21 March 2013

On My Own

There has been a new development in parenting life. And we are entering uncharted waters. 

Several times since the start of the school year, the wife has had to attend evening meetings for the Doozer’s preschool, meaning I have been left alone with the two kids for some combination of dinner, nighttime feeding, and bedtimes. Which is typically a two-person operation and flying solo can be (especially for me, apparently) a rather trying experience.

And all I’m looking for is a little credit. Is that wrong?

It’s the same thing when I happen to be out with one or both of them. I am hyper-aware of the picture we are projecting and keenly attuned to how we are perceived. I am positively (pathetically) eager to receive spontaneous compliments or admiring looks from complete and total strangers. Seriously. Why, yes, this remarkably well-behaved and sickeningly adorable child belongs to me. I am as much as 50 percent responsible for the awesomeness you see before you. 

There’s a great Michael Chabon essay called “William and I” in Manhood For Amateurs about this very topic. In it, he finds himself overly praised by a fellow shopper in a grocery store, for simply being alone with his child in said grocery store. For grocery shopping and minding a child—regardless of said child’s condition or hygiene—at the exact same time. And how ridiculous this double-standard is, how no mother receives recognition for doing the exact same thing but, you know, all the time.

And yes, I am seeking validation for something I did for a couple of hours, which my wife actually does constantly, day in and day out. Don’t judge me.

It’s sad how desperate and needy I am when it comes to this recognition. I crave it. On the one hand, I recognize that it’s simply what’s expected of me. It’s part of my life now and that’s fine. The practical version of me is fine with that. But the ego, or whatever it is, just wants to be stroked a bit more.

But also, this is hard. Harder than I work all day. I’m not quite sure how the wife does it sometimes. The two hours or so between coming home from work and getting them ready for bed is always the most hectic, harried part of every day. And there’s so many steps. So many routines for going to bed. It’s definitely a two-person job. When I’m on my own, I feel like I’m being tested. I don’t think we have a nanny cam, but sometimes I can’t help but feel as though I’m being observed.

In fact, one time the Doozer did tell my wife that I forgot an important part of his bedtime routine in her absence. The rat! The fink! I do almost everything correctly and I forgot one tiny part and you call me out on the carpet? How dare you, sir? How dare you?

The bottle, the pajamas. The sleep sack, the white noise, the humidifier. The teeth brushing, the skin lotion, the books, the stuffed animals, looking for the moon. The fact that I get through this thing alone without a written checklist on hand is pretty damn impressive, I think.

And there’s not enough time for all of it. Their bedtimes are typically much, much later on nights when we are alone. Not because I’m the “fun” parent and let them stay up, shoving their mouths full of candy and watching extra TV. I am just literally that inept at the entire process. Simultaneously getting two kids into pajamas? Defrosting breast milk for a bottle? Keeping two kids entertained while doing so? This is a taxing process after which I just want to lie down and rest. But then the baby needs to be snot-suckered. Don’t know what that means? Count yourself lucky. When or if you have kids of your own someday, it will—oh, forget it, I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise.

Do they make a line of greeting cards for this type of thing? The point Chabon makes in his essay is that it’s simply expected of mothers to not only be good at parenting, but to absolutely excel at it. But with men, it’s the opposite. If you just show up, you get bonus points.

Hey, it’s not me, man. It’s our society. Blame that . . . group of people.

So . . . did I show you my adorable children? And aren’t I doing a remarkable job with them?

(Insert your own specialized—and obviously, genuine—affirmation here. Thank you. Good day.)

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