“I talked to the teacher today,” my husband said while he was making dinner. While his statement was neutral, his strangled tone of voice revealed something was wrong. “The teacher” is our four-year-old’s preschool teacher.
After we put the kids to bed, he said, “She said he’s having trouble makingfriends.”
Ah. That’s what it was.
When I faced going back to work after my maternity leave, my husband and I faced a very real and common challenge – how to balance household management and the mental load between the two of us.
I’m a “doer” at heart while my husband, Chris, is much more laid-back. So taking everything over was a legitimate risk for me. The mental burden of being a mom is very real, whether you embrace the role of being a “keeper” of everything or find it smothering.
Our situation had an additional twist on it. That’s because Chris was going to be taking on a role that 29% of moms hold, but only 7% of dads do – stay-at-home parent. Because I would be working outside the home and he wouldn’t, I could not be the de facto household manager. It wouldn’t be fair or practical.
So we had to find a balance of duties, both in terms of physical chores and management. Since then, we’ve learned to reduce my emotional labor and mental load as a mom. (Unfortunately, most of these don’t apply if you’re a single parent.)
Lying in bed with my eyes closed, I wondered if I was the victim of a cosmic joke. A few days earlier, I had celebrated a few moments of silence, but four days of looking at nothing but the inside of my eyelids was starting to feel like a bit too much.
The Sunday before, our entire church was silent just before the sermon. Everyone was reading the white text on the black screen in front of us. Among other thoughts of discomfort, the text said, “It’s too quiet” and “For the love of God, this is anguish.”
After a few minutes, our pastor asked, “How did that feel to everyone? Did that feel like forever? Because it was just three minutes.”
While various murmurs reverberated through the congregation, my hand shot up. “It was nice not being asked for anything!” I volunteered. Chuckles ensued. Our fellow churchgoers are well-aware of my husband’s and my weekly Keystone Cops routine, chasing our young kids around to ensure they stay in the sanctuary.
But a few days later, I was starting to regret my enthusiasm for silence. I had a case of the flu so brutal that even visual sensory input overwhelmed me. But as awful as it was, I realized that my experience as a mom helped prepare me for it. While that sounds like a joke – the flu as a vacation! – what I’ve learned as a parent has actually made silence far more tolerable than I ever expected it to be.
“I’m done,” Sprout said, letting go of the cactus painted onto the rock-climbing wall. Looking at the wall, I half-frowned.
“Really? You were doing so well,” I said.
“Yep. That part was easy. I’m going to do it again,” he said, now on the ground. Then he started climbing again.
“Oookay,” I said, trying to be supportive while hiding my disappointment.
Sitting in the private school’s admissions office, my mom faced a choice about her gifted daughter’s education. The admissions officer told her how much smaller the classes were than public school, how girls felt less pressure when they didn’t compete for boys’ attention, and how much more they could meet her needs.
But the tuition was as expensive as you would expect for a private school. We were a solidly upper-middle-class family, but a salesman’s and teacher’s salaries added together meant we weren’t exactly rolling in the dough. Private school meant no new house. No vacations for years. Hardly any luxuries at all.
But wasn’t her daughter’s education worth it? Wasn’t public school going to hold her back? Would she be able to fulfill her potential?
As the daughter in question, I now know my mom made the right decision. With more hoopla these days than ever about the beauty and struggles of raising “gifted” kids, it feels odd to me. Wasn’t this stuff we should have figured out 20 years ago?
As a “gifted” kid who had lots of gifted friends growing up and is now an adult, I’ve thought a lot about what society does and doesn’t do well in terms of how we treat “smart” kids. From my experience and reading, here’s what parents must teach gifted children:
Reading a party invitation, I look up at my husband and ask, “Whose turn is it this time?” We both struggle to remember who went out last. In the end, we just pick one of us, figuring that even if it’s wrong, it’ll work out in the end. And it always does. Paying a babysitter would be easier, but we’ve never gotten around to hiring one.
While we’re too busy to have extensively vetted a babysitter and too cheap to pay one anyway, we’ve remained committed to seeing our friends on a regular basis. Here’s some of the ways we’ve managed to maintain those relationships, our wallets and our sanity:
The fairy-like White Queen gazed at me intently. Lying on a table, her look invited me into Wonderland, a place of childhood on the edge of adulthood. Then she shoved herself backwards, flew across the table, and jumped to her feet, towering over us.
This was all quite literal.
Last weekend, Chris and I took our first trip by ourselves since Sprout was born. The trip was nominally celebrating our eleventh wedding anniversary. So we were in New York City, watching a play put on in a former mental institution. The play – based on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, and the real-life relationship between Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell – sparked insight for me about childhood, parenting, and how both are more complex than they seem.
I stood in Target, looking for something on the shelves that they never carried and never will. In theory, I was there for a bathing suit. My first post-baby bathing suit since my second son arrived in the world. As I hadn’t lost the baby weight yet, I needed one so that I’d be ready for a family trip to Cape Cod. But like so many bathing suit searches, it was about much more than a piece of fabric.
What do peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, surprising canoe trips, and bad decisions have in common? This story, involving one of the adventures Chris and I had in the Adirondacks far before we had kids. Misadventures Magazine was lovely enough to publish An Unexpected Tour of the Adirondacks!
Here’s the first three paragraphs:
A crying girl, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and a supermarket parking lot. Not exactly the elements for an epic summit. But having missed the turn-off for our hike, we were now on the wrong side of Lake George in upstate New York, eating the lunches we were supposed to be having on the peak.
By the way, I was the crying girl.
“This is your fault!” I pouted to my then-boyfriend, Chris, even though I had the map. I curled up in the passenger’s seat of his Civic, my tears falling on my bread. “If you hadn’t been speeding…”
Be sure to read the rest at Misadventures Magazine!
The band-aid was the first sign of trouble.
My parents, my in-laws, Chris, and I were all rushing around, trying to set up Sprout’s fourth birthday party. A few days earlier, Sprout had badly cut his ring finger and now the band-aid was peeling off. Like all children, Sprout takes his band-aids Very Seriously. While we have a plentiful supply of Thomas the Train band-aids at home, my current stash was limited to Star Wars. “Look, I have Star Wars band-aids!” I exclaimed, trying to work up an adequate level of enthusiasm. “I don’t want Star Wars band-aids! I want Thomas!” he cried. After much whining, including an exclamation of “I don’t want to watch Star Wars!,” my mom resolved the situation. She offered to “make” a dinosaur band-aid from a plain bandage and dinosaur stamp.
This dramatic arc was solid foreshadowing for the rest of his birthday party.