Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Daily Rhythm

I'm a teacher, so my job requires I leave the house by 7am and return by about 4:30 p.m. These are not the least family-friendly hours by far. However, Co does freelance work from home, so she is the one available to do all the drop-off and pick-up of the children.

This arrangement wasn't always the case. Until he was two years old, I took Jo on the train to and from the staff daycare at my school every day. Anyone who spoke to me during that period probably knows far too much about my subway travails. I complained about it, but I also treasured that role, the extra time with Jo, regardless of its quality.  Especially as the non-bio mom, that first time around, I appreciated the opportunity to do the hard work of handling childcare.  I prepared his breastmilk bottles, and later his food; dragged blankets back and forth for laundering; entertained Jo on the train with snacks and books and silly songs.  

Last year was Jo's first year at a daycare near home instead of at my job. We ended up with a babysitter for Cho, rather than daycare (not our original intent; long story) so there was no drop-off or pick-up for her, plus the sitter picked Jo up from daycare. I usually arrived home 15 or 20 minutes before the sitter left for the day, and dashed around trying to do things like walk the dog, unload the dishwasher, and write a lesson plan while Co finished up her work day. This year brought more changes: Jo is in a pre-K from which he has to be picked up by 4pm; Cho is now in daycare (a fabulous one recommended by Mean Mama) and we structured her hours similarly. Since I can't reliably be home quite that early, it all falls to Co. It's not forever and she's cheerfully willing to shoulder this burden. I'm grateful for that.

The part I struggle with is arriving home to my family already together, feeling for a brief moment like so many things I don't want to be: an outsider. A dad, home from the work day. A visitor. Co reassures me -- and sometimes, she even manages not to roll her eyes -- that the extra time she gets with the children involves such enriching and rewarding tasks as trying to get them dressed and in and out of carseats. I know I'm not missing anything glamorous, but I still wish I was more present. I want to get to talk to the teachers and feed the kids breakfast and yes, even fight with them, because that's the stuff of parenting.

Ultimately, though, none of this is forever. My teacher's hours frustrate me at times, but the flip side is that I get vacations with my kids. This year that's mostly been Jo, because he is on a public school schedule. Over the summer we can take Cho out of daycare (but keep her spot for a small fee) so I'll get the time with her, too. And next year will bring more changes, since Jo will be in kindergarten. He will likely attend an afterschool program with hours just late enough so that I can pick him up, at least some of the time.

But this year I've been struggling with feeling absent. And a part of that, for me, means continuing to struggle with what it means to be a mom in a two-mom family. If Co is inhabiting the role traditionally given the "mom" (as far as shuttling the kids around), then who am I? There are many excellent answers to that question, but there have been some dark times this year when I didn't think there was one at all.


Zach said...

Reading your post about splitting up parenthood responsibilities really hit home for me.
I'm a law student, about to graduate. My wife, who gave birth, is a PhD student slowly attempting to write her dissertation and teach an online class. We had intended to be such equal parents, with me doing law school from 10am-4pm each day, her doing grad school from 5pm-11pm each day, and splitting the rest. That didn't work, at all. My course schedule ended up being 8:30am-4:30pm solidly some days, and I always feel so much pressure to be doing schoolwork all the time I'm not in class. My wife didn't want to be doing her schoolwork much anyway, and needs large chunks of quiet time if she is to write, and the coffeeshops near us are all closed by 7pm anyway so she's at home with us...having family time, not working, splitting up the childcare so I can get my work done (which always has a deadline) and because my wife doesn't really want to work anyway (and her work has almost no deadlines)... So I spend very little time as primary parent, even though the reason we started having kids now was so I could spend time with the munchkin before I started having crazy attorney hours.
I don't anticipate studying for the bar will be any better in terms of scheduling, and then once work starts it will be even worse. It makes me sad, but it's hard to know what to change at this point. Ideally we'd be able to afford some childcare so my wife could get her dissertation done during the day and we could spend family time together at night, but we can't afford that (and my attorney salary won't help--it's low-paid public interest work).
Anyway, all of that is just to say thanks for writing this. Our almost-5 month old is napping on my leg as I type this, and I'm going to go back to just enjoying that, and her, while I still can.

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