We can tell ourselves "parenting isn't a job it's a relationship" and other philosophical truths. But we all know it's work. And work can be exhausting. Vacations, on the other hand, are supposed to be refreshing. Yet, while the family may be doing something different for a week at a time, someone still has to do the laundry. And dispose of kitty litter. And put out small fires.
You may plan to be a tourist in your own town, sit poolside or read The Weekly World News to your heart's content, but when the junior miss and mister are bickering over who gets the last pretzel, and the boy sprays purple grape juice over the girl to make his point, it's likely to be you who is called to put out the fire.
It's just a fact. Similar to the understanding marriage is work, though no one would ever call it a job.
Now I'm not trying to create a gender war, here. Mom isn't the only one separating skirmishing siblings and scrubbing purple from duds. Although many-a-smart man has had the laundry duties removed from his Honey-Do List permanently if for no other reason than to ensure that her favorite cream-color wool zippered cardigan doesn't end up doll-sized and pink.
Let's just call it a matter of drathers.
I'd rather fold laundry than shovel sidewalks.
He'd rather shovel than have me drive his tractor into the house.
I'd rather scoop kitty litter than trap mice.
He'd rather be hung by his toenails and drained of blood than deal with the cat's recycled Nine Lives.
I'd rather clean bathrooms than cook dinner.
He'd like to eat.
So it's really not a he-said, she-said kind of fight I'm picking.
It's more of a everyone's going to be blind after we get done getting our eye for an eye.
For instance. Let's just say a certain person -- HIM -- discovered the kitty litter had been disposed of improperly.
Dumped unceremoniously into the backyard with the dog poo.
Now, to the dump scofflaw -- ME -- it's all poo, and it will be cleaned up in the spring.
However the dump discoverer -- HIM -- figures .. it's gross and I'm the one who's going to get the shovel job.
Commence the launching of arms:
Don't you know the dog sees this as a delicacy? It's gross. What will the neighbors say? It's gross.
It's poo. I will clean it up in the spring. There's a fence. I said I would clean it up.
Fight, fight, bicker, bicker. Fight some more.
It's never really the thing you're fighting about that's the problem. It's the WAY you both do it.
Poke. Eyes. Poke. Eyes. Until each of you sit there blinking back blinding rage.
Eventually the argument ends and you try and put it behind you. Chalk it up to stress and short tempers. It's only kitty litter. Even the name of the stuff sounds funny. Kitty litter.
But some piece of it stays with you like sand from the beach.
Hurtful words that can't be taken back easily.
I'm still thinking about it as I load the wood stove, improperly. And the log I now realize won't fit completely into the stove is catching on fire. The gloves aren't where they should be. Nor is the fire extinguisher.
I calmly tell the kids to get on their coats and go outside to wait for me to call them back inside. And then I call him in a panic, yelling the words no one wants to hear after they sing-song a happy "Hello."
"WHERE IS THE FIRE EXTINQUISHER?"
What? Huh? What's going on?
Long story made shortened by another JUST TELL ME WHERE IT IS ... A log is on fire and I can't shut the stove door.
Just throw the log out into the snow! He says.
THERE'S NO GLOVE!
Use my good gloves. They're leather. They'll work.
I find them, return to the stove and the log still balanced precariously, and quickly open the door to the backyard.
But I'm standing there, now with the flaming log securely in his dress gloves ready to toss it into the snow, I can't help but laugh at what I see.
The Christmas tree he disposed of in late January is just a few paces from my little pile of improperly discarded kitty litter.
I toss the log between the two.
As the hiss of snow extinguishes the log, my shoulders release their grip on my ears. I won't say a word to him about this epiphany, or my feeling of victory. I'll just tell the neighbors.