Sunday afternoon, I was driving home from a night in the mountains with my family. My car is well-seasoned, so I pay attention to the little things. First I heard the soft noise, like a playing card attached to the wheel of your banana seat bike to make it sound like a motorcycle. (There's probably an app for that now.) Then all the lights lit up the dash, a plethora of dire warnings about brakes and the VCS system, and a couple of squiggly icons meant to communicate who-knows-what. As I pulled off the highway, I heard something crack under the back tires. In the rear view, a mangled piece of plastic rocked back and forth in the middle of the road. It definitely fell off the car, because the noise stopped. My beloved needed to go to the shop first thing in the morning, again. And I had to be at work on time. And the dog, who had been boarded at the vet for a night already, couldn't stay home for the day, because the house cleaner was coming and...well, would you want to try to clean a house quickly with a small, overly affectionate ball of white curly dog following you? Me, either. And I really want our weekly house cleaner to make the absolute most if her time and work without being harassed.
Monday morning was shaping up to be pretty shitty, but then I remembered:
I wouldn't have to take care of anyone but myself.
My dog Shiro, who I love with all my heart and who loves me even more, in the manner of a crazed stalker actually, would survive another night boarded at the vet even if he didn't like it. I could drive my limping car home, pour a glass of wine, do a little writing, stare at my fingernails, eat some cheese, and go to sleep while watching re-runs of Law and Order. And that's what I did.
In the morning, I woke up, made a smoothie, and headed to the mechanic. It ended up taking a little longer than I thought, and I was late for work. But so what? I had all the time in the world, for one week only, to make it up to them. No one was waiting at home to be fed, there were no messes that weren't there when I left, and no one really, really needed new cargo shorts, before tomorrow. No surprises!
After work, I took a leisurely walk to pick up my car. I knew I'd be tired when I got home, but that was a luxury I could afford. As you may have heard, it's a little bit hot here in South Carolina, and my walk to the mechanic was uphill (no, really). When a friend saw me walking and texted to offer a ride, I let her know that not only was I walking on purpose, but that I would love for her to join me at home for some tomato sandwiches and rosé in about an hour. She also complimented my outfit, this stupid amazing dress and these wildly comfortable sandals. She said yes to my invitation, with no qualifiers. ("Oh, I'd love to, but I have to talk with my husband first!" "Sounds great, but I haven't seen my kids in two hours!" "Oh, I would, but I have blah, blah, blah..." I'm down with a "no, thank you," but please spare me the drama.)
Read more about why I want to bring back "No, thank you." → 5 Times to Say "No, Thank You" and 3 Things to Do When You Hear It on The Kitchn
Did I miss the kids? Of course! I'm lucky enough to actually like them. In spite of that, I didn't miss them. (As an aside, I'm sick to death of people acting like it's the worst thing ever if you don't miss the kids. Obviously, any parent misses the kids. But also? Who doesn't love being able to do whatever they want, whenever they want? And I didn't notice any of you asking my husband if he missed the kids when I took them to the beach. And also? He admitted that he missed the dog first, kids second, and me third. So, whatever.) The dinner table didn't feel too empty because I had people over five nights out of the six they were gone. (Boy does this house feel huge when I'm home alone.)
My children aren't much trouble (except when they are), as far as children go. The older two do their own laundry and cook for themselves when they have to. And they always ask if I have anything to add when they put their laundry in the washer, and offer to feed their youngest brother when they make themselves something. They usually don't get caught doing whatever it is they shouldn't do, so I don't have to give too many long, excruciatingly boring monologues on responsibility, respect, and living to adulthood.
But they need to work on cleaning up, because I did some math while they were gone. My house stayed perfectly clean, even though I entertained almost every night, and held down a full time job while finding a few free minutes to knock out some freelance work. I also slept and went for a few brisk walks. So how did I accomplish all of this while maintaining a perfectly clean house? Here's the math:
1 person's general mess
+ 1 helper to walk the dog, fold laundry, and empty the dishwasher
− 1 person's general mess, as cleaned up by that person as she goes
1 house that's just as clean as when the week began
Aha! Busted. You noticed the part about the helper. Fair enough. "K." is a wonderful woman who helps us with the kids, driving the youngest to various activities while we work. Because our boys don't really need constant supervision, she'll also fold any laundry in the dryer, empty a full dishwasher, sweep when necessary, run errands, and walk Shiro when the kids are out of town, so I don't have to come home from work to let him out at lunch. And she organizes things. She's like me, but better. Our home is so much nicer than when I was there full time, and we appreciate the heck out of everything K. does. But she does those things when the kids are home, too, so I only included that in my equation in the interest of full disclosure.
The math should stay the same: If each child and adult cleans up whatever they just messed up, the house should look exactly as it does on Monday afternoons after our house cleaner comes: gloriously untouched and ready for my next party, which is usually starting in ten minutes.
My family's back in town, and the math isn't working. And it would be so easy, and I would be so happy. Can someone just tell them the math? It would seem that I'm a dismally ineffective tutor, because that is some basic damn math.