I could not do what my husband does.
Most of his nights are restless. He gets up, showers, dresses and comes upstairs for a dose of Sophia before he leaves for work.
She is elated to see him. She asks him to read to her. To play with puzzles. She hands him pretend lollipops. She shares her stuffed animals. “This is YOU, daddy,” she tells him, handing him a large panda. “This is me,” she says, snuggling a smaller one.
Whether he has slept 8 hours or 8 minutes, he turns it on for her. He reads her a book, between bites of his breakfast. He combs her hair, while I wash my face. He puts on a tiger puppet show, while I change her diaper.
And then it’s time he should be leaving. She begs, she bribes; she wheels and deals.
But he has to go to work, so she lets him go.
Yes, he has to go to work, so he lets her go.
And Sophie and I are left to our devices (vices) for the day.
Her father is never far from her thoughts. If I point out a mother and baby in a book, she corrects me, “Actually, that’s the DADDY penguin.” I am not offended. I am touched. I am pleased.
After her nap, her expectation begins to rise. If he has walked to work that morning, and his car is still in the driveway, she’ll exclaim upon seeing the car, “Daddy’s HOME!” And I’ll have to correct her, “Actually, he walked to work this morning. His car is here, but he is not.”
She is disappointed. She consoles herself with thoughts of what she will do when daddy comes home. “When he comes home, he will play doctor with me.”
“Yes,” I say, “he will play doctor with you. You will lie on the couch and pretend to be the patient. He will examine your leg and find that it is broken.” (I’m not being morbid. She loves this.)
“Because I was doing this,” Sophie fills in, spinning around the room, dizzying herself. “And I fell down.” She mock-slumps to the floor.
“Yes,” I continue, “you fell down.” I scoop her up and lay her on the couch. “And so you need a needle shot.” I aim the medicine syringe at her knee and pretend to give her the shot. (Not medically accurate, perhaps, but it makes her happy.) “And he’ll wrap up your leg,” I add, winding an ace bandage around her.
She leaps up from the couch, satisfied with the promise of future medical attention by Doctor Daddy, and we get absorbed in some other meanwhile activity. Something that fills the time before Kevin comes home.
It is six thirty. He comes in through the back door while I am cooking dinner and Sophie is stealing slices of pepper off of the cutting board. “Pepper thief!” I exclaim.
He has had a hard day. I see it in the curve of his shoulders. The circles under his eyes. He’s tired. He’s sweaty from the walk home. He’s in a t-shirt, his work shirt wrapped around his waist. His face breaks into a smile. “Who’s a pepper thief?” he asks, grabbing her.
“I am!” she shrieks gleefully. She follows him into the bedroom to watch him change, and I can hear their sweet conversation from the kitchen.
“How was your day, Daddy?”
“Hard. How was yours?”
“Good. Mommy played doctor with me. She said YOU would play doctor with me when you get home.”
“Are you all healed?”
“No. I fell down. I need a needle shot.”
They go to the living room with an energy that has long left me, he plays with her. They pretend, they chat, they read until dinner is ready. I call them to the table.
He wrestles her into her high chair. He brings her a glass of milk. He sets the table and pulls out a bottle of wine.
“Can I have some vino?” Sophie asks. “No,” we both answer in unison. “Its an adult beverage,” he adds.
“Oh! That’s sounds good.” Sophie replies.
When we try to talk, sharing bits from our day…news heard, the “That Baby” report (as in, “you wouldn’t believe what that baby said today…”), our own experiences, Sophie interrupts, “Mommy, Daddy talk to ME, please.” (What we have trained her to do, rather than have her whine for attention.) He finishes his thought, turns to her, and incorporates her in the conversation.
“We are a whole family,” Sophie observes, happy to be included.
After dinner, I march us upstairs. “Let’s go, maggot,” I bark at Sophie, “Hup two three four, hup two three four.” And she marches up the stairs, her daddy at her heels.
“Read me a STORY, Daddy,” Sophie begs. The day has come full circle. We are all in my bed. I am changing Sophie out of a soggy diaper, her legs flailing in the air, as Kevin reads to her, holding the book over her head so she can see the pictures. I go to get the toothbrush and I hear Kevin tickling Sophie who alternately cries, “NO STOP TICKLING ME!” And, “MORE TICKLELS PLEASE!”
Part of me could be exasperated. It’s bedtime and he’s working her into a frenzy. But it’s THEIR time. And they are so happy together. I used to interrupt these moments. Now, I try not to (except when its really really late, or we have to wake up early the next day; then I play the heavy), because I have all day. But he has this.
We talk about work-life balance as if it is a female issue. As if we women have cornered the market on a divided self. Men are squeezed out of the debate by our resentment. It is assumed that they are fortunate to have the defined role of provider. It is assumed that they will accept their lot, working a second shift, playing second fiddle to mom, parenting around the edges of the day. As if they didn’t care every bit as much as we do about being present for and being a part of our children’s lives. As if they don’t feel that ache every time they walk away. As if they don’t wish they could “have it all.”
I appreciate your struggle.
I love who you are as a father.
I admire all that you do.