I heard a song once – one of those songs that you hear on the radio in someone else’s car, or over the soundsystem at the grocery store – that had a refrain about some woman regretting the fact, in her middle age, that she’d never driven a sports car around Paris, or something to that effect. I can’t remember exactly; what stuck with me, mostly, was the thought that well, I’d been to Paris. So – I thought – I probably wouldn’t have that regret. Which, as it turned out, was quite right: I’m not yet in my middle age, but I can see it on the horizon, and I’m happy to report that there seem to be no travel-related regrets forthcoming.
That said, I do have some regrets, of a sort; they’re just not of the bucket-list variety. My regrets – such as they are, now that I’m a parent, with responsibilities and accountabilities and very limited ability to do as I please – are more of the man, I wish I’d appreciated that when kind of regret. (Regret is a bit strong. Let’s call these retrospective yearnings.) I was thinking about this yesterday, as I lay on the couch with a cranium-rattling headache, trying to amuse the baby by weakly nudging a rattle toward him with my foot. In that moment, the idea that I might ever regret something like not being able to take off to Paris for the weekend struck me as absurd. Paris, schmaris. What I regretted most in that moment was the fact that in my pre-motherhood life I did not appreciate the luxury of being able to take to my bed when I was sick. Which got me thinking: if I knew then what I know now, what would I have done more often or appreciated more before I became a parent?
1. Get sick, and like it: I know, being sick is supposed to be a miserable thing. But is it, really? Assuming that your symptoms are not too brutal, and/or that you’re able to medicate yourself into a happy stupor, there is much to enjoy about being sick. You stay in bed all day, drinking hot steamy drinks and slurping chicken soup and watching bad game shows and soap operas and Dr. Phil and maybe thumbing through some tabloids and napping and just generally enjoying the Vicks VapoRub-scented experience of convalescence. If you live with someone – and especially if that someone is a spouse or romantically beholden to you in anyway – you can bitch and whine at them and they will bring you more soup.
You cannot do this when you have small children. There are no sick days when you have small children. When you have small children, you cannot take to your bed and watch television and huff VapoRub. You have to parent. So what it you’re dripping snot on the head of your wailing baby? That baby isn’t going to feed/soothe/change himself. You’re on duty, bitch. Deal with it.
2. Take naps. Take lots of naps. The kind where you doze off on the couch before dinner, the kind where you nod off at your desk at work, the kind where you just say screw Monday and go back to bed for an hour. Because what I said above about being on duty? That applies 24-7. Which means, no, you can’t just take twenty minutes to “rest your eyes.” Unless the baby is having his own nap, in which case you’re welcome to try to nap, but I’m guessing that you might want to shower/bathe/eat, too, and you’ve probably only got forty minutes, so.
3. Shower/bathe. Enjoy your showers. Take lots of them, and make them long and hot. Also, baths, if you’re a bath person. Long hot baths at all hours of the day. Twice a day, even! With bubbles and oils and magazines.
Oh, sure, it’s not like you’re forced to stop bathing and showering when the kids come along, but you will find that your bathing/shower regimen is seriously curtailed. You’ll skip days – those days when eating and sleeping seem more pressing than cleanliness – and when you finally do get around to performing some ablutions? You’ll be scrambling through that shower in less than three minutes because the baby is in his crib, shrieking, or you’ll be splashing briefly in a lukewarm tub because the hot water tank got drained when the toddler’s tub needed to be refilled, twice, after she a) brought a roll of toilet paper into the tub, because b) her ‘poo-poo was coming.’
You will miss long, hot, leisurely baths and showers, I promise you. Enjoy them now.
4. Have a drink or two at lunch. You know how, sometimes, you go out for lunch on a Saturday and someone says, why don’t we order a bottle of wine/get margaritas/have a beer? and you spend the afternoon eating and talking and drinking and working up a delicious buzz? And it’s, like, totally fine, because you know that you can go home and have a nap and a bath before thinking about what your evening looks like? Yeah, you can’t do that when you have small children, because a) you’re probably not having lunch anywhere that sells a decent bottle of wine, and b) naps? baths? Ha. See above.
5. Cultivate and appreciate a hangover. Hangovers suck, right? Wrong. Hangovers only suck if you can’t take a day off to recover from them. Hangovers, properly tended to, are similar to being sick, only with a little added frisson of shame to make things interesting. When you don’t have small children, you can spend your hangover day in bed, watching television and eating potato chips and warding off that buzz of guilt with Oreos and chocolate milk. When you do have small children, you can’t do this, for reasons that I’ve already stated. But you’re probably not drinking all that much, either, so it’s kind of a moot point.
6. Stay up late/sleep in. See above re: hangovers/being sick. You just really don’t get to spend a lot of time in bed when you have small children.
7. Have sex whenever you want. Ditto.
8. Spend a rainy day watching an entire season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There’s a theme emerging here, I know: things that you do while curled up in blankets on the sofa or in bed while eating junk food. I can’t recommend these activities highly enough. I miss them desperately. If you asked me, would you like to take the family on a Caribbean vacation, or would you like to spend a week, by yourself, just laying around watching DVDs and reading books and eating cookie dough? I would really have to think about that.
Because, seriously: Paris, Barcelona, Tulum, whatever. Whenever I do get around to going back to those places, I’ll probably want to take the kids anyway, because I want to see it all through their eyes and I want them to see what I’ve seen, blah blah blah. But a day off, where I do nothing but lounge and nap and snack and just generally indulge in some lazy-assed laziness? That place, I want to go to there. ALONE.
9. Eat chocolate chip cookie dough (or guilty pleasure food of choice) without any regard for who might be watching. I love cookie dough. I think that cookie dough is better than cookies. But I would strongly prefer that my three-year old eat, say, apple slices and cheese, rather than cookie dough, and so I conceal my cookie dough habit from her as best I can, with varying degrees of success. Just yesterday I was trying to nibble a hunk of chocolate chip cookie dough, torn from the end of a Pillsbury cookie dough package, when I was confronted by my daughter, who demanded to know what I was eating. It’s cheese, I told her. Spicy cheese. The kind you don’t like.
Those look like chocolate, she said, pointing at the chocolate chips.
They’re raisins, I said. Spicy cheese raisins. Then I shoved the rest of it in my mouth and swallowed before she could get a closer look. It kind of ruined my enjoyment of the experience, quite frankly.
10. Take more naps. Seriously. I adore my children, and wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world, but really: most days, I would pay serious cash money for a nap.
Or a long hot bath. Or some uninterrupted cookie dough indulgence. Or a day off. I wish that I’d known that back in the days when I could have them all for free.
But now you know. You’re welcome.
(Parents: what would you add to this list? Would you take Paris or the Caribbean over Lounge Week? Am I the only lazy-assed layabout out here in momosphere-land? Or would you one-up me and demand two weeks? You know, enough time to watch all back-seasons of Lost and maybe also Battlestar Galactica?)