I freely acknowledge that I am not a vision of marital bliss by the time Adam arrives home most nights. He’ll walk in the door, announcing his exhaustion, and I’ll stare at him with something bordering on wrath. Carrot peels from dinner prep stuck to my face, driveway chalk crusted under my nails, a laundry basket wedged under one arm, I begin my oft-repeated litany on how he has NO IDEA WHAT TIRED REALLY IS.

Since both giving and receiving this speech can become dull after a while, I work diligently to mix it up a bit, peppering the diatribe with comments like I HAVE NEVER WORKED SO HARD IN MY LIFE and YOU TRY ENTERTAINING A THREE-YEAR-OLD ALL DAY and—my current favorite—YOU WOULDN’T EVEN KNOW WHAT A VACUUM IS IF IT HIT YOU IN THE FACE. (I find that this last one has a certain 1950s fishwife je ne sais quoi.)

Adam stands at the counter patiently, removing his shoes and mixing a cocktail as I continue to remind him of how lucky he is. On his train ride to and from work, he can read the news, relax along with some music. At work, he can participate in intelligent conversation, make critical decisions, brainstorm with peers. The socialization! The lunch options! The utter and complete lack of Curious George and twisted car-seat buckles and bunny-shaped macaroni and cheese!

Yes, I like to suggest regularly that his job is easier than mine. But on days like today, days of sandcastle villages and sunblock-scented salt air and drippy plastic cups of watermelon slush and a little girl who roars with joy every time a wave splashes her, I remember something else: I would never, ever say his job is better.

I admit: I haven’t been the brightest ray of sunshine around the old homestead as of late. There are probably all kinds of small and inconsequential reasons for this, although I think much of my mood stems from the fact that Aura has been battling one small illness after another these past two months. She always gets better, thankfully, but I can’t help but feel that the two of us have spent more time in doctors’ offices than playgrounds recently.

I know that the getting-better is the important thing. And of course I know that a healthy-happy-Aura is the essential part. Yet sometimes I get so…tired. At the risk of repeating about 500,000 other momblog posts out there, this staying-at-home thing is often (for me, at least) bone-numbingly tired. I have edited entire teacher-edition textbooks, stayed up until all hours of the night planning conferences and writing sixth-grader-friendly recaps of the American Revolution. But nothing compares. Nothing.

And sometimes the exhaustion translates into times when I allow myself to wallow in self-pity, in these absolutely disgusting woe-is-me moments where I dwell on the time, the energy, the dedication required to raise a child all day, every day—and to do it the Correct Way. I listen to other mothers talk about how they can leave their children with nearby relatives, and I envy. I hear about husbands who never travel for work, and I sigh. I read magazine articles about children who can play by themselves for a full hour (happily! while dressed in designer corduroys!), and I rub my eyes out of sheer frustration.

Yesterday, that familiar overwhelming feeling of OhGodItNeverStops started to slither through me again. I was on the phone with Adam, who was regaling me with tales of the highbrow cocktail bars and restaurants he’s been sampling while down in New Orleans for a conference. As he was describing what he had ordered for dinner the night before, I was trying to get the vomit out of Aura’s sheets, since a coughing fit had triggered her delicate (read: pain-in-the-ass) gag reflex the night before.

While I balanced the phone between my ear and loaded the detergent into the washer, I found myself tearing up. I interrupted Adam. “This is not the life I pictured for myself,” I said. Adam paused, then said he understood. He said we’d work on making it easier. I sighed, said to ignore me, and wished him good luck in the talk he was about to deliver.

I left shortly after that to retrieve Aura from her two-and-a-half hours at preschool, making a quick detour to the Chamber of Commerce to pick up an end-of-year gift card for her teacher. I had to park a couple of blocks away, and as I was making my way to the office building, my shoulders hunched and head drooped, an enormous gust of wind came out of nowhere. I looked up in surprise, and at that moment a very large, mercifully empty Dunkin’ Donuts cup came flying at me, clunking into the side of my head with admirable velocity and commendable force.

Then the wind died down. The cup rolled to a stop at my feet. As I bent to pick it up and toss it into a nearby trash can, I heard myself laughing. I chuckled a little more when I got back into the car, snickered as I drove to Aura’s school, and mustered up a fully genuine chortle as I parked. And when I walked into her classroom, on the last day of school in what was her first-ever year of preschool, I smiled again.

Because as Aura, completely healthy and completely happy, reached out her still-small arms for a hug, it struck me: Maybe all anyone needs is to be hit in the head once in a while. I tell you, it snaps you right out of it.

Hi. My name is Kate and I hate cooking.  

And this was no big deal until Aura arrived. Before that, there was take-out and there was defrosting and there were Trader Joe’s meat+ beans+ sauce entrées, but dinner was never An Event. Once in a while, just for chuckles, we’d spend a weekend afternoon making an actual meal, after which we’d congratulate ourselves heartily and draw historically inaccurate comparisons. “Look!” I’d yell gleefully to Adam. “We flambéed corn JUST LIKE THE PILGRIMS DID.”  

Then Aura came along and I cut down on work. It seemed…obligatory that I take on the brunt of the cooking, and that it involve things like ingredients and pans and nutrition. So far, I think I’ve done passably, my quiches and Thai peanut noodles and buttermilk chicken uncolored by the hatred I feel while making them.  

You know what I hate most? The pressure. And for that, I wholeheartedly blame:  

  

Before the Food Network came along, a person could just tool around the kitchen, doing her best and then serving the end result. Yes, of course, some creations would be better than others. But that was to be expected, such as with, I don’t know, American Idol contestants, or children.  

No longer. Now EVERYONE is an expert on cooking, because EVERYONE watches the Food Network. Hell, you don’t even have to cook to be an expert, not that this stops most people. The other day, Adam peered down at the cutting board as I was chopping. “Wait!” he exclaimed anxiously. “Is that a three-quarter-inch dice?”  

“Um, it’s a dice alright,” I replied, my grip on the chef’s knife tightening. “I’m not sure how many inches it is.”  

“Kaaaaateeee,” he moaned, shaking his head with a level of distress typically reserved for natural disasters. “If the dice is wrong, the entire dish will be wrong. DON’T YOU KNOW BETTER THAN TO MESS WITH THE SUGAR-PROTEIN MATRIX?”  

I’m not sure, but I think that was right around the time I offered to three-quarter-inch dice his left testicle. Let me try to remember. Yep, it was then.  

I place the blame for the matrix comment squarely on Alton Brown. You know where he can shove his food-chemistry diagrams? You get one guess.

From here on out, I’m instituting a severe weekly cap on how much Food Network people in this house can watch. That goes for Aura, too. The other day, she walked into the living room just in time to catch the end of a Rachael Ray episode. “Mommy!” she called excitedly. “This lady just made super yummy noodles and caramel cake for lunch!”  

I sat down to join her on the couch. Slinging an arm around her, I said, “Yum! And you know what that lady likes to cook for dinner?”  

Still wide-eyed with newfound adoration, Aura turned to me. “What?” she answered.  

“Little girls,” I told her, then changed the channel.