So why do I still find myself plagued by ungenerous thoughts when Pat flops on the bed with the kids? It’s simple. I’m envious. I had expected him to feel as over whelmed and isolated as I had felt during The Hard Years. I ’d expected him t o f eel like an outsider, as I had, at the preschool co-op - not the village Casanova. I didn’t exactly wish him ill; I didn’t want him to suffer perse; I simply looked forward to a lot of commiseration - and a new sense of appreciation. Of me.
I must admit that some of that commiseration has taken place. On my end, I now understand the particular stresses that come with earning the lion’s share of the family income. For the most part, though, Pat doesn’t need too much commiseration because he is to Mr. Momming what Matthew McConaughey is to naked drumming - a natural.
I learned this much when I substituted for Pat on our workday at the preschool co-op a few weeks ago.
“Your husband makes the best snacks for snacktime,” beamed a mom friend of Pat’s.
“Mine doesn’t know a frittata from a sonata.” Even outside the confines of the co-op, Pat’s parenting skills are praised.
When we stayed with my parents at Christmastime, my father gushed about Pat to several friends at a party, “He’s a master parent. Everything becomes a teachable moment. Yesterday, when the boys threw stones in the lake, Pat compared the ripples to sound waves.” As the kudos keep coming, a new thought occurs to me. Is it possible that I’m not so much envious as I am frustrated? My parenting strengths go by largely unnoticed because they are expected from me. I am a woman. Parenting is a mother’s job. I’m supposed to be the natural. Pat is expected to be the clunker, the poor dude who is all thumbs when it comes to changing diapers and missing in action at bedtime. If he pokes a straw into a juice box, he’s going to be considered some kind of superstar. Even as I try to grapple with my negative feelings about Pat’s totally awesome success, I do see the many benefits. Our household is part of a domestic revolution in which old norms are upended on a daily basis.
My sons witness Daddy doing the laundry and Mommy going to an office, so they don’t perceive work or responsibility to be exclusive to one sex or the other - except for dusting because, as they’ve pointed out to me, I’m the only person in the house who actually sees the dust. I walked in from work today to find the house a wreck. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich sat, plateless, on the edge of the coffee table. I sighed and looked around for someone to blame, but no one was in sight. Laughter erupted from the bedroom. I sighed again and followed a trail of plastic animals through the hall to find our pup tent erected in the middle of our bedroom. The whole structure wobbled from the disjointed elbows and feet that pressed against the fabric so that it looked like an animated being - one that giggled. I leaned down to unzip the tent.
“Oh, hi, Mom,” said Spencer, sitting next to his father and younger brother. They were all in their underpants.
“We’re picking teams,” said Spencer, “and Murphy wants to be a Bear and a Colt.” They laughed hysterically as though the idea was preposterous and therefore hilarious.
“A Bear and a Colt,” I repeated.
“What’s the matter with that idea? Can’t he be both?”
“Mom,” Spencer said,
“You definitely can’t be both.” I got it and smiled.
“Why’d you all take your pants off?” I asked.
“It’s hot in here,” Pat said. Right. I stifled my practical mom urge to ask - then why are you in the tent? Instead, I crawled in with my guys.
Practicality and heat be damned. It felt good to be home together after a long day.
Our household is part of a domestic revolution in which old norms are upended daily. My sons witness Daddy doing the laundry and Mommy going to an office.