"Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else." - J M Barrie

April 1, 2010

Burning the midnight oil.
Originally uploaded by grapesmc
About six months ago I started a new job. It was a significant step up for me in terms of pay and responsibility, and its hard, challenging, fun work. I actually sort of love it. Except for this unexpected part:

I'm on call all the time. For the past three or so weeks I've had work to take home on the weekend, I've sat down to work (at home) at 7:30 am as soon as Josh and E leave, worked for a couple of hours at home, gone in to the office and been there until 7 at night. Although I know that many people work this way, its a big change for me, and an adjustment for my family.

From a certain point of view, you could say that I'm actually filling the traditional "Dad" role in our family. I'm the main breadwinner in my family, and my husband is the person in our house who ends up doing most of the cooking, the laundry, the pickups and drop offs from daycare, bath time, and so on. (He also works outside the home. Much of my angst about parenting would be relieved, I think, if only he were able to leave his job. Financially, we could do it, but his company offers really stellar health insurance while my employer offers none. So he continues to work.)

I get home from work to find supper on the table, and have just about enough time to eat, perhaps play a little after dinner, then take E upstairs for PJs and tooth brushing and stories - our bedtime routine. Over the past couple of weeks, though, even the bedtime part has been handed over to Daddy, partly because I was sick and partly because I was working every available minute to get a certain project off the ground.

A few nights ago, for the first time ever that I can recall, E woke up in the middle of the night and called for father rather from me. I was the one who woke up anyhow, and went into his room to see what he needed. "Go away," he said. "I don't want you. I want my Daddy."

Even the next morning, as I snuggled up with him at sunrise, my son pushed me away. "I don't need you," he said.

"Well, I need you. Are you mad at me?"



"I just am." He burrowed deeply under the covers.

"Are you mad because I couldn't do bedtime last night?"


"I'm sorry, buddy. But sometimes Daddy has to have a turn too. You know I love you wherever I am."

It didn't take much convincing for me to lure him out from under the covers. We read some (The Sneetches are a current favorite) and after the book was over he gave me a tight hug and told me he loved me and we started our day without much more fuss. Somehow, though, I thought he'd be older than three and a half the first time he told me he didn't need me.

We have friends who raised two daughters while the mom worked as a nurse and the dad was a stay-at-home dad. Throughout their childhoods, the girls looked to their father for their daily needs, much to the chagrin of their mother, who would often say things like "Its almost like I'm not their mother anymore."

Feminism taught us that gender roles could be more fluid. But biology holds more sway over us sometimes than we'd like to admit. I'm comfortable in my role as the breadwinner, the career woman, but at 2 am when my son cries out in the night I still also want to be the Mamma. For a child, though, the idea of "mother" is a different thing - the nurturer and caregiver is the person they cleave to, no matter gender or biological relationship. So as I work to identify the causes of my ongoing inner turmoil about parenting, I have to try and resolve this tug of war: biology wants be to be the Mamma, but our life as it is now puts me squarely in the Daddy role.