When I started back to work full-time in September 2010, the most difficult adjustment involved the early evening hours. The kids would go home with friends or stay in after-care at school. I would pick them up after work, drive them home, and start dinner while they worked on homework.
At least, that was the plan. What really happened was that our drive home during the worst of rush hour was filled with hunger-and-fatigue-fueled crabbiness: crying, snarking, crabbing, complaining. The kids would be starving (in the first-world sense of the word); they'd be like hyenas finding an antelope carcass in the Serengeti, growling and snapping until they tore off a chunk, dragged it away from the pack, and filled their bellies.
At the same time, we'd be trying to deal with homework, permission slips, and conversations about bullies, hurt feelings, playground shenanigans, and the general unfairness of life. Snack time morphed into dinner time, because it didn't make sense to make a satisfying snack at four and then have dinner at six; and a small snack was never enough.
There was more of the same chaos after dinner, because homework was still hanging over us. And every damn day somebody forgot at least one book or one assignment, which they'd remember at 9 o'clock at night. Then there would be tears and tantrums and self-recriminations until the affected party finally fell asleep.
It was stressful and inefficient. All I wanted to do at night was drink wine and watch TV; and often I fell into bed exhausted, with no energy to even watch one rerun of Law & Order: Criminal Intent.
My pretend boyfriends were starting to miss me.
My friend Director J said, "You need someone to pick up the kids, feed them a snack, and get them going on their homework so you don't have to start dealing with that at 5:30." These words were a gift from God. We promptly hired our manny, Manuel, who has also been a gift from God.
When Manuel brings the kids home from school, they get started on homework while he makes them a delicious and nutritious snack, such as chateaubriand under glass or spaghettios.
They're happy and able to concentrate. Manuel gently urges them to stay focused on homework, and helps them figure it out. He patiently walks A. Peevie through challenging math problems. When they need a break from concentrating on boring homework, he takes them to the park for slacklining (their latest fun activity), tosses a football, watches You-Tube videos, or plays ping-pong. Then they get back to homework.
On afternoons when they don't have as much homework, Manuel will take them to Lisa's for frozen yogurt or to Natalie's for a hot dog. If A. Peevie has a therapy or clinic appointment after school, Manuel takes him, and I don't have to take time off work.
I walk through the door after work, and the house is generally peaceful*. One kid works on homework at the computer, the other at the kitchen table. The house smells like waffles or grilled cheese sandwiches. Sometimes Sufjan Stevens is playing on the I-Pod dock in the kitchen. He (Manuel, not Sufjan) reminds the kids to empty the dishwasher and take out the trash.
[*Unless C. Peevie is home, in which case forgetaboutit. It's loud. There is all sorts of music being played: piano, guitar, trumpet; the I-Pod is loud; there are sibling battles raging. I should change his blog name to Captain Noise.]
When Manuel is not in the house, his name is often being evoked. The other night, the whole time I was making waffles for dinner, A. Peevie was "helping" me with "encouraging" suggestions that all began with "When Manuel makes waffles, he..."Apparently, I should have listened, because my first batch of waffle batter went horribly wrong. It looked like a bowl of beige-colored hurl. Where did all those lumps come from? I threw it out and started over. I'll bet Manuel never had to throw out a batch of waffle batter.
Mr. Peevie and I are also grateful for the spiritual influence Manuel has had on our household. When C. Peevie, A. Peevie and I were shopping at the mall for non-existent pants to fit teenage boys with 24-inch waists and 32-inch inseams, we stopped for a nosh. We sat down at a table, and A. Peevie asked me, "Do you mind if I say grace?" In the middle of the crowded food court, we bowed our heads, and he prayed a gentle, thankful prayer over our Sbarro calzones.
And now Manuel is leaving us. He is pursuing his own dreams--which, whatever. I know that's what young men do. But still. This is horribly inconvenient for me, and tragic for my family.
I wonder if he could commute from North Dakota; and I wonder if that would be asking too much.