“Don’t worry about it,” I tell her.
“I can worry about what I want to worry about,” she snaps back. “I checked my email tonight. You didn’t even answer the easy ones, you didn’t take a meeting, and you sure didn’t bring my attention to any issues. What exactly DID you do all day?”
“What did I do? What did you do?”
“I weaned your daughter,” she says smugly.
My jaw drops. “Excuse me?”
Wendy gestures to the bags under her—my—eyes. “Look at these dark circles, Celeste. Hugh has a matching pair. You have a preschooler, not an infant! It’s time for her to sleep through the night.”
“You can’t go weaning MY child!” I shout. “She’s not ready.”
“Says who?” Wendy asks.
“Says HER MOTHER. Who else’s vote matters?”
“Well, your husband’s, for one. You should have seen the look of relief on his face when I told him I was shutting down the milkshake machine. It’s not just about the milk, you know. It’s about getting good sleep, having the bed back to yourself, and not having this terrible back pain.” She gestures toward the entire left side of her body, which, I’ve forgotten already, usually hurts whenever I sit, stand, or rotate. “Think how glad Hugh will be when your boobs go back to recreational items after eleven years.”
I cross my arms. I know Hugh is ready for us to be done, but he’s not the one with the hormones and the extra calorie burn. “Nursing has nothing to do with him,” I say. “He doesn’t get a say.”
“It’s his daughter you’re talking about, and he does a lot for that girl—and for you. Sheesh, you have any idea how much he does for your family?”
“Do you have any idea how LITTLE your husband does for your family?” I ask her.
Her face falls. “Yes. I do, as a matter of fact.”
My eyes bug out. “Well, what the heck, Wendy? Why are you putting up with it?”
“Putting up with it? As opposed to what? Lysistrata? That only works when the guy wants to sleep with you in the first place.”
Oof. It’s hard not to feel a twinge of sympathy when she tells me that. But she doesn’t need my sympathy. She needs my skill set. “As opposed to this,” I say and present her with the chore chart. It’s two circles on top of each other, held together by an office brad. The top one is divided into pie slices by name, the bottom one by chore—dishes, laundry, mopping, and tidying.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“It works! This is how Hugh and I got into the swing of things when we first married!”
“Adults do not give other adults chore charts,” she tells me.
“Why not, if he’s not doing his fair share around the house?”
“Well, for one thing, he’s not my child, and he won’t appreciate being treated like one. And for another, a load of laundry is not worth it,” she says. “Seth isn’t some working stiff who knocks off at five and then mows the lawn. He’s a gifted sculptor, and his work takes a lot out of him. If I wanted laundry help, I should have married someone else.”
“On this we are agreed,” I say. I wave the chore chart. “But this is cheaper than divorce.”
The expression on Wendy’s face goes dark. “Fine. You just go right on ahead and infantilize my husband. It’s not like I needed a happy marriage anyway,” she says sarcastically.
“Ok, and you go ahead and wean my baby. I didn’t need a happy child anyway,” I echo.
“What does weaning have to do with happy?” Wendy asks. “Weaning is about you getting to sleep through the night and get your health back.”
“What’s wrong with my health?” I ask. “My health is fine.”
“Is this fine?” asks Wendy. She rolls up her short sleeve and holds out her arm, then flaps the bottom, the flabby wing under my arm bone, like she’s trying to take off from the ground.
“Everybody has those,” I say.
“I don’t,” says Wendy.
Curiously, I lift up my own arm, look underneath. It’s just muscle. What a B. “Well, congratulations! You’re thinner than me. How’s that working out for you?”
“It’s nothing to do with thin. I have muscle tone because I get to do healthy exercise. I get to do healthy exercise because I don’t have to take a nap every afternoon to get through the day. I don’t have to take a nap every day because my kids sleep through the night. Which is because they don’t wake me up in the middle of the night knowing they’ll get a delicious, fresh decaf latte if they do.”
“Breast milk is insanely healthy,” I say.
“Anna Joy is insanely healthy already,” she replies. “Kids can be healthy without nursing until they go to college.” She pauses. “I barely nursed Linus, and he’s fine.”
“He’s fine? It’s May, and he’s still roughly the color of fresh-fallen snow. Does he ever go outdoors? Or move his body voluntarily?”
“Do you?” she replies bitterly.
“Are you calling me fat?” My voice is shrill and getting louder.
“Absolutely not! I’m calling you tired. And I am living in your tired body right now, and I can tell you confidently, weaning is a good idea.”
“Not if I don’t want to!” I feel petulant. Attacked.
Wendy softens a bit. “But will you ever want to? Anna Joy is growing up. She’s healthy and happy and a wonderful kid.”
“She won’t eat anything but bananas and toast.”
“So she eats bananas and toast. Child Protective Services is not exactly on the doorstep if you get the rest you need and help her move into her next stage of life. Besides, Hugh said something this morning about how you’ve wanted to do this for the last year.”
I start to get choked up. “She’s my last baby,” I say, anger and nostalgia making for a strange feelings soup.
Her voice loses its edge. “I get it. It’s hard. And the hormones are no joke. I was crying in a Chinese restaurant today.”
I wrinkle my face at her. “What were you doing in a Chinese restaurant?” I ask. “There’s nothing healthy to eat there.”
“You’re very controlling,” Wendy says. “You know that, right?”
“What did you feed my daughter?” I ask her.
“Besides crack cocaine?” she replies.
I snarl at her.
“Tofu veggie dumplings,” she replies.
“Soy has been linked to early puberty.”
“Anal retentiveness has been linked to early murder,” she shoots back.
My anger hits the roof. “There is no one in this world I’d less like to swap bodies with than you,” I tell her meanly.
“How do you think I feel? You didn’t respond to even the most straightforward emails today, and you missed three meetings. You brought a man from the office to meet my kids and made me the subject of gossip for every softball mom on the team. You got my car ticketed, ate four thousand calories, and ignored my kids in favor of flirting with a guy who is not my husband.”
“Oh, really. That’s what you think of how I spent the day?” I reply. “Pretty telling about where your values are. If you look at it like any decent mother would, you could also say I gave your kids some healthy food for a change and taught them how to feed themselves, put some energy toward being nice to your business partner, and filled your fridge with easy-to-complete Crock-Pot kits. Oh, and I cleaned the revolting place you call a kitchen. I mean, what even was that on the microwave keypad? I think it was breathing.”
“Why are you so obsessed with cleaning?” she asks me.
“Why are your kids so lazy?” I shoot back. “And your husband! Sunday in your house was the most surreal day of my life. It was like there was a gas leak!”
Wendy looks consternated. “Our family likes to relax on Sundays. Bridget works hard in softball and gets straight As in school. When things get too messy, that’s when we call a housekeeper.”
“Well, our family likes to clean on Sunday. And Zoey works hard at everything she does. Including helping around the house.”
Wendy’s expression gets as tight as her . . . well, forgive me, but you know what I was about to say. “Believe it or not, Celeste,” she says, “I’m not actually raising Bridget to be the perfect housewife someday.”
I reel back like I’ve been slapped. How dare she?
“A little housework won’t hurt your kids one bit,” I tell her, wanting to sting back. “Nor will a little sunshine, in Linus’s case. Look at him. His skin is the same color as . . . well, I don’t want to say a Jordan almond. But there’s a minty cast.”
“Come on,” Wendy says. “Linus didn’t do anything to you.”
I flush—I’ve gone way too far. “You’re right. I can get a little defensive about my kids . . .”
“I’ve noticed,” says Wendy.
“But I’m just trying to say there’s a lot worse things that could happen to your kids than becoming stay-at-home parents if that’s what they want to be. For example, they could get married to someone who doesn’t respect them. They could miss their kids’ entire childhoods while they answer emails on their phones.”
“You don’t know everything about my family,” Wendy replies.