There I was, propped in my hospital bed, counting flower deliveries as they overflowed the windowsill, wallowing in my perfect pregnancy gone bad as it culminated in the dreaded C-section. The phone rang non-stop and I took every single call, recounting over and over, step-by-gruesome-step, my water breaking on the kitchen floor, then the drive to CNBC to turn in some work, the Pitocin and the pain, the mean nurse who laughed when I said I couldn’t take much more, the needle in my spine, the doctor tugging and tugging till he pulled the baby free, the post-anesthesia aching of my severed stomach, and oh yeah, it’s a girl.
Yes, it was, and still is, all about me.
Meanwhile, my spouse was the first to hold Molly after she was born, the first to bathe her and the first to bond with her. And when Max and Leo came along, it was the same thing. He held those little babies like they were the most precious, important things in his whole wide world. They were. And they still are.
Parenting didn’t come easily to me. But it came naturally to my spouse.
Long before I got pregnant, I knew I would never breastfeed. I had an aversion to my massive mammary glands and simply couldn’t imagine a baby hanging on to them for dear life. Besides, I wanted to make sure my spouse got the opportunity to participate.
My spouse loved to feed the babies. He measured and mixed that formula with the precision of a pharmacist. He’d hold the little ones in his arms and look them in their eyes, marveling at their tiny faces and rapidly developing minds. I, on the other hand, propped many a bottle with a rolled up towel so I could tend to the overwhelming minutiae and messes around me.
My babies were on perfectly planned feeding and sleeping schedules. That way, I could be too. I never missed out on my eight hours of sleep, not then, not now. Because my spouse has always, always picked up the slack.
My spouse has the patience of a saint whereas I have a hard time being present in the moment. I am always one step ahead, making plans for life’s future glitches. Early on, Molly woke in the middle of the night, crying her fool head off. (I always did the 2 am feeding because I could fall right back to sleep. If my spouse took care of her at 6 am, that meant I could stay in bed until 10 in the morning if I so desired.) I fed her, burped her, changed her and still, she cried. And cried and cried. I carried her around and around our little apartment, pausing outside the bedroom door long enough for her to belt out her dismay, loudly and clearly. I then tiptoed back to the living room knowing what would happen next. He didn’t have to say a word. My spouse reached out his arms, took the baby, spun me around and sent me back to bed.
I am not good with health issues. When Max felt warm, I gave him Tylenol and told him not to mention it at daycare. I once effectively ignored days of the cocksackie virus before the school nurse called me, expressing shock that I hadn’t seen the flaming red sores in poor Molly’s throat. I’m not good with judging the need for stitches, antibiotics or emergency room visits. I leave this up to my spouse who serves as the family’s medical barometer. He instinctively knows if it’s strep or a ploy to get out of a test, an infection or an affliction of the mind.
My spouse is tireless. I’m just worn out. After going on a 25-mile bike ride following a 90-minute hot yoga class, he’ll drag a bucket of balls down to the baseball field and hit and throw to Leo for hours. And then he’ll come home, plant some dahlias in the garden, and toss the football around with Max before going to an indie movie in the city with Molly. Meanwhile, I am busy doing laundry or fretting about what’s coming next.
My spouse loves to go to parent-teacher conferences. He takes a pad of paper and asks pertinent academic questions. I talk to the parents I pass in the hall and ask the teachers everything and anything except how my kid is doing in class.
My spouse is in charge of mornings. I can count on two hands the number of days a year I have to get up and do the dreaded duty. And when I do, I buy bagels or go through Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through for bacon, egg and cheeses. He will cook pancakes and bacon, omelets and biscuits, no matter how late it makes him for work.
My spouse takes the kids to museums and bookstores and Broadway plays. He takes them to sporting events and paints their college apartments when they have scribbled on the walls with indelible ink. He sends them news clippings about athletes and scholars and interesting life stories. He points out flowers in the garden and creatures in the sea. He coaches their teams and serves as a surrogate father for any kid who needs a ride, a meal, a bed or a talking to. And he never, ever complains. He sees the good in all people and doesn’t preach about it. He simply leads by example.
My kids are very lucky to have a father who fills the parenting holes that I leave behind. And they know it.
Molly, the favorite daughter says of her father, “He is the smartest person I know. And he teaches me lots of things. He is very calm but still commands a lot of respect.”
Max, the favorite middle child says, “He supports everything I do regardless of how dumb he thinks it is.”
And Leo, the favorite youngest child knows one thing for sure about his father. “He genuinely cares about other people more than himself.”
I know better than to ask my kids what they think of me. But, I have come to terms with my shortcomings and know that my kids love both of us. I will never give them what he can, but that doesn’t make me any less of a mother.
But, it sure makes him that much more of a father.
Happy Father’s Day from those who love you best!