering the idea that some people are just better at these things - at baking cakes and controlling chaos. This left me wondering whether domesticity is a matter of nature or nurture or probably both. This left me curious about whether I am the only one who is always one vast step behind? The only one who doesn't know about the interchangeability of vegetable and canola oil? The only one who ends up with a trashed apartment and chocolate-clad children at the end of the day. And last night, I told myself that this is just par for the parental course. A scripted assurance I give myself all the time.
But I'm beginning to wonder if that's really true.
I am sorry this post is long and unwieldy. It, like my apartment and my babies, is not crisp and clean. No. But it is real, I think. I write this now, warmed by the sun that shimmies through the Starbucks window. And now I will go home and check on my babes. Toddler is on the mend. But it turns out that Baby is sick. Again. And so am I. And I won't regale you with the symptoms, but just know that I lost all my cake calories in the middle of the night and will be extra svelte for my family's holiday party tomorrow night. Just know that there are lots of Baby diapers being changed. And those white chairs? They narrowly escaped an impressive fountain of infant vomit a few hours ago.
But that's okay. This back and forth between compelling chaos and faux order, between myriad messes and temporary tidiness, between health and sickness? That's life. Our life. A life I love. And would never trade. But that doesn't mean it's always easy.
Do you think domesticity is something innate or learned or somewhere in between? Are you able to keep your home clean even when there are young creatures running about? Is everyone in your household sick at this time of the year?