So here’s something that’s crushing Joe’s heart on a regular basis: many times, over the last few months, Lily has literally pushed him away while desperately clinging to me; and generally, she wants me to be the one to hold her, read to her, play with her.
He’s convinced that this most recent phase of Mommy-mania is due to him having to go on a weeklong business trip to Germany. Maybe. But since the behavior existed in a milder form before the trip, I’m not so sure.
First, there was that whole Mommy-baby, bonding-while-nursing thing happening during the entire first year of her life. So, you know, there’s that.
But also, because the time and energy demands of Joe’s job (he’s a commercial litigator) are extremely high, he struggles daily to get home in time to spend two hours with Lily before she goes to bed each night. In fact, in order to make this happen, he must leave the house in the early, early morning each day.
So Joe’s bending over backwards to spend time with Lily. But her toddler perspective isn’t sophisticated enough to understand this, of course. To her, Mommy’s the one who gets her out of the crib each morning; colors and reads books with her for an hour; gets her dressed; and then Mommy carries Lily on her shoulders to daycare, three blocks away.
Mommy’s also the one who picks her up at daycare, providing Lily a shoulder-ride back home; gives her a graham-cracker-and-juice snack, and then she plays with her for another hour and a half, often at the nearby library’s children’s area, until Daddy makes it home from his commute at 6:15 p.m.
Of course, Joe would love nothing more than to do more, if not all, of these things himself. But he can’t. We don’t live lavishly, but even so, a part-time journalist’s salary (mine) just wouldn’t be enough to carry us.
And therein lies the sticking point. Previously, Joe and I talked often about how terribly lucky and unique our situation was: we both happen to love what we do. Through an amazing marriage of luck and hard work, we both ended up in jobs that we find fulfilling and challenging; we’re well-suited to the work; and we both feel confident in our skills.
But since Lily’s birth, subtle shifts occurred regarding our relationship to, and our thinking about, work. When things were so hard during that first year of Lily’s life, I envied, and sometimes resented, that Joe’s job pulled him away from the house for such long chunks of time. And when The Ann Arbor News (my former employer) suddenly announced plans to close, I was in a pre-depression panic, feeling I couldn’t justify paying for pricey daycare if I didn’t have a job to go to, but knowing I couldn’t face full-time mommydom, either.
Fortunately, I got another job (at AnnArbor.com), for close to the same number of hours a week, and as Lily’s gotten a little older, caring for her has recently become more fun. So now, I think Joe envies, and sometimes resents, me for my time with her.
Which brings us back to the current issue of Mommy favoritism. I wince each time Lily pushes Joe away, or won’t let him read to her because she wants me to do it. I instantly imagine how I’d feel if she regularly rejected me like that, and it’s unbearable. But I tell Joe that it’s not ideal on my end, either. In addition to the guilt I feel, I can’t go beyond Lily’s line of sight these days without her crying or calling out for me. And since I often have to leave the house to review plays one or two nights a week, I’ll say goodbye, and she’ll inevitably wail and wrench her body toward me, while in Joe’s arms, as I leave. (This is particularly awful when she sees me put my coat on and gets excited, thinking that she and I are going to go play outside, which she loves.)
Of course, anyone with the slightest ego must acknowledge that having a little one adore you so constantly, so profoundly, can sometimes be intoxicating. You can never then think to yourself, “No one would really notice or care if I wasn’t around.” This tiny girl would, and she reminds you of this every day.
But what about Joe, who’s killing himself to get the little time with her each night, only to have her blow him off? He spends more one-on-one time with Lily on weekends, both to give me a break and to get back some of what he has to miss through the week. Yet it hasn’t made a dent in Lily’s heart yet.
Toddlers have no idea how powerful they are, and how, with the push of their small palm, they can knock the wind right out of a parent.