By Deb Levy
About the Writer:
Deb Levy is a writer, graphic designer, mother-of-three and devotee of hip-hop dance.
My wife is gone.
But don’t go and feel all sorry for me. It’s a good thing. After 15 months of being unemployed, my husband got a job. He’s thrilled, the bank account is sighing with relief, and the kids are wondering where Daddy is each day and asking if we’re rich. Me? I’m really, really happy for him, and for us. But I have to be honest. It’s a transition.
I remember that phone call like a punch in the gut. His company had been going through round after round of layoffs and we had been living in a state of fear - until that last day in March when we were forced to do more than just worry. We battened down the hatches, tightened the belt and started blogging. (If a couple could get a book deal having sex every night, surely a his/hers chronicle of life, love and layoffs would be more relevant, right?) If nothing else, it was therapeutic.
And somehow, we made do. More than made do, because the truth is, Dave hadn’t been around much while he was working. I could probably count on one hand the number of times he made it home from work in time to see the kids before bed. After his layoff, it was all Daddy all the time. The kids were thrilled and I was finally catching a break. While we will never achieve man-to-man defense - two parents/three boys ages 8 and under - we were coming close. I didn’t have to feed three kids by myself. I wasn’t alone for bath time. I could take one child to the doctor without schlepping the other two along for the ride. I was living the life of luxury with an au pair I could actually walk naked in front of. I liked that.
Still, the transition into a dual-parent/sporadic-earner household was a rocky one. We each balanced various consulting projects with the constant and high-pitched demands of our children. Yet while I had been used to the juggling act - having learned to multi-task when I learned to breastfeed - this art was new to Dave.
For the first few months of his being home, my husband got a pass. He hadn’t been immersed in the workings of the witching hours. There was a learning curve to understanding how you cook a meal, monitor Play Doh, teach fractions, wipe an ass or two and deal with meltdowns – all at the same time. (You don’t. Someone’s always trailing after you, wanting. Hopefully with a clean tush.) I have been known to blurt out to my children, after an umpteenth request for something or other, “Patience, please! I can only do four things at a time!” My husband? Just one. And just one thing at a time doesn’t cut it in a household with three kids. I soon demanded of him what had always been demanded of me.
It wasn’t just multi-tasking. It was balancing childcare now that both parents were equal caregivers. But when we sat with our schedules each week to determine who was on kid duty and when, I about lost it when Dave typed into his calendar “2:15 – babysit.”
Babysitting, I pointed out, is what you do for other people’s children. Not your own. Which led to a whole examination of the Balance of Duties. And how ours wasn’t so balanced. And how there’s a lot more to kid duty than actually being in the presence of our kids. Like making doctors appointments, RSVPing to birthday parties and buying gifts, filling out permission slips, communicating with teachers, coordinating after school activities and play dates and too-small-sneakers and swine flu shots and, and, and ...
The list goes on and on. But somehow it seemed that it was my to-do list that got longer.
Dave is wonderful with the kids and more than willing to share in the responsibilities. “Tell me what to do,” he said, “I’ll do it!” And all I thought was that I didn’t want to be cruise director. I didn’t want to be the one who internalized all of the intricacies of the household and doled out responsibilities. Yet life with a first mate was really SO much less stressful. What we gave up in income, we gained in zone defense.
Well, the income is back. And for that I am grateful. But we’ve had to adjust to a new reality, or to be more accurate, my former reality. Part of that shift was more clearly dividing up the roles and responsibilities. Because even though Dave is working in the city full time, he realizes now that working from home is the much harder job. And my plate needed some emptying. Dave has always taken out the garbage, but now he’s responsible for keeping track of our town’s sanitation schedule. He’s also got lunchbox duty. And cat doody. (The litter box has actually been Dave’s responsibility ever since I first became pregnant more than 10 years ago. Though I am not with child, I am of childbearing age and thus cannot be near cat feces. Or so goes my argument. Thankfully Dave doesn’t question this line of reasoning.)
How are we doing? So far, so good. Then again, it’s summer and there is no homework or after school activities. We are all allowed to be relaxed. But come fall, I may be placing an ad on this website for a wife.