Wish You Were Here: What to Expect When You’re Expecting to be Very Late for School One Day

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Life is often unexpected; and also at times, highly predictable.

So when I came downstairs early one morning to find the cat eating what I could only presume to be spare ribs and an open can of pineapple along with its sharp metal top tossed aimlessly to the rug for someone (myself, to step on), let’s just say my surprise was somewhat on par with finding more dirty dishes magnificently mounded in the kitchen sink.

I blame it on the leprechauns. Or gremlins. Or the small- to mid-scale earthquake that must have hit our dining/living room somewhere between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., leaving me longing for a stiff drink, a cleaning person and perhaps an industrial size dumpster, all before my first sip of coffee.

It’s still winter. It’s still cold and my house (in spite of all my efforts) still looks like an episode of “Hoarders” (pre-intervention, obviously), and what’s worse, the magic cleaning fairy has yet to arrive. Maybe she got eaten by a gremlin? Or the cat? Maybe I should file a missing person’s report? Or maybe, just maybe (and truly, I don’t even want to consider this), she’s not coming at all and I’ll be sentenced to a life of cleaning up other people’s messes and enabling them, because on some level I really just need to be needed, and yes, I realize I essentially just described what it means to be a parent.

I text my daughters, who are likely still in bed, blissfully unaware that it’s time to get up and “bring down any and all dirty dishes, garbage and laundry.”

To which the older doesn’t respond at all and the younger answers with, “but just why?”

Ask a stupid question, you’ll usually get a stupid answer, no answer at all or a husband who suddenly picks an inane argument over the double-A battery you tossed out with trash last night by accident. We have approximately five hundred of them in case you were wondering (batteries, not fights), as well as some other choice items he will “process” and “dispose of properly” when (never) and if (also, never) he has time. Here’s the part (and you wouldn’t be wrong) where you envision broken VCRs, multiple cordless phone units, printer cartridges, boxes full of miscellaneous tools, screws, his windbreaker from sophomore year of high school, two lamp fixtures from his parents’ house from when they moved and couldn’t store anything, a poster from a science project he did in eighth grade, college textbooks … you get the idea. I get a headache. ‘Later’ never comes and I just end up shutting the door to Oscar Madison’s “office” because staying married is important to me.

The girls emerge from their lairs carrying exactly no dirty dishes, garbage or laundry, and then act as if I’ve asked them to walk to Alaska and deliver a polar bear back to me.

They carry on, singing their injustices to anyone who will listen (mostly the cat), stomping back up the stairs to retrieve 45 mugs and a bag of half-eaten Goldfish before trudging out the door for (in my younger daughter’s words) “the place where fun goes to die” (aka school).

She slumps into the back seat with all the exhilaration of someone about to be executed.

“Do you have your mask?” I ask, pulling out of the driveway, stressing about the natural disaster our house has recently become and not just the dishes and the garbage or the laundry but all the stuff that needs fixing that never gets fixed, the loose floorboards, the peeling paint, the dryer that sounds like a dying cat or first-year violin student every time it starts up.

Suddenly I’m really tired; tired of cleaning up other people’s messes, tired of fighting over battery disposal and spare ribs and why we need to hang onto that 13th edition of Principles of Finance.

And then, of course, I get stuck at the train crossing. “So predictable,” I grumble, looking at the clock, realizing we have exactly two minutes to get from Cannondale Station to Middlebrook, and…

“I can’t find my mask,” she says.

“I asked you…”

“I don’t have a mask!”

She starts ripping apart the contents of her bag … papers, pencils, some Sun Chips that look like they’ve seen better days and could possibly double as her science Fair project spills onto the floor. She freaks out. The train leaves the station, along with any and all hope of getting her to school on time. I debate whether to turn around but we’re already so late.

“They must have masks in school,” I say, cruising way too fast past the Wilton Y, the high school and possibly a cop. “We’re going to make it,” I say, trying to sound reassuring but I feel like an idiot, not just for forgetting the mask but for believing in gremlins. For the love of leprechauns, I’m almost 41 years old. But really, I’m kicking myself because this is all so par for the course, so familiar … the morning mess, the morning rush, the redundancies of reenacting the same thing over and over and expecting a different result while trying not to lose sight of what’s really important in life.

She gets out of the car, turning for a brief moment to tap on the passenger window, and then I see it, as plain as the mask on her face.

“I love you, mom.”

Columnist Lesley Kirschner grew up quiet, in the woods, and devoid of siblings so her hobbies quickly became reading, writing, and talking to inanimate objects. She also spent a considerable amount of time doing voice-overs for her dolls and watching too much daytime television–channel 3, sometimes channel 8, if the weather was good and the antenna wasn’t acting up. She was in attendance at school, graduated from a very much not notable college not worth mentioning, and was transplanted to Wilton with her husband, Ambler Farm‘s Farmer Jonathan and their (baby makes) three children almost a decade ago. Although she never quite found her calling in life, other than perhaps the doll voice-overs, which in hindsight were eerily convincing, she’s happy to try her hand at writing and is thankful for the support and community she found on Facebook’s Buy Nothing Wilton. Lesley realizes while this is all very exciting, she’s not winning a Pulitzer so she’ll wrap it up and be quiet. She’s had a lot of practice.