Five O'Clock Is My (Un)Happy Hour

Whomever decided to call 5 p.m. "happy hour" either didn't have children or possessed a seriously wicked sense of humor. Because at my house — and pretty much all the houses I know where a young child is in residence — there's nothing happy about the hours between 4 and 6. My mother-in-law calls it the arsenic hour; I call it my daily hell.

It really doesn't matter how the rest of our day has gone. Maybe my 20-month-old son got up at 5 a.m., like today; maybe he slept until 8 (I swear it happened once). Maybe my 4-year-old daughter was a grump because she was stuck at home and I had forgotten to wash the only pair of leggings she likes (white, stained knees, and threadbare, natch); maybe she was happy because she got to go to school all morning, then I surprised her with a last-minute trip to the park with friends, followed by a frozen yogurt stop before we headed home around 3:45. That happened yesterday, and by 4:15, she was claiming intense boredom. Because after 4 p.m. my kids turn into monsters.

Some nights, unhappy hour might involve my normally amiable children deciding they can't stand to be in the same room as each other. Screaming, hair pulling, and tug of war over a toy that hasn't been touched in weeks is soon to follow. Other nights, they're partners in crime, conspiring to remove every pillow, throw, and decorative tchotchke from their intended resting spots, while I follow them around trying to redirect but mostly cleaning up the damage. Sometimes, they just go ham, stripping off their clothes and running laps around our first floor, then opening drawers and violently emptying the contents. Those nights, there's no glass of wine big enough.

What they don't ever do? Sit down and watch the movie or extra long Sofia the First episode that I cue up every day around 4:15, so mommy can make dinner and pour a white wine spritzer in peace. Sometimes I'll even throw in popcorn or suckers to try to seal their seats to the couch, but inevitably within five minutes, my daughter's whining for more sugary snacks and my son's taken up residence between my legs. Hence why the majority of their dinners consist of some kind of previously frozen breaded meat. Even that takes me an hour to pull off in the chaos they create every night.

The fact that my husband also expects to be fed when he rolls in around 6 p.m. certainly doesn't help the craziness. I started doing Blue Apron a few months ago, and in theory, having preportioned, fairly easy to make meals ready to go in my fridge should make my life easier, but combine two tiny maniacs with meals that require more thought than "microwave for five minutes," and my anxiety levels go through the roof faster than I can chug down that spritzer. (We live in the 'burbs or takeout would be a nightly occurrence.)

Sometimes I feel bad that my husband arrives home at the height of my kids' worst time of the day, but the truth is I'm too grateful for backup to care much about his stress level. Last night, he knew I was about to lose it. "I'll take them upstairs with me for a minute," he said, and they followed after him like the two deranged animals they are at that hour. Ten minutes later, as I was happily putting the finishing touches on my blackened chicken and zucchini rice, he came back down . . . alone. Never a good sign.

"Where are the kids?" I asked. "They're still upstairs. You won't like what they're doing up there," he responded, as if he had zero culpability (but that's another story). What they were doing was taking every all-white pillow, blanket, and sheet off our king-size bed and making a mountain that their ketchup-fingered, chocolate-stained selves could roll around in. The only happy thing about that? It reminded me that shortly after (un)happy hour is over, bedtime arrives. Until then, I'll have another spritzer.