A few years back, when child was in pre-school, I had to go to a conference in New York for work. I didn’t need much convincing — the thought of 3 days and 2 nights to myself, talking to adults, no duties, worries, guilts or scares to think about beyond myself and my work was deliciously enticing.
The night before leaving, while my husband and I were reading in bed, I mentioned that I would make a ‘To Do” list of all he needs to take care of while I’m away. “No big deal,” I said, “probably 4 or 5 items.” Without realising it, Child and I had fallen into a routine that was a well-oiled machine, and I thought some helpful tips would make his life easier as He would be playing the role of Me.
You would have thought I’d killed the cat. He harrumphed and growled that he was perfectly capable of taking care of his child thank you very much. “Seriously, Di, what do you take me for? Do you not remember that I used to put her to bed every night for a year while you worked when she was first born?” he snapped. “I’m fairly certain I can handle her now that she’s four and in school.”
This wasn’t the point at all — there were so many details to our routine — both in the morning before preschool and afterwards — but he kept cutting me off. I honestly did not want to offend or start an argument, but I knew the drill and he didn’t. So I came up with what I thought was a pretty good solution.
It is not about the child, but more about the recognition of what we do on a daily basis
“OK, I’m sure you’ll be fine — totally get it. But, just in case, only if you need it, I’m going to make out a list and I’ll put it right here on my bedside table.” (Made a perhaps exaggerated point that it would be way over on my side of the bed — not in his territory). I sat there making the list and no one was more surprised than I to see it had reached 11 items before I was finished. “Wow! It’s actually rather long!” And I was leaving out the Type-A details, keeping it to the very straight-forward, need-to-know stuff.
Up at 7 AM — that much he knew. She had preschool from 9 AM to 1 PM. But I wasn’t sure if he knew what to dress her in, weather dependant, where her boots were or her raincoat, etc., that he had to clean out her lunch box, make her lunch and repack it. Our routine meant I dropped her off at Breakfast Bunch at 8:OO AM so breakfast was covered.
Then Michelle, the nanny, picked her up from pre-school and on certain days she drove her to gymnastics out in Rockville until around 4:30 PM, then home and dinner and I would relieve Michelle some time between 5:30 PM and 6:30 PM. But on some days, Michelle had to leave early (she was putting herself through university) so I would need to be home by 4:30 PM. Other days, my septuagenarian Mom and Dad would pick her up and then I would have to either A) get her from their apartment or B) receive a slew of phone calls when they took her back to our house on everything from “Your house is too cold! How do you turn up the heat?” to “I can’t turn your stove on” or “I can’t turn your stove off” or “I burned the pasta. Do you have anything else for dinner?”, “Is she allowed on the balcony?”.
In the evenings, I made her dinner and gave her a bath. Then we read some books and she was in bed by 8 or 8:30 PM. Not a lot to handle, but on any given day something would happen that was not routine, and worrying about the house burning down when Mom and Dad were there was a constant. No two days were ever the same and that meant readjusting schedules, coordinating with Michelle or Mom and Dad or school or the paediatrician or the vet, whomever.
Having someone appreciate you, just for a moment, is treasured
I know many of you will relate to this story. It is not about the child, but more about the recognition of what we do on a daily basis. So off I went to New York at the crack of dawn on the Acela from D.C., leaving him to deal with the day ahead and knowing I’d done everything I could to help. The conference was fascinating (I believe it was one of the first “Women of the World” conferences, if memory serves) and I did a lot of networking, met up with old friends, and contemplated going to Lincoln Centre in the evening to see the ballet. But the plush bathrobes and enormous tub won out and I watched good-bad TV like Gilmore Girls and American Idol and ordered insanely expensive room service.
At about 9:30 PM, I got a call from the Husband. It was one of the best phone calls ever. He was lovely, sheepish, sounding a little exhausted but above all, completely appreciative. His surprise exploded across the telephone line. “Wow! I had no idea what you did each day!” He laughed, “You’ll be happy to know I did have a look at your list. Very helpful indeed.” We had a good chuckle, he went through the day and all its surprises (from her 2 breakfasts in the morning to a trip to the paediatrician. Thank goodness I left the phone number on the list!), and he had a new appreciation of my world.
But he had no idea how much those words meant to me. On a good day, parenting is a series of trade-offs, compromises, clean ups and putting out fires. At times, my patience has been tried beyond limits I knew existed. Worst still, I’m ashamed to admit at least two times I nearly lost the plot completely. I couldn’t even have a glass of wine afterwards to calm my nerves for fear that I would never stop. Multitasking and juggling work and child are not my forte. And I would wonder why I do it…all too often. So having someone recognise you (and the tireless work you don’t even expect a thank you for) is treasured.