Long ago, before I became a mother, Saturdays shimmered with a luster that no rainy autumn could dim, that no winter storm could cast into gloom. Just the word “Saturday”even when it was printed in business-like black across the top of a Filofax pageseemed to take on a patina of promise. All beautiful luxuries were possible on Saturdaysleeping until lunchtime, reading Wordsworth in the long afternoon, sipping wine in a quiet restaurant, falling asleep in the arms of someone I’d spent the last six or seven hours kissing.
Saturdays aren’t like that anymore.
Saturday now begins at dawnwith hungry children clamoring for food and tugging at their soggy diapersand continues at breakneck pace through soccer games and birthday parties and grocery stores and knee-deep drifts of laundry. For parents, working time seems to extendunbroken by weekend restfar into the twilight of their own waning days. Consider a recent Saturday in the house where I live.
Saturday: 3:30 a.m. Far away, in an entirely different part of the city, a siren breaks the stillness of the suburban night. The baby does not stir; the child does not turn in his sleep. The sound is far, far away, inaudible to human ears. It is not, however, inaudible to canine ears, and the canine in residence is waked into empathetic response for the victims of the alleged fire. She rises stiffly to her feet on her pillow in the den; she turns her nose to the sky; she lets out a mournful, full-throated howl. She continues to howl until my husband, in a lunging tackle across the expanse of the house, manages to bury the dog’s head in his armpit, thus depriving her of breath.
The baby, not himself deprived of breath, sets up a howling of his own. I rush into the children’s room, in the process tripping over a five-foot-tall punching-bag named BoBo the Clown. “Hush, hush,” I croon, finally reaching the crib and patting the baby’s back. “Night-night. Hush, hush. Night-night.” But baby has been asleep for nearly eight hourshe’s rested, he’s hungry, and he’s ready to play. He continues to cry and point to the bedroom door. Across the room his brother slams a pillow over his head and groans.
My husband the living saint comes to the door, smelling of dog. “Give him to me,” he whispers. “I’m up anyway.” He carries the baby, along with BoBo the clown, back into the den. Gratefully, I stagger back to our bed and fall into it. I bury my head beneath a pillow of my own.
Saturday: 6:30 a.m. The living saint, no doubt having closed his eyes briefly in prayer, has slipped into slumber on the futon in the den. In the absence of a conscious chaperone, our second son has 1. unrolled all the toilet paper in the guest bathroom and eaten a few sheets of it, 2. snacked on both cat and dog food, and 3. distributed throughout the house all the nearly-empty-but-still-dripping aluminum cans from the recycle bin in the kitchen. When I enter the dining room, I find my toddler standing in the middle of the dining-room table, gazing in wonder at his own stale-beer-and-pet-food-smeared reflection in the brass light fixture above.
I wake the saint and send him back to our room for his own under-the-pillow shift.
Saturday: 9:30 a.m. My husband, returning to the den with a full cup of coffee, trips over BoBo the Clown and throws his coffee across the room.
“That’s it,” he announces as coffee drips off the artwork and onto the futon. “BoBo has to go.”
Saturday: 9:40 a.m. Sternly instructed to stay out of it, the children and I watch through the sliding-glass door as their father stands out in the grass and attempts to murder BoBo. Full of air, BoBo does not fit into the garbage can, and emptying BoBo of air is not all that easy. My husband tugs open the little rubber valve located in the middle of BoBo’s butt. No air escapes. Embracing BoBo, he squeezes until the children and I can see the veins in his temples begin to pulse. BoBo remains jauntily inflated. “Why doesn’t Dad just poke it with his pocketknife?” my little boy muses aloud.
A good suggestion, I think, but when I open the door to pass it along, my husband raises his hand to silence me. “Everything’s under control here,” he says, stomping BoBo repeatedly with one foot. I nod and close the door. “Dad’s got everything under control,” I tell our son. At that moment, Dadsleep-bewildered and fury-muddledthrows his whole body into the air and crashes down onto BoBo.
With 165 pounds of dead weight coming down upon him from above, BoBo shoots across the lawn like a submarine-launched missile. My husband’s feet fly up over his head; he lands with a sickening thud, spread-eagled in the grass. The children and I rush for the door. My husband opens his eyes in time to see a neighbor walking toward us across the yard. “I’m sorry I had to see that,” the neighbor says, shaking his head.
Meanwhile BoBo, entirely unmolested, rests face-down in a patch of English ivy.
Saturday: 10:30 a.m. Just as the baby is finally getting sleepy again, another neighbor calls and invites our little boy over to play. We leap at the fabulous timing. Now maybe we’ll get a nap too, before we leave for the soccer game in two hours.
Saturday: 11:05 a.m. Bliss, bliss, bliss. The baby’s asleep, the doors are locked, the phone is unplugged, the covers are turned down. We kick off our shoes and climb back into bed, but neither one of us has a single cell fired for romance. It’s naptime for Mommy and Daddy; what we need, what we lust for, what we crave, is sleep.
Saturday: 11:12 a.m. The doorbell rings; the dog springs from her bed and rushes to the front door, skidding across the hardwood floors and barking maniacally. In his room, the baby begins to howl. Once more my husband tackles the dog while I open the front door. Our son is standing on the stoop. “I wasn’t having very much fun,” he explains as his brother screams in the background.
Aware, now, that her home is safe from intruders, the dog heads back to bed. My husband heads back to the children’s room for the baby. I head back to our room for my shoes. We bump into each other in the hallway and look at our watches. There was a time not so long ago when we hadn’t even had breakfast by 11:30 on Saturday morning. But those days are gone, as Wordsworth said, and all their aching joys are now no more, and all their dizzy raptures. It is not even noon and we have been awake for nine hours straight.
“We’ll get to sleep late again someday, honey,” I point out as the baby tugs my glasses from my face and begins to slobber on the lenses. “In 25 years, when the kids are grown, it’ll be just the two of us again, all alone.”
At that moment, our little boy joins us in the hall. “You don’t have to worry about being alone ever again, Mom,” he reassures me. “I’m going to stay with my parents for the rest of my life.”
I look down into his smiling face. Without a single word, I step back into my room, close the door, and climb into bed. Out in the hall, the baby is starting to fuss. I put the pillow over my head and close my eyes. There’s still an hour to go before the soccer game starts