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BY VICTORIA GRANTHAM | One of the things you learn when you become a parent is that you’ve taken on a responsibility for life. You can never truly get a vacation from your role as a mom or dad…but my husband and I aren’t above trying.
This summer Jay had a large chunk of time off of work, and when the kids weren’t in school (they go to a year-round daycare/preschool), a lot of the childcare fell to my husband. He’s an extraordinarily involved dad even when schedules are normal, (he regularly cares for our youngest three days a week) but during this time he became The Go-to Guy for our two and five-year-old. For the last hurrah of his summer break he decided to jet to San Francisco for a boys’ week with his college friends. (I don’t begrudge him this in the least, but who has ever heard of a boys’ week?? Anyway.)
I remember years ago when a girlfriend of mine said that her husband had never stayed solo overnight with the kids before, and she feared he might not be capable of handling it — and her oldest was six! At the time I felt pretty smug about the fact that I could leave my child with my husband and be confident he’d not only keep him alive, but also that he’d be pretty well cared for in my absence.
But now that I’m in the middle of Jay’s time away I’m starting to realize the pendulum may have actually swung too far in the opposite direction. Yes, my husband is a competent caregiver, and that’s a wonderful thing, but I’m starting to wonder…am I? Here’s the story…
A couple days before Jay left we instituted a rewards system. We bought the chore chart years ago, but finally decided to implement it more consistently last week. For getting dressed, eating meals while seated, brushing teeth, and putting their toys away, the kids get to pick colorful magnetic circles emblazoned with “Way to Go!” “Good Job!” and “Awesome!” We decided that after three days of solid performance they’d get a small privilege — an ice cream, stickers, an extra book at bedtime, etc. Before Jay left, the kids were super enthusiastic, but then it fell apart and it’s all my fault.
The first night Jay was gone I decided to take the kids to Wagner Park for music and a picnic with friends. When I was ginning up the plan it sounded great: live music, running around on the grass with classmates on a beautiful night… what could go wrong?
I picked the kids up at 6 p.m. when their school day and my work day ended. We went and got picnic food and started out on our adventure — them on their dinosaur head scooters and me on foot. First miscalculation: I forgot how far we actually live from Wagner Park. After 30 minutes of scooting they were famished and exhausted and their bedtime was rapidly approaching. We were late and it was crowded, so we needed to step over and annoy large groups of people to get to our friends. I felt like we needed to stay for at least a little while since our friends had saved space for us. It was a beautiful night and a fun concert, and watching my two-year-old bust a move was priceless, but then we were pushing up to and past their bedtime and I had a 9 p.m. work call that I had to be home to lead. (Late night work calls are very unusual for me, but of course one had to be scheduled for this particular night.)
We finally packed it up and headed home leaving our friends behind. By the time we got back I had to rush the boys to sleep without the usual fanfare of baths, stories, songs and backrubs. As a result, they wailed throughout my call. After I wrapped up I went to console them and they promptly suckered me into allowing them to come into my bed. OK so maybe I proactively offered out of guilt. In any event, it was “The Worst Idea Ever.” They proceeded to treat it like some kind of kiddie rave and stayed up until midnight out of sheer excitement. To top it off, in the morning, after scaling the pillow walls I’d built, the two-year-old tumbled off the bed and started screaming bloody murder. Thankfully there were no permanent injuries, but I was rattled, as was he. “I miss daddy” and “I don’t like mommy” was the depressing breakfast mantra.
Needless to say, none of us earned chore chart accolades on either of my first two days alone with my boys.
I planned to tell my husband none of this, but three minutes into his check in call I confessed all (minus the fall off the bed as I knew that would drive him bonkers and he’d potentially strangle me through the phone).
I felt like I was living the disastrous scene from the beginning of “Mr. Mom,” the iconic ‘80s movie, but instead of being the buttoned up mother (Teri Garr) I’m apparently the bumbling, inept Michael Keaton. What the hell?
On the upside, I can say that we’re now on day five and the situation is steadily improving. We had a fantastic Sunday at Victorian Gardens in Central Park with friends and I actually got my kids to bed on time for once. I’m trying to be more realistic in my planning and more consistent with rules enforcement. The chore chart is no longer barren.
Let me just say though that I do not understand how single parents do it and my hat is off to stay-at-home moms and dads. It’s a tough and unrelenting job.
A couple days after my husband returns I’ll be off for a girls’ weekend, so the tables will be turned. I’m (pretty) sure he can handle it.
Victoria Grantham, a writer and communications professional, is raising her family in Tribeca.