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Surviving the Witching Hour

Andy has work-related or volunteer-related meetings 2-4 days a week, almost year-round. He's up at 6 am every day and out of the house by 8 or so. After putting in his 9-5, which often involves putting on tons of miles on his car, he ends his work day and goes straight to a meeting. These meetings often last for several hours. Some of them are near home and some are very far away. He travels so much that I often can't keep track of his location: Was it Buffalo today or was it Saratoga Springs? Or was that last week? I never know what time he will be home because he is terrible at managing his time and he's always wrong. All I know is that he will arrive late. I wait for the call, which occurs between 7 and 10 pm, when he updates me on the where and when details of his day and estimated time of arrival.

If I'm not asleep by the time he gets home, I watch him from my post on the couch as he drags himself into the house,looking rumpled and very tired.I'm always amazed by the fact that he can almost immediately pass out. Often he takes his coat off and lays, on his stomach/face on our living room futon, legs hanging off the edges, and falls fast asleep. Then, he wakes up there the next morning and does it all over again.

For those who prefer the comforts of home, this sounds like a miserable existence. Why would someone want to be away from home night after night, missing a home cooked meal, maybe having a beer, watching some Netflix and chilling. There is great joy in taking off work clothes and slipping into something comfortable. As a matter of fact, as I write this I am wearing a fleece bathrobe (which Andy told me looks like I'm in the church choir) fleece pants and alpaca socks. For many, being around people, at work all day, is quite taxing and home is a refuge of quiet, a place away from stress and conflict. For many, they would choose going straight home after work any day over going to one evening meeting after another.

I envy Andy. You see, all of the activities I explained, above, sound like the after work lives of those who are not care givers or those who are empty nesters. Besides taking off my bra and putting on my choir robe, my after work life at home is far from a refuge. For those who care for others, the late afternoon into evening is called "the witching hours". I hear this is true not just for those with children but also those caring for ailing family members or elderly parents. There's something (no really, there probably is a rational, scientific explanation) about the hours of 4-8 pm that make a certain population of people angry, crazy, and crabby. The witching hours are when cherub-faced angel children turn into angry, flesh eating walkers. No parent is safe at dusk in a house with little kids.

When 5, which turns into 5:10 then 5:15 and finally 5:20 hits, I race to my car in the parking lot at work. I then race, within the speed limit of course, the forty minutes home to relieve the after-after-school sitter. Usually the kids have taken off their shoes and socks and I argue with them about how time is ticking and the dog is waiting. They search for their socks and then mittens and hats and coats. They fight about who is going to get in the car first and then talk a mile a minute over one another as I mumble, "uh huh. yep, yep, really?" every few minutes. They ask me to carry their bags into the house because they are just too tired so I cary my bag and their bags and then nobody will open the door for me because they are just too tired. I throw all the bags on the ground and race to let the dog out. The cat follows me around the house, staring angrily at me, and meowing incessantly. I race to feed the cats and the dog and heat the food and help with homework and load the pellet stove and find the overdue library book.

We sit down at the table. I mean they sit down at the table and then they ask for drinks so I get the drinks and then a tantrum starts because I accidentally let the peas touch the pasta. The tantrumming one is threatened about being sent to her room and is then sent to her room to then come out of her room and stare at us with angry flesh eating zombie face. I still have my jacket on but I manage to weave my bra out my sleeve and toss it under the table. After dinner, nobody helps me clean up but everybody asks me what's for dessert and argues about why a bath is necessary. The next twenty minutes looks like a wild pig round up as I manage to get them into the bath. More water ends up outside of the tub and I step in it in my alpaca socks. I manage to avert another tantrum by successfully slamming the plastic mermaid's arm into the insanely tiny hole in its torso. My throat is raw after asking them to brush their teeth 75 times and I give up on the hair combing. A riot erupts over which books to read and there's a bit of sister slapping and then I have to launch into the No Means No Campaign: When your sister says, 'No you may not have my chapstick, she means no. When your sister says no,don't comb my hair, she means don't comb her hair.'

Then we flip a coin over who gets her back rubbed in bed first. I remind them, repeatedly, that I'm only rubbing for a few minutes and I remimd them, as I did the night before, and the night before, that Mommy needs a little bit of time alone, too. The clock ticks past 8 pm and the rubbing speeds up and there's a quick kiss and hug. Then I finish the dishes before I lose momentum, clean up the stray clothes, mittens and papers strewn on the floor and feel guilty that I rushed the kids to bed and worry that I wasn't a good mom tonight.

I envy Andy. Behind his wrinkled clothes,and tired eyes, he has been keeping a deep, dark secret from me all these years which is the secret to parental success-missing the witching hours. You see, I recently decided to rejoin a non-profit board after 10 years. My first board meeting was last week. At 5:15 I leisurely grabbed a chai and mozzarella and tomato panini and strolled to the meeting. Everyone took turns talking and nobody asked me to get them a drink. I didn't have to pick up anybody's socks and no one tantrummed. I didn't have to break up any slapping fights and my socks stayed dry. True, I had to wear my bra the whole time but the two hour meeting was such an easier way to transition into the evening. It was as close to a night on the town as I can get and I was tired but relaxed when I got home- just in time to tuck the girls into bed. I gave extra long back rubs and plenty of kisses and, as their eyes closed, I had no worries that I was a bad mom tonight.


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