Last night, this lighthearted experiment became a little too realistic. Susan has missed bath and bedtime for three consecutive evenings. As part of this project, I've spent time reading various mom forums such as YouBeMom. I've been struck by how confessional women are with one another, both about their own bodies and their feelings. Probably the most revelatory thing I've ever said about parenting to another guy is, "My back hurts."
Every now and then, there will be a post in the evening along the lines of "Where the hell is he?" The husband is still at work, the kids are awake, and the mother is venting online. I've now had a taste of this bitter cup: What could be so important at the office that you can't occasionally get home and lend a hand during the witching hour between dinner and bedtime? I've also been on the other side. Sometimes stuff does come up at the last minute, not to mention the constant pressure to perform and succeed.
In some companies, if you give off too much of a dad vibe—ducking out on Thursdays to coach Little League, say—I suspect that it subtly works against you, no matter how accommodating your boss claims to be. I've had friends tell me about office cultures where not seeing the wife and family was a point of pride and a show of dedication. The answer to the client needs to be, "Sure, we can get the deal done on Thanksgiving," not, "Actually, I was hoping to be playing Wii bowling with my kids that day."
The stakes aren't as high here, obviously. We're switching for a fortnight, and I'm not going to lose my job. (Right, Susan?) But I will say that when Susan and I conceived of the switch, I thought she would have it pretty easy at the Slateoffices. That it would feel like a Club Med for work. Then she detailed her day. The F train was screwed up, a meeting swallowed the rest of the morning, then she had to write a blog post, edit three pieces from three different writers, finish her own Freaky Fortnight entry, and deal with all the other little random urgent stuff that lands in your inbox. This would have been a tough day for me. My colleagues are definitely turning up the heat.
So there we were, standing hungry by the stove, in a true switch moment. Susan mildly griping about the office and relating the news of the day about which I had no idea. ("Who was that who won the Nobel Prize in literature?") I was feeling bitter about flying solo with the kids all day but trying to hide it. My news consisted of what new words Will said while we were reading (peach), and how Nick wants to be a knight for Halloween, with a costume that will include a dagger and a catapult. Mostly, though, I was achy and tired and ready to treat myself to a three-beer night.
There was another low point in the day: While doing laundry in our building's common laundry room, a woman I didn't know offered to help me out. The boys were tackle-hugging each other on the cement floor, and I must have looked ragged and stressed. It was a nice offer that I politely declined. But it stopped me short. Am I losing?
I was expecting to win. Susan discussed The Home-Makerin her entry, and I love the book, too. Its publication date of 1924 is a reminder that you aren't the only people in the world to have kids, and the mom character shows that what we now call a "helicopter parent" is an old phenomenon. In the novel, the dad whips the house into shape, turns the demon child into the nice child, and spouts lines of poetry at apropos moments. I thought that would be me. Will would nap, or play contentedly, while I would deal with all the nagging household stuff that we've neglected. There's the little matter of our wedding photos in the closet that family members have been asking about for the past six years, for example. In the afternoons, I would roast a chicken, give Nick high-fives, and then engage them both in a little "wrestling time" before Mom came home.
To quote Susan: In short, I would shine.
And, yes, I can hear your laughter.