Kid zoo

At a back yard birthday party recently, the entertainment was a menagerie of snakes and other creatures the kids could handle. The kids were on Cloud Nine. I fidgeted a lot, guzzling beer and trying to hide my discomfort. To me, a snake in the yard means go get the hoe.

In the midst of this merriment, a beaming stay-at-home mom turned to me and said, "Don't you miss them now that they're back in school?"

"Who, the kids?" I replied, taking it as a joke. "Hahahahaha."

"No, really," she said. "I get lonely at home all day."

That was enough to make me forget the snakes for a while.

Lonely? At home? With the kids in school where they belong? It never even occurs to me. I love having the house to myself, wallowing in the peace and quiet. I work and clean and snack and play computer games, and no one interferes. Nobody demands my attention or pulls crazy stunts that prompt me to make sure our medical insurance is up to date. Nobody brings snakes into the house.

No, I don't get lonely. In fact, I have just the opposite problem. Now that the kids are back in school, I'm testy on the weekends when everyone's home. So much noise and confusion, so much anxiety and conflict resolution and food preparation. I secretly look forward to Monday morning, when the place becomes all mine again.

It doesn't help that my two sons try to pack a week's worth of adventures and mayhem into Saturday and Sunday. I spend an inordinate amount of time on weekends sprawled in my comfy chair in front of televised football games, the sound down low so I can hear what the boys are up to. Occasionally, I'll shout, "No!" and they'll abandon their latest feat of derring-do in favor of something less likely to result in stitches or broken teeth.

A case in point: The other day the boys were playing with our crocodilian dog in the next room and I hear one tell the other, "Stick your hand in his mouth." No!

The day before: I'm walking past a kid's bedroom and hear this, "Let's make a springboard!" I stick my head through the door and say calmly, "No way. And put those mattresses back on the bunk beds."

Then there was this: I was sitting in my comfy chair, minding my own business, trying to ignore the noisy frolicking in the next room. My 10-year-old bounces into the room where I'm hiding and hurls a paper airplane at me. It hits me squarely between the eyes.

Come on, you say, it was just a paper airplane. Couldn't have hurt much. True, but I wasn't even looking when it zoomed my way. The surprise was worse than the contact. For an instant, it was like getting beaned by a fastball. I nearly had a heart attack.

Nothing like this happens when I'm home alone. I almost never fall out of trees or walk on fences or swat at power lines with broom handles. It's pretty easy to keep an eye on myself.

Aside from the chaos, there's also the housework problem. All week, I keep the house reasonably presentable because I'm home alone. I breeze through the house, putting away laundry and picking up toys and occasionally doing something really strenuous like dusting.

Every night, the kids do their best to undo that work, but they only have a few hours between school and bedtime, and they can't entirely wreck the place.

But on weekends, they've got all day to strew and scatter and soil. Snack wrappers and dirty socks and solitary shoes and baseball cards and crayons and books appear everywhere as if by magic. I follow the boys around a while, policing the area, but always end up retreating to my comfy chair. There's no keeping up with them; it's two against one. But I surrender with the knowledge that I'll live to clean again, even if it takes until Wednesday to recover from the weekend.

And I can recover in blissful solitude, a lone creature tending his den, quietly surviving, hidden away from the hustle-bustle of the outside world. Hmm. Kind of like a snake.

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