During a recent dinner out, my husband and in-laws enjoyed a relaxing meal full of adult conversation, laughter, and tasty grub. Not me. I spent the hour frantically cutting chicken nuggets into tiny pieces, buttering bread, removing offensive ingredients (“No raisins!”), wiping mouths, pushing in chairs, playing hangman, picking crayons up off the floor, answering my two kids’ constant questions, taking them to the bathroom (whether they needed to go or I did), and mopping up spilled milk.
Guess how much time that left for eating my actual food before it got cold? Okay, that was a bitter, rhetorical question.
Had I taken my kids out to dinner by myself, I would have expected to have my hands full. But there were three other able-bodied adults at the table. Or perhaps I should not jump to the conclusion that they were able-bodied. Temporary paralysis may have set in, because no one else lifted a damn finger. It was like there was an invisible limousine partition separating me from them and they couldn’t see or hear the full-on preschool I was running two feet away.
Honestly, I felt like I was at a completely different dinner, only mine was located in hell.
Where did everyone get the idea that Mummy is the hired help? Because that’s how it feels sometimes — like I’m on the clock 24 hours a day. Only with no meal breaks. And no salary, obvi. Though truly, if I had a nanny, I would treat her way better than my own family treats me, making sure she got time off occasionally and ate something.
People, I’m the primary caregiver. Not the exclusive caregiver. It’s not like I have magical face-wiping skills. I’m not the only one capable of reading the kids’ menu aloud. I’m pretty sure my children would enjoy playing Tic-Tac-Toe with someone besides me, who might actually let them win. But nobody steps up and I don’t get it.
I can’t blame my in-laws, because the same phenomenon occurs when we’re out with my own parents. They’re very happy to talk politics and football with their adored son-in-law, oblivious to the fact that a full dish of pizza has fallen face down on the floor, causing hysteria and chaos.
My husband, who is helpful at home, seems to prefer the role of amiable host (to adults) than hands-on dad when we’re all out of the house together. And that does annoy the sh*t out of me. But maybe the problem really lies with me. I bet there are things I could do, or not do, that would change the dynamic. For instance:
I could make dinner reservations for the wrong number of people. No chair for Mommy? Oops, better go wait in the car.
I could feign food poisoning, race to the bathroom, and lock the door before anyone can follow me inside.
I could hire a tween to be my restaurant “mother’s helper.” (I wish.)
I could stay home.
Maybe that’s the answer. While the thought of a free meal that someone else cooks is lovely, the reality is soooo….not. Not right now, while the kids are small and needy. So for the foreseeable future, I think I’ll be home, cutting up chicken nuggets with the kitchen shears (so much faster!) and using up a sh*t-ton of paper towels. And if anyone wants me to leave the house with the children there better be an actual nanny involved.