“I can’t wait to read about this experience after it comes out of the spin cycle.”
That’s the last thing I heard Randy say as he disappeared into the lab, wrestling both a toddler and the giant bag of tricks I brought with us to distract Moses from the sword being aimed menacingly in his direction. I cowered in the corner of an adjacent file room, near Moses but out of his sight, plotting our escape.
Moses – settled into the lab and sitting somewhat sedately in the comfort and safety of his dad’s lap – saw the phlebotomist reach for his arm and then swiftly and without equivocation exercised his first great act of bodily autonomy. NOPE, he shrieked while throwing a couple of mighty punches, roundly rejecting having his blood drawn.
OH WELL, WE TRIED, I thought as I emerged from the file room where I had been waiting patiently/sobbing uncontrollably. I stole Moses from his dad’s capable clutches, pressed him close to my chest and hauled ass out of there, ignoring the sad-sack looks of other moms who had to go after me.
Listen, I’m a pretty good mom. At the end of most days I feel not-bad about the job I did that day, and on this day in particular, despite neglecting to follow through with a state- and doctor-recommended blood lead test for kids under two in the state of California (I SAID WE TRIED, OK), I felt good about the safety and security I provided my kid in what must have been a pretty harrowing moment for him. I walked out the door more confident than ever in my parenting and my ability to protect my child from harm.
However, if a case were to be built against my confidence, it might include the following facts:
- The state-recommended blood lead test is recommended by the state for a reason and should not be neglected merely because I have, at best, a tenuous grip on my own anxiety (valid).
- At 19 months old, my kid is still relatively fresh out of the womb, which means most of my life is consumed with care-taking rather than parenting so juuuuust you waaaaait till he takes up the teenage habit of leaving crusty socks in the laundry, and see how confident you are then, lady (also valid).
- There is a direct correlation between the power of my confidence and the number of hours of sleep my family got the previous night, such that in order to get an accurate reading I should really be required to assess and share my garbage self-impression when my kid cuts his next tooth (this won’t happen because I will be too busy crying in my wine).
Fortunately, there’s Randy, whose parenting game is strong and whose practice of which dates all the way back to the time he sent me to the airport with a note pinned to my shirt just in case I ran afoul of my travel anxiety and was rendered mute by my complete inability to keep my shit together:
“I’m lost. If found, please call Randy.”
He continues to sharpen his craft on me to this day, and I tell you what, my lack of interest in opening my mail or keeping accounts current or feeding myself three squares is paying dividends to Moses, who is the direct beneficiary of the empathy and patience his dad has cultivated as a result of being married to yours truly.
Crabby for no good reason? Let’s put some food in that belly, little man.
Overwhelmed by all the new places and faces? Let’s stick together and take it one step at a time.
Frustrated you can’t figure out how to get your feet inside your rain boots? Let’s slow down, try again and, this time, do it as a team.
So it makes sense that one of the things I value most about my parenting experience is that I get to do it with Randy. I adore him so achingly much, and I’m so completely enamored with the kind of dad he is that it makes me feel tight in my chest. I will sometimes just sit quietly nearby and watch as he and Moses take on the world one too-high-baby-toss-into-the-sky at a time, in awe of his kindness and warmth. In those moments, I find myself breathless in a way I used to confuse with panic but I now know is merely the kind of deep, abiding affection that forces you to face your mortality and then try to go on living even though you know everything will end.
And yet, after parenting, co-parenting is among the hardest things I’ve ever done. We are tired. We are strung out. We are sometimes hungry. We are not always nice. We make and then second-guess 8 billion decisions every day starting before our kids are born — and I don’t just mean the biggies like breast or bottle, cloth or disposable, to vaccinate (YES) or not to vaccinate; I mean, like, which outfit is going to provide the easiest access to kiddo’s butt when he inevitably blows out his diaper at the most inconvenient time today, what is an acceptable number of minutes to stand off against each other in a game of cry-it-out chicken, and how many glasses of wine is too many? — and that shit is taxing.
I’m an introvert. I like people well enough, but talking to them makes me tired. And I love my husband, but evaluating the pros and cons of footie pajamas after a long work day and an even longer evening with a probably overtired toddler has the tendency to suck dry my will to live and leave me a hollowed out carcass of a human.
It was this aversion to relentless teamwork that recently led me to believe I could tackle a long overdue nap transition all on my own. The 2-to-1 shift had been plaguing us for months because just when it seemed like Moses was ready to switch, he would cut a tooth. Or develop a fever. Or rediscover separation anxiety and commit himself to it with renewed vigor. Our schedule would go all herky jerky and no one was sleeping and we couldn’t get on the same page about what the answer should be, so we would throw in the towel. Maybe next month, we would say. Then Randy reminded me he would be going out of town for a week-long business trip, and I thought, OK, this is it, we are doing this nap transition once and for all, and we are doing it by ourselves, and we are not seeking input from anyone else, and we are powering through because we are woman, hear us roar!
It was a catastrophic failure.
By the fourth night when I was still in Moses’ crib well past midnight while he pinged from side to side, poking me in the face and begging for one more game of “where’d Mama go,” I began to come to terms with the fact that I am one half of a pretty successful team, and even though making decisions together — which, by the way, necessarily means shutting up and listening to the other person’s opinion sometimes uggggggggggh — is more work than I bargained for, it is vastly better than the alternative.
I called Randy. “I’m lost.” We talked it through, came up with a new plan, and when he came home the next day, we set about implementing it together. Three days later Moses dropped down to one nap and never looked back.
Back in the lab, only Randy remained. He apologized to the lab workers, made a follow-up appointment to try again another time, and dispensed niceties to the sad sacks. In the car, he patted my knee sweetly while I tried to calm down.
“Let’s get some food in that belly, mama bear, and next time we’ll slow down, stick together and do it as a team.”
Anyway, like I said, I’m a not-bad mom (today). But today isn’t about me! Today is about dads! And to my kid’s dad in particular, thank you for literally always being so much better than not-bad.