We sat down to the table for dinner on a Saturday. My 11-year-old son was still in his pajamas, the right side of his hair shooting up in one crazy wing, the left side looking relatively tame.
Our middle daughter, who was 9, she was still in her pajamas too, a sleeveless nightgown with Anna and Elsa on the front that had seen far too many wash cycles. Not that this is horrible. Sometimes, on a Saturday, when things are crazy, the kids just stay in their pajamas.
The real issue, however, was our youngest. She was four, and she was naked.
I’m not sure exactly when she took off her clothing or why. With a four-year-old, it’s hard to tell. But what I do know is that the moment she sat down at the table, my wife and I looked at each other with these stressed out, exhausted eyes.
Sure, we had some options. We could stop dinner and get Aspen dressed. You know, just to prove a point. According to parenting books, this was probably the right thing to do.
But we didn’t.
We set those grilled cheese sandwiches on the table, had a blessing, and dug in, our four-year-old naked and smiling.
Why? Because sometimes you’re just too damn tired.
We’d just moved into a new house. It was a newer house, in a much nicer neighborhood. We got a good deal on it because it had some problems. The family that owned it before had somewhere between 9 and 200 children, and an un-specified number of cats. To put this into prospective, our neighbor assumed the people that owned our house ran a daycare. But they didn’t. They didn’t…
The carpet, walls, closets, all of it, had seen better days. So like a couple of idiots, my wife and I decided to remodel the home while living in it. I want you to understand that this was a bad decision. I cannot stress this enough. If you could see my hands right now as I type, you’d notice how soft they are. How smooth the skin is. Almost like milk or the wing of a dove. I work in education and I write.
I’m not good at manual labor. Not even a little bit.
That Saturday I’d been pulling out carpet from the upstairs. I must have ripped out a million pounds of carpet that day, and I ended up throwing out my back. Then, to make it worse, I cut my hand on a rusty tack strip, and ended up needing a tetanus shot at the doctor.
Our dog was getting used to the backyard, and apparently he’d been barking all day at the dogs next door. No one noticed until someone in the neighborhood called the cops with a noise complaint.
Mel was in one of the bedroom painting, and our four-year old decided to “help.”
Meaning she more or less made expressionist art on the walls, and herself. I tried to get our two older children to help with the carpet or the painting, but by late afternoon, I just didn’t have enough strength to fight with them, so I sent them downstairs to watch TV.
And somehow, between the cops, and the trip to the doctor, and the now bare floor boards upstairs, and the moving boxes filling our living room and garage, all of it climaxed into this moment were I sat across from my naked four-year-old, eating dinner, and wondering if I was a parenting failure.
And I know for a fact that there are going to be a bunch of sanctimommies jumping into the comments section, ready to tell me all about how I’d done this or that wrong, and the real problem was I obviously don’t love my children, and probably never should have had them, and blah, blah, blah, you can suck it.
Because here’s the thing, I had no intention of ever telling anyone this story. But, here’s why I did.
I wasn’t going to post a picture of it on Facebook, or Instagram, or anything.
My plan was to let it simply happen in our home, where only we saw it. But then I got to thinking about other parents, and how I’m confident that everything has stacked up with them, too, and suddenly one of their children was eating dinner naked, and they just didn’t have the strength to do anything about it.
If you have run into this problem, or something similar, I want you to know that you are not alone.
In that moment, I was pretty embarrassed, but now, as I write about everything that happened that day, I don’t feel too bad.
I realize that life happened, and it got crazy, but 99% of the time, my children are fully dressed at the dinner table.
But that 1% of the time, that one dinner, it just got to be too much. And you know what, there’s nothing wrong with that. So if you’ve shared in my pain, I hear you.
You are not a bad parent, and the next day, I am confident you will find the strength to put that little bugger back into clothing before eating dinner, just like we did.