One day last week I came home from work totally exhausted. Which is really no different than any other day lately. But this was a particularly long and hard day, and I was in a cranky mood because I had to leave earlier than I was ready to because Johnny had somewhere to be. Walking into our apartment, I wanted to just flop on the couch and pick up a book and order takeout and not talk to anyone, but the house was a mess and my husband was on his way out. He kissed me and ran out the door, leaving me with toys to pick up, a kid to feed, bathe and bed, and dinner to cook. I wasn't thrilled.
I'll tell you a secret. I love being a mother more than anything in the world. I love every minute I get to spend with my daughter and truly feel that there just aren't enough minutes. I miss her so much during the day that most mornings I wake up long before I need to so I can get some quality time in before I have to get ready for work. I make Johnny send me pictures and videos of her while I'm at the office. But there are some times when I come home after a long and stressful day at work when I have to parent by myself because my husband is going out or he just needs a break, and I feel this sensation of absolute and utter dread, and think to myself what the hell am I going to do with this kid all evening?
Then she's running to me, smiling, and throwing her arms around me, calling "Mama!" in a way that reminds me of all the things I am lucky enough to get to do with her before she goes to bed and my fears dissipate like a fog breaks. But that is a very scary moment, no matter how fleeting it is. Working mamas, has that ever happened to you?
But back to that day last week. Normally I come home to a clean or mostly clean apartment. I am just short of a neat freak and that is the way I like it. Not that day. I sighed and looked around the apartment to survey the damage. It was immediately evident that this was not "a mess" but rather an almost archaeological documentation of what went on that day. Looking around and excavating things from the floor, between the couch cushions and in the sink, I could piece together exactly what went on in my absence. The tray from the high chair was still on the table, so I could see that Johnny cooked for her on top of giving her baby food jars for dinner. The exercise mat lay out on the living room floor, so I knew that Thora napped successfully on the floor instead of on Daddy (something we've been working hard at). There were books everywhere - they'd been reading together. The little handmade German xylophone was out, so I knew she'd been making music. Her shoes and socks were by the door, which meant they'd been outside, probably to visit and water the flowers or to go to the playground. She was wearing different clothing than I'd put her in that morning, which was either evidence of a poopsplosion, a very messy and happy meal or some other event that led to her Daddy picking out a new outfit and changing her. There were magnetic letters all over the place, which told me that Johnny kept her busy at her most energetic by saying "Thora, go get me an X" or "Bring me a 2." I could see at a glance how much love and effort went into this day. And every day.
And suddenly, I was no longer stressed. I realized all at once just how hard Johnny's days are and by contrast how easy I have it. He is the reason our daughter knows her letters and numbers already. He is the reason she dances to every song she hears and bangs away on her xylophone or her four-note piano like she's the next Beethoven. He is the reason she loves our little garden and why she counts buses and pigeons. He is why she sings along to "I Eat Cannibals" and says "Oh no" mournfully (and hilariously) when she drops something or breaks something. He is why she goes to bed easily now, why she waits for me by the elevator to come home, why she can say a new word every day (recent additions to her vocabulary are armpit, mango, and my favorite, garbage). Thanks to him, she knows her body parts because he calls them out one by one and she repeats them when he dries her off after a bath or shower.
He doesn't just while his day away with her waiting for me to come home. He is busy raising our daughter. The fact that he can get the house clean before I get home is nothing short of miraculous. I know it doesn't mean he's plunking her in front of the TV. It does mean that he has taught her how to pick out a book and "read" it by herself. He's put her toys in an easily accessible place so she can rummage through them on her own. He has sat with her and her Duplo set enough times that she knows how to open the box and actually put the pieces together. Not only is he teaching her as he interacts with her all day long, but he's also teaching her to be self-sufficient. This is incredible to me.
Most of our friends with children have them in daycare. I am not opposed to this at all as I know it's what some parents need and it's what other parents want. Still, I consider us to be extremely fortunate that we are able to have Johnny stay home and that he wants to stay home. This is the right decision for us. I consider myself extremely fortunate that I have a partner and co-parent as involved as he is. I might be the domineering parent who reads the books, does the networking, makes the appointments, and writes the blog, but I get to leave and interact with adults every day. He's the one who does the bulk of the grunt work. Thora might run to her mama for comfort when she cries, but it's her dad who makes her laugh day in and day out, and this to me is what is most important.
When I first went back to work I wanted to know that he wasn't going to watch TV or surf the internet all day. I wanted to know that he was going to take her outside. I wanted to know that things were getting done in the house. He would sometimes get defensive, worried that I thought he was a bad father. I backed off a bit. As a new and nervous mama full of what I'd read by Dr. Sears and others, I understood that while I have every right to express my wishes and preferences to him, ultimately, he had to parent as he saw fit. So little things started to change and he became more and more comfortable making his own parenting choices. I tried to make him join an activity group for stay-at-home dads. He went once and it was definitely not his thing. Where I would use the stroller more and more frequently, carrying a giant diaper bag so we had absolutely everything we needed should we be suddenly sent on a trip to the moon, Johnny wore Thora in the mei tai up until very recently and carried nothing more than a spare diaper. He became more vocal about what he wanted to do or not do with her. He refused to take her to Gymboree but started taking her to museums. (She still says "art!" whenever she sees a photo or a poster or a painting in a frame.) Over time, he found his own way.
And I didn't find much to argue about. We agreed on the important things: raising her vegan, weaning only when she is ready, teaching her to read and having her see us read, cloth diapering, keeping the toys and the TV watching to a minimum, and making sure she gets outside every day. The rest I was willing to compromise on.
Perspective is an interesting thing. I long for family vacations, extended holiday weekends, days off where the three of us can be together. But as Johnny has pointed out to me, though days like that are a break in his routine, he doesn't get a vacation. Every day with Thora is still a work day for him, even when I am there too. When I am stuck at work late or have a chiropractor appointment before I need to get to the office, his day is extended as well. He doesn't get sick days or personal days. He can't take a mental health day. He has to answer to Thora no matter what's going on in the rest of his life or in mine. He is on all the time: no smoke breaks (not that he smokes), no private bathroom breaks, no shopping or napping during lunch. He hates when I leave him a Daddy-do list, but over the past year he's quietly embraced more and more responsibility, taking on much of the laundry, food shopping, errand running, general home, car, and family upkeeping. He helps keep the apartment clean, he does most of the dishes, and he even takes out the compost for me, something he said he would never do. Since I got pregnant the second time he has even become very active in nighttime parenting, putting Thora to bed almost every night (which is hard for me because my belly gets in the way of putting her down gently in the crib) and letting me sleep through the times she wakes up in the middle of the night. And soon he will be working for two bosses, not just one. So how can I deny him evenings out with friends, blocks of time for video games, the occasional opportunity to sleep in or spend the afternoon working on music, even when I too am exhausted?
My husband recognizes how hard I work and appreciates that I support the family financially. He listens to me complain when I come home annoyed about something and he offers his thoughtful advice. He accommodates my weird schedule when I have a dinner meeting or an early morning obligation in another borough and he doesn't complain when I am up late, logged in on my laptop, trying to stay caught up. But financial support isn't everything, and I wouldn't be able to do what I do if it weren't for him. I couldn't work. I want him to know that I know he is the reason our family works.
And he's totally hot too, isn't he?