I think it’s healthy – proof of a well-adjusted adult, honestly – when someone recognizes and makes peace with their personal weaknesses.
I used to get all bent out of shape, for instance, when I occasionally went bowling with friends, hit a few pins, and then rolled a succession of gutter balls. I’d curse and chastise myself, and get angry and grumpy. As a competitive person who’s used to figuring out how to do things well, I felt embarrassed by my pathetic performance.
But thankfully, while once teetering on the brink of another bowling funk, I asked myself, Who cares about whether or not I’m good at bowling? I only do it about once a year or so, and my friends don’t care. Plus, I’ve never had anyone teach me how to bowl. So how and why would I expect myself to do it well?
And just like that, I embraced the fact that I suck at bowling. But more recently, I’m thinking that I’ll have to do the same regarding my potential as a stay-at-home mom. Not that I’m entertaining the idea of making this move, or daydreaming about it – far from it – but because Lily’s daycare center closes up from Christmas Eve through New Year’s Day, I’ve lately been confronted by my shortcomings in this arena.
Monday was my first “go it alone” day (Joe and I had been sharing the load since last Tuesday night, after which we flew to my father’s home in North Carolina for Christmas). Both Joe and I needed to work this week (and the in-laws are out of town for much of it), so we worked out a plan to split up Lily-duty; but because of the nature of Joe’s job (he’s an attorney), I would be shouldering the bulk of childcare this week.
I dreaded this, felt guilty for dreading it, and chided myself for feeling overwhelmed by the idea of spending whole days with my child when many people do just that all the time. Hell, lots of people WANT to spend days on end with their children. But the idea of even a single full day made me nervous.
So when Lily woke on Monday, I played with her a bit, then packed her into the car and headed to Panera for breakfast. She ate some fruit and some muffin and played for a bit – so far, so good – then took her to the library, fed her some lunch (though the loud noise of two men working to renovate our basement freaked her out), and tried to get her down for a nap. And this is when things fell apart.
Normally, Joe takes her to her room, asks her if she’s ready to get in her crib (to which she usually nods), and then sings her a couple of songs and leaves the room. Of course, when I tried this, she shook her head and said “No!” so I had the brilliant idea of sitting with her in the rocker until she fell asleep. I thought I could transfer her to the crib, though it’s at its lowest setting now, but I was wrong. Two different times, I got her to sleep, tried to put her in the crib, and she awoke and started crying. After the second time, I left her to cry it out, which she did for a good while. I fixed myself a sandwich and ate while listening to her wail on the monitor. Eventually, she got quiet and started chatting in this sing-song way, but then the crying started again.
At about 2 p.m. – I’d tried to get this process going at 12:15 p.m. – things finally got quiet. So I tiptoed up to check on her and saw her lying there with her eyes open, staring up at me. Crap. No nap, no relief. Period.
Understand that I hadn’t gotten a chance to brush my hair, apply deodorant, put in my contacts, take a shower, etc. since getting up with Lily at around 6:30 that morning. (Joe takes off at about this time for work, so I’m usually on my own with our girl each morning.) And swallowing bites of a sandwich while listening to Lily scream on the monitor was hardly a break.
So a long afternoon lay ahead of me, but I reminded myself that Joe said he’d probably come home at around 3:30. I watched Lily take Post it notes off a pad one by one, dropping each to the ground, and I was too exhausted to care. After a while, Lily was scribbling on some paper, and the phone rang. It was an ACLU Foundation person making a plea for a donation. After reluctantly listening to the spiel, even though she’d asked for Joe, I said we’d contribute, and asked her to send us something by mail. She countered by saying how much cheaper and quicker it was to give her a credit card number, and I said, “I’m alone at home with my 19 month old today, and I don’t have my wallet on me. Could you just send it to me by mail?” She pressed on with the credit card thing, and I finally just burst out crying.
That’s right. I cried on the phone with an ACLU volunteer. “I’m having a tough day,” I said, and she finally backpedaled and rambled about how she’d give me a hug if she were here, and how a good night’s sleep will probably make things look better. Yes. A good night’s sleep would be lovely.
Part of the difficulty of the day was not only the lack of a break – I can’t even use the bathroom when Lily’s up and about without her barging in or getting frantic – but the profound, relentless boredom I felt. The world is new for Lily, so things like buckling and unbuckling the strap on her highchair for 15 minutes non-stop is fulfilling for her. For me, these stretches, when I’m really strung out, make me want to run screaming for the hills.
So Lily was playing with Joe’s ties upstairs when Joe finally got home (he meant that he hoped to leave the office at around 3:30, and he was even a little late for that goal). He didn’t realize that on my end, I’d been looking at 3:30 with desperate longing – like a finish line that ended up getting pushed back and back and back.
Given how harried and haggard I looked, Joe offered to take Lily to the mall, where he planned to buy suits for work. He offered to let me stay at home, but I made myself go along, thinking there’s no way he could shop for clothes with a toddler hanging on. And of course, on the way there, she fell asleep in the car seat. Sigh. But I bought us magazines (they don’t sell newspapers at the Borders Express anymore – argh!) and we sat in the car to let her sleep for a bit. Then we went in, Joe shopped while I got Lily a hot dog, and we walked around the mall, heading home as it neared Lily’s bedtime.
So the day ended on a better note, thank goodness. But I am again humbled. When I told Joe that while I don’t think I’m a bad mother, I do think that I’m a terrible stay-at-home mother, he pointed out that I’m just not accustomed to it; and that a napless day isn’t typical, which I’ll readily concede.
When I repeated this sad account to my sister-in-law, she pointed out that true stay-at-home parents develop regular schedules – playgroups and whatnot – so that they’re not so alone, which is also true. So maybe the bowling analogy isn’t wholly apt. But I’ll confess that this “vacation” has been more work and more stress than my usual life is, so I’m looking forward to getting back to the grind.
Is that weird? Maybe. But regardless, it’s definitely honest.
With my stay at home wife/mom more or less out of commission for about 12 weeks I have had to take over both jobs with a little help from my daughter.. I know its not very glamarous work but it matters more than anything. Someone asked me the other day what my greatest regret of the decade was. My answer was immediate. I missed out on a lot of the first 4 years of my daughter’s life. They are precious and they go by in a minute. As woefully unequipped as I feel to the task, I don’t believe there is a better father for my daughter than me. But I can’t be a mom. As you know, your baby is lucky to have 2 parents living in the same house. The typical American family is a single woman with a couple of kids. I guess what I’m saying Jenn is if you have any regrets now, they’ll get worse later. In 5 minutes she’ll be in school. I enjoy reading these blogs about how you grapple with these issues. Good luck.