Shannon was sick all day, and I had a relatively open workday, so I went home very early to take care of the usual end-of-day stuff: meeting Julia’s school bus, supervising afternoon snack, running an errand, doing dinner, et cetera.
From the moment I opened the door after pulling into the garage, I knew this good (or at least decent) deed was going to be roundly punished. Vivi was happy to see me, but annoyed, too: she loves her routine, and her routine doesn’t involve me being home at 3:00 p.m. She fussed a bit, but before it went too far, I had to go back out to meet Julia’s bus. When Julia saw me waiting, rather than Shannon, she did a doubletake and looked peeved. We went inside, and the ready availability of the afternoon snack headed off any incipient trouble.
For a moment. When I tried to get organized for a quick trip to Target for some necessities, Julia balked, saying she wanted to stay home. I wasn’t going to push that, but then Vivi, who’d earlier said she wanted to go with me, balked, too. Then unbalked. And rebalked. And finally decided that she would go.
So off we went. Before we reached the second stop sign, Vivi was crying about my misunderstanding of some arcane plot point in a cartoon she’d watched during the day. I killed that mini-meltdown with kindness, singing crazy made-up songs about passing gas and feet and other things that are preschooler comedy gold. Just as I ran out of rhymes, we made it to Target.
Peace lasted a few minutes, until we found the raisins that Vivi wanted to bring for preschool snack the next day. They looked different than they did in her memory: tears. I told her we’d have to go home if she didn’t stop crying, and didn’t she want to help choose the other things for snack day? She snuffled and moaned while I trekked around Target, picking up the must-buys.
As it happened, we wound up back by the toys, and I decided to spend my Christmas gift card on two games to play with the girls – dominoes, in which they have been intensely interested since we saw some teenagers playing it at the coffeeshop, and Sorry, the board game which I friend had recommended as perfect for the girls. Vivi was very enthused about the idea of buying these games, and said she understood that we wouldn’t have time to play them tonight – need to have dinner, school night, etc.
The ten-minute drive home went okay, but then everything fell apart for real when we arrived. All I needed to do to get dinner ready was heat up leftovers and steam some veggies, but those ten minutes were approximately a century too long for the girls, who lost their individual and collective minds, screaming with rage about how long it took to cook peas, about how Mama hadn’t said it was okay to buy games, about how Julia didn’t want to do homework, about how they weren’t hungry, et cetera. At some point in here, Vivi decided that she did want to play Sorry, and demanded that I stop making “dinnew” and play with her.
Eventually, while trying to ignore the lunacies but address the semi-real issues, and after serving an “appetizer,” I finished “making” dinner and got food on their plates, hoping to hell that they’d be better once they were fed.
No such luck. As soon as dinner ended, Julia – clearly exhausted from her second day back to school after the holiday break – began fighting the chore of five minutes of math homework and a few pages of reading aloud. Vivi reacted by begging more and more to play the board game, whose name seemed more and more apt. Somehow Julia finally finished her math and switched to her reading, which, being much easier for her, usually puts her in a pretty good mood. Vivi went upstairs, then stomped angrily back downstairs to retrieve the board game.
When Julia and I finished her reading, we went up, too, and found Vivi playing the game with Shannon – a situation in which she wasn’t happy to find herself. Vivi stayed there while Julia took a bath, one that was apparently the worst bath of her life, judging by the protesting and tears. She got out quickly, and through some miracle both girls let me brush their teeth and wash their tear-streaked, red-eyed faces. Since Vivi had been in her pajamas all day, she didn’t have to do anything more to get ready for bed. Julia finally gave up at about this point, putting on her own jammies, laying her doll down, and climbing into bed. After a story and songs, I turned their light out and left – only to be called back by Vivi, who hadn’t paid attention to my lustrous singing and missed one of the songs. So I had to sing it again before finally making my escape. They were asleep instantly, of course.