Let the Babysitter Fold Your Underwear

Desperation wins
And ego takes a back seat.
Pride mellows when gulped.
——————————————-
A few months ago, my stay-at-home husband returned to the workforce after 8 years. It was a planned event – timed to when our boy started full-time kindergarten. It required us to decide between after-school care or an in-house babysitter for the hours between 3:30 and 6, and we chose a sitter. (Plug here for Care.Com – that’s how I found our sitter; site was very easy to use and they offer loads of support.)

One reason I loved the idea of a sitter was that she would be able to take up some of the house-chore burden, namely laundry and some light cleaning. We have someone coming weekly to clean the house, but I want to make it every other week with our sitter filling in the gap. And the laundry is self-evident — this family of four seems to wear 6 or 7 outfits a day and it piles up.

Here’s the deal: I haven’t been able to ask her to do the cleaning or laundry yet. On the cleaning side, I really haven’t figured out what I want her to do versus the cleaner – just haven’t taken the time to map it out. On the laundry side, it is pure embarrassment: I don’t want her to see my underwear.

For starters, I’m not svelte. Further,  I don’t chose to spend my money on underwear that matches my bras. I have plain old cotton panties in a variety of fruit based colors, and some are so old they would horrify my mom if she saw them (‘what if you get hit by a car and have to go to the hospital?!?’). But this past week our sitter spent the day with our mildly ill daughter, and I asked her if while she was at home she would do some laundry. We had a bunch, I was leaving town in a few days and I figured they were housebound any way. So I took a gulp of my pride and showed her how to work the machine.

When I returned 8 hours later every single bit of clothing was clean. All of it. Folded or hung up.  The baskets empty, the floor visible. I felt like the cobbler the morning after the elves visited. Somewhere, angels sang while violin music gently crescendo’d.

Yep, I am sooooo over the underwear thing.  I might never be able to look her in the eye again, but it is a small price to pay for the lightness it brings.

Do your new reading glasses make my ass look fat? The evolution of a marriage…

Small, square, the ad read:
“…A cuddly renaissance dude…”
With that, I was hooked.
———————————————-

Today I celebrate 19 years of wonderful marriage to Frank. Wow. Nine-teen. That’s a lot. We’ve known each other 20 years – yikes!  that’s like two decades! It has both felt like a very short period of time and like forever, because it seems I can’t recall much before we met.

I’m not sure I’m going to add anything new to the “anatomy of a marriage” genre, but I thought a trip down memory lane would be fun to write. So I present to you my marriage, in 6 stages:

Dating, 14 months: We spent a lot of time at my apartment. I lived alone and it was snuggly.  During this time Frank killed a rat in my apartment (the rat had the strength of 10 men and the daring of a playboy centerfold; I was terrified). He took me sledding for the first time in my life (winter snow is a little thin on the ground in middle Georgia).  It was a lovely place and a lovely time. I enjoyed our courtship a great deal. (I know, I know, who the hell calls it a courtship…)

Marriage years zero to 4: Our first apartment together. I moved in first, a few weeks before the wedding. I knew when the washer and dryer arrived the day after I moved in — my first major appliance purchase ever, let alone with another person — that this was serious. Why the 100 wedding invitations and the white dress hanging in the closet didn’t also convey this, I don’t know. But the washer and dryer… that was it. It was a great apartment. All new building, third floor on the back. We could watch the fireworks at Kings Island every night from the deck (ok, so you had to stand at one end and lean over the railing a little). We lit fires in the fireplace (also a novelty to this childhood victim of gas heat).  We sat on the floor and ate on the glass-topped coffee table in front of the TV so often I made a little table-cloth. (It currently lays folded on a shelf 4 feet from me now; we’ve never been able to part with it.) When we started rehabbing my husband’s childhood home, spending all but sleeping hours elsewhere, the place felt less lived in. Imagine my surprise then when we moved out in 1997: I sobbed uncontrollably at the loss of our first marital home. Even Frank shed a tear.

Homeowners, Part 1: We were virtually immobile for the first 2 years of our life in this home. The previous 18 months of near constant rehabbing had stripped us of our youthful vigor (being newly married and mostly broke, we did almost all the work ourselves. We started by removing the entire roof, trusses and all, and setting new trusses with a crane, if that gives you an indication of how much work we did…). The walls remained boring beige. The last few bits of rehab went untouched for years. But we enjoyed being homeowners. Frank bought me a go-kart disguised as a lawn mower which I joyfully drove like a maniac every summer weekend. I planted a few vegetables. I took a landscape class and redid the front yard. Frank put in a concrete driveway that could withstand the landing pressure of the space shuttle.  Five years after moving in, and nearly 10 years into our marriage, we decided to start a family and quickly (and thankfully) after that, our daughter was born. (I loved painting her nursery (thanks Teneal!) and would silently weep when years later it was undone by another family.) We had cats and house plants and relatives next door and across the street. It was a good party house and the vaulted ceiling hosted a 12 foot tall Christmas tree each year. When we sold the house in 2005 to the first people who looked at it, we were pleased someone who appreciated our hard work, craftmanship and obvious love of the place had purchased it.

The Expat Years: In 2005 we moved to England for my job; Frank became a stay at home dad. We learned to drive on the other side of the road and call it rubbish and motorway and car park and mum. I loved it… and it was hard. Redefining your roles in a marriage and as parents isn’t easy, and often I struggled balancing work (and my perceived higher expectations being an expat) with being a second-in-command parent with being a mom with being a wife with wanting some alone time. But we learned to go with the flow.  Two years into it our son was born and I watched with amazement as my husband grew into an expanded role as caregiver and home-keeper and I chilled out about being the primary breadwinner and an expat. Although we were happy to come back to the US in 2008, I will always love England. I never did fully say goodbye to our rental home there… not sure why.

Growth & Maturation: Remember 2008? Gas prices were sky high? House prices were rock bottom? We returned then, rented a home and stood ready to finally build a house on the 5 acres we had purchased in 2000 in a dream location in the country. But we had to wait. Had to get one kid in school and one in daycare. I had to get used to a new job with what seemed like a 24 hour clock. Frank had to restart his engineering business. And we had to decide on how to proceed with building the house.  Have Frank be the general contractor or use a builder? Will the bank loan us the money in this economy? The house we designed will cost HOW MUCH to build? Meet with the architect and redesign the house smaller with fewer bells and whistles. Revisit the budget, crunch some numbers. Argue with the homeowners association that we weren’t quite yet ready to build… These were the longest 18 months of our marriage I think. My son wasn’t getting along in day care; we were falling deeper in love with our daughters school 45 minutes in the opposite direction from our 5 acres. Did we really want the custom home? Was country living really the right thing for our little family? Was day care really the best option for AB at this time? Did we want a nice house but no money for vacation for the next 20 years, or some other path? When the universe presented to me, one January afternoon in 2010, a 4 bedroom house less than one mile from school on over an acre… an English Tudor no less… with one of those rock bottom prices nearly half of the dream home’s… well, the rest as they say is history. It was one of the most mature things we ever did – picking the collective future of our family over an old dream that didn’t really fit anymore. It was like finally parting with that really cool pair of designer pants that you bought on deep sale at Saks on a whim… they fit, but you never really had the right place to wear them, but you couldn’t bear throwing them out.  Selling the 5 acres felt like taking those pants to Goodwill. You know it’s the right thing, but you still wonder if you made the right decision – will you have just the right event to wear them to come up in a few days…

Homeowners, Part 2, No regrets: 2010 – to present.   I love my marriage. I love my kids and husband and the family we make. I love my house. I (mostly) love my job. We have a good dog and a short commute.  We sold 5 acres of specialty property in a down economy. We can take a vacation each year. The cars are healthy. I have to honestly say I am more content now than I have ever been. Don’t get me wrong — the first 19 years have been wonderful and I’m happy for the journey (and often dumbfounded at my good luck that started with reading that personal ad one NyQuil-drunk March evening…). And yet right now, everything seems to have come together at the same time. I have always mocked those 40-ish actresses who report that their 40s are sooo much better than their 20’s and 30’s. That they know themselves better, feel more comfortable with themselves, etc etc. I don’t feel like I have that level of self awareness – I have no clue if I “know myself better” or not. However, when viewed through the lens of the last 20 years… of the evolution of my married life, well then I must agree. It is, right now, the best. Amongst all the really amazing and wonderful great times, now is the best.

All my love, Frank. So very glad you picked me.

Oh, Great… New Guilt (flavored with Gratitude)

(the following haiku must be spoken in your best wrestling announcer voice…)

It’s a G word fight!!
Guilt v. gratitude… cage match!
The victor? Stay tuned…
………………………………………………….

I work full-time and my husband stays at home with the kids (one in school full days, one in half days). He manages the household – laundry, cooking, grocery, a little cleaning, home and car repair. I bring home the bacon, manage the finances, do some yard work and also clean house when I’m sufficiently motivated (e.g. when company is coming).

This set up has been working for us for about 7 years. In those seven years, I’ve become thoroughly experienced in a variety of guilt:

– how much I like my job
– 7am conference calls that mean I don’t see the kids in the morning
– 8pm conference calls that mean I tuck the kids in at bedtime
– That between 7am and 8pm conference calls, I don’t give Frank as much attention as he deserves and I want
– How I don’t contribute very much to the non-financial aspects of this family
– That I can’t recall the last time I made it to a dentist appointment for the kids
– That the kids more or less like him as much as me now
– That he doesn’t get much time with people over 4 feet tall
– That when I get home from work sometimes all I want to do is hide under the bed and not talk to anyone or do anything, which means he never gets a break.
– Working out since I’m already not seeing the kids much

Well, friends, I have something new to feel guilty about, and it is an interesting role reversal guilt: Frank has gotten a job.

We’ve always known this would happen. Long ago we decided that once our youngest started full-time school, Frank would return to work. We need the income to support some choices we’ve made (namely private school). And it would be nice to take a vacation to someplace other than my parents’ house. And our savings account is quite dusty… You get the idea.

But now the time has come. He job hunted, found his engineering skills still very marketable, and has a great new job starting in a month. The kids know that he is going back to work. Here is just a sampling of what I’ve heard them say over the last few weeks:

–         But who is going to take care of us (because clearly we are now going to just leave them home alone…)
–         But I’ll miss daddy
–         But daddy has always been the mom
–         But I don’t want him to go back to work

So now on top of all the other guilt that I’m experienced in, I now get to add the “I don’t make enough money to fully support us and now the kids are sad because dad has to work” guilt. Wow, that’s a fun one. Now, no one is making me feel this way. Frank hasn’t overtly said: hey, would you please make more money?  But would he rather not have to get a job that makes $XYZ and instead do something that makes some ill-defined amount of money and is super flexible? Sure he would.  And the funny thing is, I would too. These last few weeks, as we’ve managed kid and adult sickness, job interviews, extra yard work, new spring activities for the kids, doctor appointments, etc etc., it has become very clear to me how much I’ve come to rely on his flexibility and the work he does around the house.

I’m also feeling a wee bit guilty about the nugget of resentment I’m realizing I have because him going back to work is going to mean more “work” for me, too. (that has to be the most bizarre sentence structure ever) I’ve truly benefited from him handling the daily stuff and now I’ll have to handle some of it too.  Laundry, picking up around the house, grocery shopping, post office visits, and on and on.  (Again, I’ve always “known” how much he handles at an intellectual level, but the last two weeks I’ve felt it “real time”.)  The concept of taking what little discretionary time I have in the evenings and dividing it up across more chores is not a thought I enjoy lingering on.

Part of me keeps snarking at myself: you have a great job that you love, your kids are healthy, your husband is a saint; boo hoo hoo, you have to work around the house some more so you can have your private school/vacation cake and eat it too; cry me a river.  I get that. I respect that. All good points.

That’s why I’m pleased the majority of me has been realizing how much gratitude I feel for Frank.  He graciously, and with almost no debate, pulled himself from the workforce to do right by the kids and our life during the last 7 years.  He doesn’t complain unreasonably. When I’m beat and want to hide under the bed when I get home, he diverts the kids’ attention so I can do just that. He reminds me that we are a team… I have my role and he has his, and together is how it all gets done. And now that he is the one having to change it up (again!) he’s been totally cool.

So I think it is time to end the G word versus G word battle raging in my head these last few weeks, and remind myself what my friend Lynette told me many years ago – guilt is a useless emotion. (I’ve also really enjoyed reading Becky and Susan’s posts over at Working Moms Against Guilt about their recent transitions – very inspiring; so nice to know I’m not alone.) Instead, I will keep gratitude high in my awareness and enjoy watching this family explore new routines and responsibilities (the kids have no idea that they are going to get tapped to do more around here… announcing that should be fun…). We’ll figure it out.

Am I being replaced?

Sitting here jealous
of homework and puppy walks.
I don’t wanna work.

”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””

The change has been quite subtle… My daughter would run to Dad as much as me when she hurt herself and needed comfort. And then the kids would call me Dad (granted, they would call him Mom).  But a few weeks ago was the hardest blow… my stay-at-home-dad-husband did a very mom thing. He was thoughtful. As in “full of thought”. He thought ahead, planned and did something for one of the kids that officially granted him entry into mom-hood.

I was devastated.

I’m ok being called Dad. Hell, I go through a rolodex of names when I talk to my kids too. But I always saw myself as occupying unique space as “The Mom”. I thought ahead enough to buy the birthday gift before day of the party.  I realized that my girl was sad and needed comfort before the tears arrived.  I was sensitive, I was interpreting what was important and I was acting to avoid a problem. And dammit if he didn’t do just that.

If I were honest with myself, I’d admit that I was hoping this would happen. It can be exhausting being the only one who thought this way and I often bemoan (in my own petty little head) that he “just doesn’t get it”. But I’d be lying if I didn’t take some martyr like satisfaction from thinking no one could do this job but me; that no matter what, I am mom and therefore better. And slowly now I’ve had to get used to sharing the spot light.

When we both worked, no matter what, I was still the chief parent.  We only had the one kid then, and she preferred me; I made a lot of the rules; I made a lot of the kid decisions (yes, some exaggeration, but not a lot…I’m not a wench, it just mostly works out that way when you’re the mom, right?).  And then, he became chief parent, he was in charge most of the time – and I tumbled in stature.  It was very hard for me to get used to.  Still, I lived off the fact that both kids would prefer to hang out with me rather than with dad if given the choice.  And I was sure I still had a unique skill set that the Y chromosome was incapable of duplicating.

Snf snf. I was wrong. I’ll get over it.  Statistically speaking he was bound to do something like that at some point, and it hasn’t happened again since then so there’s still hope. But there’s no going back.  Right now, and likely for a while, this is the right choice for our family, all things considered. My life is blessed and I’m more settled right now then I’ve been in a while, much in part to how wonderfully this set up is working.  It’s just that the view is different from this position and I’m not sure I’ll ever be totally ok with that…

We’re a team (or one of many reasons I love my husband)

There’s no better spouse
Than he who sacrifices
His sleep for his wife’s

********************************

In 2005 my husband became a (mostly) full-time stay at home dad. There were some very tough times (for me at least) as I adjusted to this, which are the subject of a separate posting. Today, I want to talk about a moment where my affection for my husband spilled from me and I truly came to appreciate what we were doing as parents and partners.

I was at work, and got a call that I needed to have a senior executive I worked with video-taped for a big meeting. I needed to write the script, find a quiet location, tape him and get it sent off by noon (I think it was 10am). I didn’t have a camera, a script, nothing (this was 4 years ago, before every handheld device was a decent video camera).

So I called my husband… the man who has every electronic device. 

“Help! I’m sorry to bother you, but I really need your help!!” I said frantically. “I know you have a ton of things to do today, but I really need you to bring our video camera to work – make sure there is a fresh tape – I have to do a video of Mr. X in the next 90 minutes. Really, I’m sorry to bother you, I’m sure you have a lot you need to do, but I don’t know what to do!?!”  My voice petered off, sheepishly.

Frank simply said  “Honey, don’t worry. We’re a team. I’ll be right there.”

I didn’t know what to say. I was stunned. The phrase “we’re a team” was one I don’t think I’d heard him say before, and at that moment it was the most perfect thing he could have said.  It meant we were in this together, that he had my back, that he supported me regardless, that I needn’t feel guilty about interrupting his plans for the day, that together we would sort this out. And vice versa.

Here I was worried that I was somehow throwing off his day – worse, being a nuisance — and he settled once and for all that what we did, we did together, for the betterment of both.

To this day, 4 years later, that continues to be a defining moment for me as the single breadwinner of this family. The humanity in that phrase, spoken by a man who was still exploring what it meant to be a stay at home dad, overwhelmed me.

I recalled this moment while watching the move Secretariat. The main character, Peggy, was a housewife who found herself a racehorse owner, trying to evolve herself into a working woman while maintaining a family, often half a country away. There is a heart breaking scene where she is in a hotel room, her flight having been canceled, listening to her eldest daughter perform in a play over the phone.  She lies down on the bed, her hand over her mouth, weeping while she listens. I’ve been there – it was painful to watch. The difference is in that movie, her husband was a jerk about her success as working woman until the last 15 minutes of the movie, whereas my husband has never once been anything less than supportive of my path.

I am grateful to him and for him. I think he is a special breed of man, and more are out there. I couldn’t do what I do without him.  Do working dads out there, whose wives stay at home, feel the same way about their partners?  Do the wives see themselves as part of a team? I don’t know. I sure hope so.

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