Many moons ago a friend of mine posted a comment on facebook that stuck with me. It went something like this: I slept like a husband last night! I woke up thinking both of my babies had slept through the night but it turned out I was so tired I slept through their wake-ups and * had to handle them.
Her comment stayed with me, I think, because like my friend I have handled what feels like an inordinate share of nighttime duty – more than I thought I would in what I considered my mostly equal partnership prior to having children. For the most part I am okay that much of the late-night baby handling has fallen to me – it feels like a somewhat natural extension of the nighttime feedings I’ve done with both children. But there have been dozens of moments – drops in the bucket of time that don’t leave a lasting impression – where I’ve secretly (and not-so-secretly) seethed as I once again climbed imaginary stairs while shushing in a baby’s ear and rhythmically patting his or her butt while Sam slept, well, notlike a baby in our bedroom.
I don’t know if it’s an extension of this nighttime caretaking or something more biologically driven, but over the last four years I’ve found myself taking on more traditional mom roles. I make doctor’s appointments and upgrade wardrobes, I fill out school forms and make sure bottles are prepared and lunches are packed for daycare. Sam certainly does more than his share in our “second shift” lifestyle, including making dinner for us almost every night and maintaining our yard, but we aren’t in a tit-for-tat kind of relationship (something the priest who married us strongly warned us against).
I’m not sure what the right word is but I feel compelled – even driven – to do a lot of the caretaking of our kids. I have a difficult time accepting offers for help, even though Sam and I live hundreds of miles from our nearest family. My kids feel like my job, in the best possible sense of the word. But lately I’ve noticed that perhaps I’ve gone a bit too far when it comes to my kids…the other night Sam was trying to put Duncan to sleep but doing it all wrong. Or rather, he was rocking and shushing in a completely different manner than I do and instead of letting them be and working it out, I interrupted Sam, offering him advice and pointers. In my mind I was offering help for a frustrating situation – in Sam’s mind, I was intruding on a moment between him and his son, one that could have been worked through without my interference. It took until the following morning, however, to come to the realization that I need to start sleeping like a husband once in a while, and other things, too.
We’ve had to start bottle feeding Duncan, which I’ll write about in a different post perhaps. The other day, when Sam was about to give Duncan a morning bottle for the first time, I stretched out in bed, luxuriating in the extra half an hour I had while fighting back some bittersweet feelings, when I noticed something. Sam made his cup of coffee before giving Duncan his bottle. I have never done this, and it’s not because I avoided caffeine while nursing. No, the first squawk out of my precious baby boy and there I am rolling out of bed and padding down to his room to get him, practically, it seems to me now with a few days of reflection, hovering from the moment he wakes up until he falls asleep.
It’s so easy to become that mom – the mom who doesn’t want to let the kids spend the night at the in-laws alone – the mom who frets whether her kid will adapt to different routines and food while traveling – the mom who worries if her son isn’t rocked just so he won’t be able to fall asleep. However, nobody likes THAT mom and even more importantly, I don’t think anyone likes being that mom, either. My husband is an amazing father, and I think part of the reason he is so is because he doesn’t always put the kids’ needs immediately before his own. Oh, of course we both put the big needs ahead of our own, but he is able, in select moments, to just leave the kids the hell alone for a few seconds to shower or make a cup of coffee. More than once, now, he has mentioned it’s time for us to start going out at night again, and while part of me wants to sigh and complain about how much work it is to find a babysitter, I know he is right. We had eleven years of marriage and thirteen years together prior to Evangeline’s birth, and yet it is shockingly easy to lose a relationship in the chaos of young kids.
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to sleep like a husband, at least for a long time. I’m too conditioned to the cries for mamain the middle of the night. But I can do other things, like allow myself the time and space to read an article in the newspaper while Duncan plays on the floor, or require Evangeline to wait five minutes for breakfast while I sip my coffee. My husband would never even consider feeling guilty about heading out to play a round of golf – I commit, here and now, to stop referring to myself as a “bad mom” when I leave the kids for an hour and a half to go to yoga. I am removing myself as best I can from this particular cultural, American narrative – I’m going to start doing, at least some things, like a husband.