I once wrote that being a stay-at-home mom isn’t all that difficult. Not surprisingly, that caused lots of mommy heads to explode. “Are you kidding me?” One woman wrote in an e-mail. “This is the hardest freakin’ job I’ve ever done.”
Whatever. I’ve always considered myself to be a mothering badass, sort of like Rambo in a nursing bra, determined to keep the kitchen floor clean, home-school my kids until kindergarten, change diapers, spy on my teenage stepdaughters, shop for groceries, break up squabbles, go to soccer games, catch puke in my hands, cook dinner for six each night, work out at the gym, fold laundry, and work on writing assignments, all without breaking a sweat. Hell, hysterical crying jags in the bathroom aside, I even made it look easy.
Too easy, as it turns out.
Watching me semi-blissfully sail through my days, my husband got the impression that I was the lucky one, even implying from time to time that while he slaved away at his cushy television job, I was sitting home in my pajamas, watching Oprah and filing my nails. As you can imagine, I didn’t much care for his opinion of my workday, but it wasn’t until we were bickering one recent evening and he had the gall to say, “Why don’t you start actually contributing around here?” that I, in polite terms, LOST IT.
“Karma is about to pay you a visit,” I said in a high-pitched, otherworldly whine. Sure enough, a few days later, our vacation to visit my in-laws promptly fell through. Hubs had been planning to take the kids early, so that his parents could help take care of them while I attended a conference. Now, though, he was going to have to see to their every need all by himself, for four long days.
I left Thursday morning, after spending the week preparing the house for Hubs to take charge. The floors were sparkling. The countertops were sanitized. The kids’ clothes were clean and folded. The larders were stocked. He’d be fine, right? “Don’t make Daddy crazy,” I whispered to my 4-year-old daughter as I left. “But that’s my job,” she said, confused. I grinned. This was going be better than I’d thought.
The first phone call from home came a few hours after my plane had touched down in San Francisco. “What’s up?” I said merrily, having just enjoyed a four-hour gabfest with a girlfriend.
“It’s Bruiser,” Hubs replied. “He’s being, uh … he’s being sort of an asshole.”
That’s my boy, I thought.
“What’s he doing?” I asked.
“Crying, yelling, screaming,” Hubs said in a rush. “He’s thrown my cell phone in the trashcan twice. He had an exploding diaper. He scratched my face with his nails. It’s just really hard, Lindsay.”
“Well, look. I’d love to chat but I’ve got a party to go to,” I said lightly. “You’ll be fine. Bedtime is only three hours away!” Reluctantly, Hubs said goodbye.
The next morning when he called, his voice was tinged with relief. “It’s gotten a lot better around here,” he proclaimed.
“Oh really?” I said. My antenna went up. “Do you have something you need to tell me?” Hubs paused.
“Look, I hired a babysitter, all right?” he admitted. “What was I supposed to do? I haven’t shaved or taken a bath in two days!”
“I know, Hubs,” I said sympathetically. “You’ve spent 24 whole hours with them. You needed a break.”
“I did,” he said weakly. “I did.”
Rejuvenated, Hubs worked out a plan that only a dad left alone with two small children could dream up. Since the YMCA offered free childcare, he began working out not once, but twice a day, pulling the kids in and out of the nursery like puppies from a basket. He called me in between workouts to report on his genius scheme while I shopped with my friends in Union Square.
“You won’t believe it, though,” he said. “You know Steve, that guy that talks my ear off every time I work out?”
“He actually ended a conversation with me today,” Hubs said wonderingly. “That’s how desperate I am for adult interaction. Steve ended a conversation with me.”
“That’s bad,” I admitted.
“Your job is a lot harder than I thought,” Hubs said. “Are you coming home soon?” he asked in a small voice. I looked up at the bright blue San Francisco sky, where a rainbow had appeared, and smiled.
“I’ll be home before you know it,” I promised. Hubs exhaled loudly.
Sunday night, we sat in the kitchen together, catching up on our time spent apart. “I’m thirsty,” Punky whined from my lap. We both moved to get her a drink.
“Let me handle it,” Hubs said. I hesitated. Getting chocolate milk was my job. “Seriously,” he insisted. “I’m still in the zone.” Laughing, I settled back into my chair.
I might as well milk this Mr. Mom thing for all it’s worth.