Before you walked through the door, I was already gone. Grand visions of catching a Greyhound and heading for the border danced in my head as I chiseled day-old oatmeal off the tile and called, “Stop climbing that!” for the 43rd time in an hour. Before you even got to your parking spot, I was clocked out, off duty, my out-of-office message ready to ping back the next person who urgently needed my attention. In my mind, I’d already deposited the kids into your open arms as I made off toward my running sneakers, stash of chocolate or a bottle opener—whichever made the strongest bid for my interest.
Before you walked through the door, I wanted, for once, to not need you so desperately. I wanted to be the type of wife that doesn’t get impatient when her husband says his meeting ran late or asks if he can stop off for a quick haircut before coming home. I wished I could unselfishly encourage you to have beers with the guys from work or go to the gym for the first time in eight months, to do something for yourself that you never get to do because my dire need to be relieved of parent duty always, unfairly, trumps yours.
Before you walked through the door, I was ready to fill your ear with thoughts of how hard being a stay at home mom is. I wanted you to know that the baby spit up in my hair and the toddler helped himself to a sip of a stranger’s iced coffee at the playground, that no one napped and that’s why dinner is cold cereal instead of the Creamy Chicken Pasta that’s penciled in for Wednesday on the chalkboard. I wanted you to respect and admire me for all I do for our family and assure me that even your demanding 9-5 job is not nearly as challenging as raising two young children.
Before you walked through the door, I wanted you to be proud of how well I’m managing at home. So, I rushed to hastily clean up the house that I’d neglected all day—wiping down counters, herding stray toys into bins and baskets, stacking unwashed dishes neatly in the sink so it looks like it’s only one load instead of two. I hurriedly threw water on to boil and took the chicken out of the fridge, in an effort to make it appear that dinner has been underway for more than 30 seconds. I wanted you to see that, today, I’m keeping my head above water, even if I sometimes feel like I’m all but sinking from the shoulders down.
Before you walked through the door, I wished I had time to look nice for you. I wanted some color in my cheeks and shine to my lips; I wanted to be desirable and put together, the way the old me was before I stopped being me and started being someone’s mother. At the very least, when you walked through the door, I wanted to be wearing real pants.
And then you finally walk through the door, a collared shirt and khaki clad superhero, and you are the answer to all my exhaustive thoughts of the last half hour. You apologize for running behind and compliment how good dinner smells, ask how you can help now that you’re here (no, you don’t mind chopping the peppers while holding the baby and taking out the trash at the same time.) You tell me I smell nice though, surely, that’s a lie and pour me a glass of Cab with one hand while juggling a kid who’s screaming about the Goldfish he was slighted in the other.
Even though, five minutes ago, I wanted not to need you so desperately, I undeniably do; I doubt that will change whether our children are toddlers or teenagers or have children of their own. Sure, we do alright when you’re not here—there are playdates and library trips and swim classes that fill up our days—and I know how lucky I am to be the one on this side of the door all day.
But if it’s all the same to you, I’ll always prefer the moment after you walk through the door to all the ones before it.