Trading Places With My Wife

I don’t mean this as any kind of insult, but I think of myself more as a writer than a blogger. And it isn’t because I’m some tortured soul who has an open bottle of whiskey sitting on his desk.

Although both of those things are true.

No, the reason I make the distinction is because I’m selective in what I write about here. Bloggers, in my mind, tend to be a bit less editorial, maybe a bit more raw, with what they share.

I don’t do that, for a couple of reasons.

Some of them have to do with the kind of person I am. But some of them have to do with Jack. Because sometimes I worry that this blog could become the equivalent of embarrassing photos I drag out and show to his senior prom date.

Me (in cardigan, mustache and pipe): “This was Jack’s first bath. He liked to pee in the tub.”

Her (whose name will probably be Dylan or Brooklyn or Yonkers or something): “Ooooh. That is like, so totally, like, cute and stuff. Can I text that to my friends?”

Me: “Sure! (We tap smart phones so I can transfer the album to her.) This is Jack trying to ride the dog. He used to think it was a horse. And here is the obligatory picture of him naked. On a bear skin rug, of course.”

Jack (muttering): “There isn’t a jury in the country that will convict me.”

There’s another reason, of course. It’s that, in telling stories about raising him, I want people to like my kid. Natural enough of an impulse.

But parenthood isn’t just joy and wonder. It has it’s share of difficulty and embarrassment and surprise. I work in an office all week, so I have a different view of Jack than my wife. She has a better sense of who he is than I do.

Sometimes it makes me feel like I’m missing out on a lot. But I have it pretty good, too, because when I come home from work, it’s play time with Daddy. We run around a little. We make things out of Play-Doh. He tells me about his day, as much as he’s able. I get to give him a bath and read him a story and put him to bed.

Lately, as Jack takes his firm, bold steps into his twos, I’m seeing this side to him that is perfectly normal developmentally, but completely take me off guard because there are these moments where he doesn’t act at all like the little man I know.

Like last week. We took him to get his hair cut. He’s good about it, because he was born with a full head of hair and has had to, by necessity, get a regular cut since he was five months old. So that was fine. No big deal.

The Kid Kuttery or whatever it was called — I’m sure there was an intentional misspelling in the title — had this small space set aside in the waiting area with a bin full of toys. There happened to be a toy truck that played music. Jack liked it, as he is currently obsessed with all toy forms of motor transportation, and was rolling it around the floor while I paid. Then we had to leave.

Cue melt down. And I mean severe melt down. Crying. Hyperventalating. Screaming. I can still hear him yelling “Truck,” over and over again, like he was frantically searching for a lover amid a smoking pile of building rubble.

This is what makes parenthood difficult, because here are all the things that go through your head.

You have the practical set of considerations, of figuring out how to get a squirming, screaming child out of a public place with a modicum of grace and dignity. You may as well forget it. It’s like getting out of a cab. There’s no good way to do it. You just have to try your best and hope you don’t fall on your ass.

You have the blush to your entire body, caused by the woman who is looking at you as she waits for her four-year old son with the fauxhawk to get called for his haircut, the woman who is glaring at you like you are the worst parent in the world and could you PLEASE get that kid out of here. She saw the whole thing. She has a son. But it’s like you’re raising some sort of hellspawn who shouldn’t be allowed out of a locked basement.

There’s the hot, sharp impulse to be a little less of a gentleman and say something mean and cutting to her as you walk out the door.

There’s the length and violence of the crying and the heartbreak in seeing your son so worked up that it makes you want to comfort him, but you can’t help but feel this little kernel of anger at him, not as deep down inside yourself as you might like it to be, for acting that way.

Over a truck, of all things.

Then there’s guilt, for being mad at him, because he’s only a little guy and to him, that truck is the current center of his world.

And then there is guilt on top of that, because if you comfort him, will that make him think that this kind of screaming fit will get him what he wants in life? You don’t want a person like that around you or anyone else. You know adults who act that way. You’re no great fan.

Then there’s this. A little less than a week later, you’re sitting down at your computer to write about it.

Parenthood is 97% improvisation.

When Lara was sick for a couple of weeks, it was like we switched places and I was the full-time parent. Actually, it was worse, because I felt like a single parent. I had some help, from relatives. But really, it was like I was doing everything on my own while caring for a bed-ridden person on top of it.

It’s hard. Partially because it’s a lot to stay on top of.

Mostly, though, it’s hard because it’s lonely. I love my son. But there’s not a lot to talk about with a two-year old. There’s no meetings or brainstorming or walks for coffee. You don’t get any feedback on if you’re doing a good job. Half the time, you have no idea.

So, at the end of the day, if the boy is fed and seems happy and hasn’t split his head open by jumping down the stairs, well, that’s a pretty good day at the office.

Raising children is a wonderful thing. I truly feel that way. But I’m lucky, in that I get to enjoy and appreciate the best parts of the job.

There are a lot of people, who say (hopefully) unintentionally insensitive things to parents who stay home with their kids every day. “Oh, I could never do that.” “You’re smarter than that.””That’s a waste of your education/talent/ability.” These are things I’ve actually heard said to my wife.

You could say many of those same things about nearly every job imaginable, but for some reason, most people don’t. When it comes to stay-at-home parenting, though, it seems a different story. I don’t understand that.

Because while walking around with spit-up on the shoulder of your shirt doesn’t look very glamorous, how many people in this world are sitting down at their desks every morning with the ability to make a difference in someone’s life? Or are trying to teach, mentor and nurture someone to be the best versions of themselves they can be?

No, you don’t get promoted to Senior Dad. You don’t get a raise. Ninety-nine percent of the time, you don’t get a thank you.

So really, parenthood is like most other jobs in the current economy with one important difference. At the end of your career, you get to watch how you did walk around in the world. That’s a pretty powerful performance incentive, whether you feel appreciated or not.

Even when your son is screaming for a toy truck.

  15 comments for “Trading Places With My Wife

  1. Jake
    April 7, 2011 at 10:54 am

    Alan,

    Yet another great post. I love your view on parenting/single-parenting for the stay-at-home parent and the true value in it. Thanks for sharing so much of yourself and your family.

    Jake

    • April 8, 2011 at 7:09 am

      Thanks, Jake, for reading. It was pretty eye opening, and I thought I did a pretty good job of understanding what Lara’s day was like. Clearly, I did not.

  2. April 7, 2011 at 10:59 am

    There is no winning that situation over the truck. If you calmly try to get the child to cooperate, then the judgmental types say your to easy on the kid, blah blah. If you was firm, then you was too strict.
    Glad you got to experience the other side of the fence, sorry it was because of illness.

    • April 8, 2011 at 7:10 am

      What’s the expression — from bad comes some good? Now that the wife is feeling better, I can appreciate the lesson now that I don’t have to worry about her on top of everything else. Thanks for reading.

  3. April Rueber
    April 7, 2011 at 11:06 am

    I commend all parents whether they stay at home or go to the office each day. It’s a tough gig with little thanks. It amazes me how people can do it. As someone without children, I feel busy and stressed just taking care of myself and feel like I can never find “me” time. I can’t imagine what parents do it…

    • April 8, 2011 at 7:11 am

      We will happily let you take a trial run and let you babysit the boy for an extended weekend.

      (But seriously, once you have one, that ‘how people do it’ answers itself. You actively want to do it and you figure it out.)

  4. Ali
    April 7, 2011 at 11:26 am

    I can still hear him yelling “Truck,” over and over again, like he was frantically searching for a lover amid a smoking pile of building rubble = Coffee spittage on my keyboard funny
    I’m going to start working on getting Jack a Ford truck.

    • April 8, 2011 at 7:12 am

      My wife said that is the best sentence I have ever written, which is funny, because I almost deleted it.

      Appreciate the offer of a truck. Just tell them to make sure that it sings. The boy is very particular.

  5. April 7, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    I am so happy you deem yourself a writer, as this is a big development for you, whether or not you realized that as you typed that sentence. I’m also happy that not only do you deem yourself one, but you write like a writer. I agree whole heartedly that you aren’t a blogger. I’m a blogger. I drop f-bombs like snowflakes in Chicago in the winter. It works for me.

    I don’t know if it’s because this is the first post I’ve read on the blog in all of its glory and not the reader or from my iPhone, but I feel like you’ve turned a corner with your writing.

    I’ve always enjoyed the stories about Jack and I sometimes relate them to parenting Barry’s dog, Jezebel. Especially with the whole feeling guilty for being mad because they don’t know better. It was really hard for me not to be a complete and total asshole to the dog when she shit in my car when we were at Skydive Spaceland, but she’s a dog. She can’t help it. She doesn’t know how to open the car door and excuse herself to use the bathroom.

    I have always enjoyed the stories about Jack, and I feel like they are so much more vivid now. I don’t know if it’s because you’ve deemed yourself a writer and you have a bit more to give with that new title, or if I’m just grasping for something Alan-related since we don’t get to go for coffee walks on the regular… but whatever it is, I like it.

    I think this medium is perfect for you, right now. I hope to hold something of yours, in the printed word, in my hands someday. And I have no doubt that it will happen.
    Sydney recently posted..My first column in a real-life- hold-in-your-hands magazine

    • April 8, 2011 at 7:14 am

      I could probably write a super-extended response to this comment for all kinds of reasons. But I’ll spare everyone that.

      What I will say, with all the seriousness and appreciation that the words can truly mean, is thank you.

  6. alice
    April 7, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    Been there, done that, got lots of tee-shirts.
    A horribly memorable experience was one of the kids (won’t name names)
    attempting to scale the candy shelves at a check-out counter, while screeching M ‘n M, M ‘n M.

    The screeching continued long after peeling said child off the shelves, it continued through the parking lot as child bucked hysterically in my arms, it continued for the better part of a LONG ride home. Right up until the kid feel into a snotty fitful sleep.

    Horrible. And I could have prevented the entire episode by buying a stupid bag of M and M’s. But I couldn’t. I’d already said no. If I back-pedaled where would we be thenext time? At least that was my thinking at the time.

    • April 8, 2011 at 7:16 am

      I understand. Those M&M’S (client) are quite delicious.

      The fine line between giving in and standing firm is something I feel like I wrestle with all of the time and I don’t know if I’ve figured out any kind of system to help me make the judgement call. What I do find interesting, in myself, is that I’m a little bit more willing to backpedal on entertainment (say when he wants to watch a movie again) than I am on food.

  7. April 7, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    This was so well written. I felt like I was in your house, having a beer after dinner, listening to stories about your life.

    I have a lot of chick tendencies. I like to talk about my problems. My girls make me cry. I don’t mind doing household chores. My wife and I don’t “trade places”, we share everything.

    You and I are so much alike. The fact we both recognize how important and impressive our wives are means a lot. Good blog post, Alan.
    Lance recently posted..Drown

    • April 8, 2011 at 7:21 am

      Thanks, Lance. I truly appreciate the sentiments. And if you’re ever in Chicago, the kitchen bar is open.

      I like to think that I do a good job of appreciating the missus, because I do think she is a strong, amazing woman, but doing what she does for a couple of weeks really opened my eyes a little bit wider. I get the feeling that she and Bobina would really get along.

  8. April 28, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    Way to call yourself a writer and then go out and prove it. Great post. Doing the parenting on your own should be required to fully appreciate the other parent.

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