- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 6, 2000

My former job required a good deal of out-of-town travel. This was not a good thing.

It wasn't the leaving that bothered me, although I always made sure to keep the trips short because I didn't like to leave my children for long. It was the homecomings that became too hard. I never knew what I would find when I opened the door upon my return.

Even though I would leave my husband multipage lists of detailed instructions and a refrigerator stocked with nutritious meals I had cooked in advance, he subjected my children to meals composed entirely of the four fast-food groups: crunchy, sweet, greasy and gooey.

He was unashamed of his culinary rebellion, and unfortunately, the children willingly lined up on his side of the food-pyramid mutiny. This made me very unpopular when I included protein and vegetables at meals after my return.

I still remember how I felt when I came back from my first trip away from my then-toddler son. Wanting to make up for the absence, I asked to hear about every second of our time apart. Because my husband had whittled the two-day report down to "he played, he pooped, he slept, he ate," I had to interrogate him for the details.

It was when I honed in on his menu that I found out my son had subsisted on Goldfish crackers and seltzer.

"That was dinner?" I gasped in shock, grateful that the poor boy at least had been fed sanely at the baby sitter's house.

"Well, I didn't really want to cook cereal, so we had the same thing for breakfast, too," my husband admitted. "But it was Goldfish crackers and juice," he added, as if a cup of apple juice made up for the nutritional deficit.

As the children grew older, my husband got a little better at providing meals although his hooray-mom's-gone menus prominently featured pizza and ice cream.

The other reason I dreaded my homecomings was the state of the house. At first I believed the aftermath-of-a-Category-5-hurricane look was a deliberate attempt on my husband's part to protest my absence. My husband has since convinced me that he just doesn't "understand dirt." Unfortunately, my children all seem to have inherited this obvious genetic deficiency.

In fact, years ago, when my husband was trying to earn money to offset losses from a newly launched enterprise, he worked for a short time as a professional house cleaner. I was thrilled when he told me about the job.

"Great," I thought. "What could be better than being married to a professionally trained cleaner."

Unfortunately, he never did get that training. He was fired after just a week on the job. He didn't last past the day he told his boss he just didn't "understand dirt."

I haven't traveled much in recent years. On the monthly occasions when I do go to Washington for a few days, I have adopted a don't-ask-don't-tell policy about my family's menu choices. It still bothers me when I come in the door and see a re-enactment of the scene in "Gone with the Wind" when the camera pans over Gen. William T. Sherman's devastation of Atlanta, however.

My husband recently decided to surprise me with the gift that keeps on giving. He arranged for weekly maid service.

"You work much too hard, and you deserve help," he said with a delight that reflected not only his sincere hope that this truly would lessen my burden, but also that it would end my daily nagging about undone chores.

It worked the first week, and he took all the credit for the house's unusual sparkle when he returned from work after the service had visited. I didn't bother to tell him how many hours I had cleaned frantically before the visit so the service could find clear floors to vacuum and uncluttered surfaces to dust.

The next week, I was in Washington for a few days before the scheduled visit and found the typical mess upon my return. There was no way I could pull off a recovery in time for the service's next-morning arrival.

My husband was shocked when I told him I would have to cancel the cleaning appointment.

"Let me get this straight," he said, struggling and failing to comprehend the concept. "You can't let the maid service come because the house is too dirty?"

"That's right," I said, "I just don't have time to clean for the maids."

Paula Gray Hunker, who works from home, is the mother of four children, the bemused wife of her amazing (but true) husband and a staff writer for the Family Times. She welcomes comments, suggestions and stories from her readers. She can be reached by mail at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave., NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; by phone at 202/636-4897; by fax at 610/351-1791; or by e-mail (hunkerc@erols.com).

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