Second shift / by Susie Lubell

As I was driving home from work today I was hatching a plan for the afternoon's activities. It's always around 4:00 as I'm getting in my car to pick up my kids that I start to assess the second shift. Is there food in the house? Is it hot out? Should we go to the park before we eat? Should we go to the park after we eat? Should we even bother with park? What about the blow up pool? Should I invite friends over? Should THEY bring dinner? Should I invite friends over to bring dinner and watch my kids while I go to the movies...?

I knew that today would be at least an order of magnitude less chaotic because Maria came this morning and cleaned the house. I just find it to be next to impossible to cook anything when the kitchen is a pit of disaster. So I called my friend and she met us at home with her son. And it was hot today so I decided to move forward with the blow-up pool idea. Dinner was still a question mark but I figured I'd wing something.

It's so hard to balance though because my kids have to eat something right when they get home. They're starving and unless I've prepared meals for the whole week ahead of time, it's likely they'll have to wait. Which is only my own fault so I give them snacks. But if they eat too many snacks then they don't eat dinner. Genius, I know. It only took me like two years to figure that one out with my son.

Meanwhile, back at the pool, the kids are stripped naked, the pool is five inches deep and I am loving it because they're happy and I have time to think about my next move. Then suddenly, without notice, all three kids abort the pool idea and come trampling in the house dripping wet including the baby who's carrying with her three liters of pool water in her swim diaper. So we switch gears. I hustle everyone outside again and bring out the blueberries. Then my kids sit on the porch naked for the next half hour eating blueberries. Meanwhile I've thrown chicken in the over, steamed some broccoli, and brought out the finger paints for the next round of inspired activities.

So we move on to sidewalk painting, also known as"paint your baby sister." And the chicken is still cooking so I break out the cherries and baby girl is now covered in green paint and red cherry dribble, just as happy as she can be, until finally some food is ready so we pile into the house and the kids eat dinner in their underwear.

And I am so tickled to see sun kissed kids eating broccoli in their underwear that I don't even mind the exhaustion. You wouldn't think it would be so hard to orchestrate just a regular drama-free afternoon. But it is. So when it works out, you somehow feel lifted. I mean, at this moment I can think of nothing better than my two babies sitting naked together on the porch eating blueberries. Except that my husband will be managing the second shift tomorrow.