Daddy is not the babysitter

I am headed out of town to attend a conference for four days. I will miss my girls and my husband. My four-year old is in a clingy phase–recently I left for an early meeting before she awoke and she threw an hour-long tantrum. The girls are used to having both of us around and it will be tough for my husband because it is generally tough to be on your own with children, covering every little everything for several days in a row.

But I will be back on Friday.

More than once, though, someone has asked how my husband will manage, if he needs help, if I am worried.

I don’t worry about my husband.

When my oldest was in her earliest days of infancy, my husband took her to his parents’ house by himself–his very first daddy-daughter road trip. I was breastfeeding, and it was the first time she and I were apart. We had introduced a bottle to our little one, though, so he packed up a cooler and took off for the day. I can’t remember why I didn’t go with him–I probably needed the time for a grad school deadline (or to sleep). Either way, it was the first time he took her alone and his parents were really impressed.

After their visit, my mother-in-law called me to tell me how amazing I was to allow him to take her on his own. She told me that I was making him into a great father. Although I can’t remember exactly how I responded to her, I am sure that I insisted that he was a great father because of himself and not because of me. I am sure I was thinking, “why do we assume I’m the one who made him this way?” I remember distinctly replying later in the conversation, “why does everyone assume I’m the natural?”

This exchange has repeated itself in various iterations in the last six years–most recently this week in preparation for my trip–comments about parenting, the children and the role of the mother and the father. Our household may have a gendered division of labor when it comes to many things: I cook, he takes out the trash. But when it comes to our children, it’s as equally shared as we can have it.

Equally shared parenting was a conscious choice, a concept we read about in an NYT spread several years ago. It resonated with both of us. We knew that I would have to gestate the baby and feed it in its earliest days, but beyond those technicalities, we were both in this game together.

Yet, somehow even several years into our family, when our children are not in their usual care arrangement, when the girls are with their father, inevitably at least one person in the world asks him whether he is “babysitting” them. And if I am on my own during a time when I would otherwise be expected to be with children, strangers or friends might ask where the children are, if their father is babysitting them. My closest circle knows better than to ask me this question. “No,” I reply, “he is parenting them.”

Women may still be doing more of the housework or childcare but men aren’t doing nothing. The more we emasculate them, the more we alienate their efforts, referring to their independent time with the kids as “daddy day care” or diminishing their role, the less we’ll be able to trust fathers. My husband is a capable, smart father. When he is parenting, he is silly and fun, sometimes stern, he teaches the girls lots of things, he takes risks and he makes mistakes. And guess what? So do I. I am far from perfect and when I am parenting, I am also silly and fun, sometimes stern, teaching the girls lots of things, taking risks and making mistakes.

Recently, I had a few more evening engagements taking me out of the house around bedtime. These hours after work and before bed are our best and worst time of day, calibrated on their level of exhaustion and the phases of the moon. On good days, it is blissful and on bad days, I start the bedtime countdown as soon as we’ve walked in the door, a blustery heap of backpacks and shoes and coats, whining and crying for a show.

Knowing I would out over bedtime on one of these evenings, my littlest asked, “Is daddy going to babysit us?” I looked at her completely horrified. I called her sister over and said, “Girls, we need to have a little talk.”

They looked at me with solemn little faces.

“A mommy is a parent. And a daddy is a parent. And a babysitter is someone who takes care of you when your mommy and daddy can’t take care of you.”

“A babysitter could be a mommy or daddy in their house, right?” asked my older daughter.

“Yes,” I said, “they could be a mommy or a daddy. But a mommy is a parent and a daddy is a parent. They are not babysitters. Do you understand?”

They nodded. Then I quizzed them again to be sure. “What’s a mommy?”

“A babysitter!” my older daughter sassed.

“No! A mommy is a parent!” cried my little daughter.


I need them to know that their parents are in this together. That we trust each other. Because they are going to hear contrary messages from others. When my husband is with the children, I don’t even think twice about what they’re doing or how they’re doing. He offers me the same trust.

So, I’ll leave on a jet plane tomorrow morning at 6am. And while I will miss them terribly, I won’t worry about them. I’ll just wish they were coming, too.

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The analog chronicle: one account of daily journaling

When I discovered my little blue book at the stationer’s store in Boston, I fell instantly in love with the daily chronicle. The book–part perpetual calendar and part happiness journal–allotted five lines a day for five years running. I tried to wait until New Year’s Day 2012 to begin, but in less than a week, the little blue book became a permanent fixture on my nightstand.

I fell in love with journalling at the same time I learned to write. My first journal with its Hello Kitty cover had a lock with a little silver key on the side, and in it, I wrote precious notes about my life as a seven-year-old. My earliest journal gave way to many others: butterflied covers, slim leather-bound volumes, and minimalist cardboard books, capturing my five happiest moments of the day or documenting college heartbreak. Folded up in the pages of these abandoned volumes, I’ve found homeless journal entries scrawled randomly on scratch paper, and tucked besides them, the mementos intended to animate the words on the page: ticket stubs, playbills, notes. In nearly every era of my life so far, there has been a place to chronicle.

But this little blue journal was a different kind of chronicle. On October 8, 2011, I began to document the comings and goings of my days. That autumn I was on maternity leave with my second daughter, knee deep in anxiety over finishing graduate school, and trying to manage the day to day of stay-at-home parenthood while my work tugged at my brain. And my brain felt like a soggy sponge, leaking details, ideas, half-baked thoughts out of my ears. So in those early days, while I wondered what I should write, I tried to abandon the compulsion to make meaning or to romanticize the day. I reported the facts.

At the end of each day, no matter how tired I am, no matter where I am, and no what I am doing, I take less than a minute to quickly remember what has happened and record it. Not every day is remarkable. More often, the days are plain. But unlike the journals of the past where I absolved myself of fear or heartache or sadness, where I listed my five happiest moments or points of gratitude, in the pages of this little blue book, I captured perspective.

Perspective is something we’ve lost in this age of social media. We have forgone the practice of analog writing because quickly typing and texting are far easier than taking the time to hand write anything. It is easy to get caught up in the sliver of the day, the indignant moments, the infuriating bits, and use various channels to broadcast them for public consumption, even if these moments are for no one’s consumption by our own. We think we’re gaining perspective by pleading to be seen or be heard. I was lost in this vortex, too, broadcasting documentation of my life in pieces for approval. In searching for perspective, I’ve shifted my focus from the big moments that garner acclaim to the little moments we would soon forget if we didn’t take a minute to capture them.

In the chaotic passing of days, in the nitty gritty details of everyday life, myopia is nearly guaranteed. It is almost entirely possible that you will forget the mundane everyday, the joy of a meal with friends or the surprise over something endearing that our children did or said, or the satisfaction felt when you accomplish something at work. And in our myopic discontentment, we focus on the chaos of our days, on the stress and sadness, the anger or fear we feel.

IMG_8321The little blue book changed that for me. Unlike any other experiment in documentation, this daily account has provided me with a newfound and comforting perspective. Because once I have recorded something, I also reflect on last year’s day or the year before that. And this perspective and the chance for reflection are like gifts to myself. Every night, I relive the same day from the last two years. Some nights, I look ahead a few pages and treat myself to the reflection I’ll have when I catch up to myself. On birthdays and anniversaries, I remind myself about the hijinx of celebration. On days of loss, I can rededicate the memories of people I love. On days when my children reached milestones (“Emily WALKED!” or “Sadie wrote her name!”), I smile, thinking about how quickly my two little ladies are growing.

And every night, I am able to tell myself that so much can change in one year or two years. In revisiting moments of true grief, sadness and anxiety–emotions I have felt viscerally over the last four years–I am able to remind myself how dark days pass eventually. And revisiting delightful moments I feel even greater happiness.

Tomorrow, I close out four solid years of daily journaling, embarking on the fifth (and final–at least for this little book) round of the daily report. When I began this experiment, I wondered how long it would last–how long I would last. For nearly all of the last 1,460 days, I have recorded the day’s events (only 9 days remain blank).

And now, as I open the little blue book tonight, I treat myself to a reflection on four years running before jotting down the day’s events.

And for the perspective, I am eternally grateful.

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Three cheers for three years of Rogue Cheerios

On the occasion of my thirty-seventh birthday earlier this year, my father offered some time-honored wisdom regarding the sanctity of birthdays and anniversaries:

The older you get, the more stuff happens.

My father is a classy man but I may have edited his otherwise colorful language.

He was trying to tell me that preserving my birthday and insisting on a celebration would be increasingly difficult as I got older. This year his prediction was particularly true: I spent most of my birthday doing things for my daughters, including attending a birthday party for someone else.

The older you get, the more stuff gets in the way.

So when I wrote in my journal last week and noted the anniversary of my first Rogue Cheerios post, I was already late to celebrate three years of Rogue Cheerios.

This third year has been slightly different than the first two. I took a year to find my footing, settle on my voice, and write my way through my last year of graduate school. I started to connect to some readers and continue to love the feedback and comments people share. I took my second year to explore life after graduate school and the challenges of parenthood and marriage. I was surprised and thrilled over Freshly Pressed exposure. And in this third year, I have been branching out, writing for other publications and discovering a rich community of writers locally and on the internet.

So I picked today, September 9th for a small commemoration of this project. September 9th holds a sweet spot in my heart. Today, I mark the 14th anniversary of my first date with my husband. And my oldest daughter has reminded me that today is also her half birthday.

On the anniversary of that first post, I have returned to the advice I received when I thought about carving out my little space on the internet. I still don’t know what it’s going to be yet. Coming back to this advice every year is reaffirming–it makes me feel hopeful and grateful at the same time. Lucky for me, if my father is right, the older I get, the more stuff happens.

Let’s hope it’s all good stuff in the end.

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When you have left no breadcrumbs…

It is back to school in my neck of the woods. For my former colleagues, for my former students, and for my littles, class is in session. For me, though, it is business as usual.

It is hard to believe that three years ago, when I started spending summers working part-time so we could save on childcare and so I could have more time with my children, I was uneasy about the transition.When you have been a full-time working person and you go to a part-time working person, you’re all thumbs trying to figure out where to go and what to do, struggling to find a routine that does not yet exist. But we figured it out and fell into an easy summer schedule. Now when I think about summer, it’s my girls and me, noodling around, Disney tunes blaring, skin moist with sunscreen, breeze rolling over my arms and elbows as they dangled out of the car.

This summer was different. I’ve left my old job as a professor and have started a new position as a policy analyst. I worried that the summer would drag. Or worse, that it would fly by. The first few weeks on the job this summer I tried to figure out how this new working life would work. It has been a decade since I had a brick and mortar job with colleagues depending on me every day of the week. My children and I were apart more than I would have liked, and I did not anticipate how hard it would be. Cobbling together childcare while trying to be present in the office and getting used to a new (and much longer) commute was not easy.

After several months working at a soul-crushing pace, juggling two jobs (working the new job “part-time”), at the start of summer my work life screeched to a slow jog. And by slow jog, I mean, the regular pace of a typical working person. Because I’ve been operating in a state of high alert for so many months, though, I could not simply let go of the anxiety I have felt about working. There HAD to be some place in between out of my face with anxiety and stress and comatose on the couch, right?

IMG_7847Because I am working more hours during the week, our time together is more precious than ever. No time for anxiety or stress. My daughters are tan and bold and happy, and they had an amazing summer. They never missed a chance to hula hoop in the driveway or throw a dance party. They learned to swim (finally) and stayed up late.

The best moments of my summer were spent lost in their worldview, holding hands, exploring the beach (oh the beach), watching them splash endlessly in the pool, picnicking in our yard, snuggling on sleepy mornings, and coloring chalk in the driveway. Ever since May, I have felt like I’m flying through my days blindly. Summer started, slipped through my fingers, and seems to be passing into fall more quickly than I anticipated.

You would think that back to school means back to normal–I’ve been going back to school for thirty of my thirty-seven years on the planet. But this year is anything but normal, I’m left in the woods without a trail to follow home and my only choice is to forge ahead.

But before I forge ahead, I’m going to take Monday off and spend time with my family. It’s one of the perks of the new normal.

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what I know after 9 years of marriage

I had no idea that marriage would be like this.

As a kid, I never dreamed up a wedding or fantasized about my future husband. As an adolescent, the idea of marriage could not have felt further off. I didn’t plan on it, quite honestly, because through college, I was never in a serious enough (or any) relationship. To my post-college self, the idea of marriage felt dusty and stifling.

When my husband and I met in 2001, we were babies. Just a year out of college and both self-involved in totally different ways. He was recovering from a recent breakup, and I was just starting a giddy love affair with New York City. Our relationship, when it began 14 years ago, was just what we both needed.

We had one of those colorful, swirly, intoxicating affairs in the city that never sleeps. I thought that nothing could be better than what we had.

But within the year, he moved home to Boston, and in an era before text messaging and video chatting, we maintained a long distance relationship…for four years. We logged hours on Peter Pan buses, exchanged thousands of emails and ended most nights with a sleepy farewell by phone. After spending our twenties living separately and in our relationship across state lines, we reached a tipping point. I was leaving my job and changing careers (again) and I wanted this relationship to be long-term. It was time to forge something together in the same zip code.

If I asked my 23-year-old self what I expected from my relationship or from marriage, she would have laughed, ignorant to the possibility of marriage, distrustful of its permanence. I hadn’t yet become so many things and to my 23-year-old self, the prospect of not knowing my self deeply enough to have a long term relationship probably frightened me.

But marriage seemed like the next logical step. So, when we finally moved in together, I was hardly surprised that we were engaged and married within a year. I doubted married life would be radically different from dating life, even if we were in the same place. I was wrong.

It was better.

When I think about the things that are truly good in my life, the things for which I have deep, unending gratitude, my marriage is right there at the center.

I don’t know why it’s good. As I wrote and edited and finessed this reflection on my marriage, I thought I had it all figured out. But truthfully, I don’t. Our marriage just works. We try to be flexible, we make important things precious but not sacred, and we trust each other. We are endlessly curious about each other–even after 14 years together, we’re continuously finding out something new. We don’t mind being silly or trying new things. There is no saccharine romance or excessive public displays of affection, but every night, we hold hands as we fall asleep. And there is always dancing.

I do know that the nature of all of our relationships changes over time, and in relationships we change, too. This is what scares me most about marriage–we cannot predict what will happen that spurns those changes. In these 9 years, we have lived 9 lives. In the course of this relationship, I have been many things on my own–a graduate student (twice), a sociologist (still), a financial analyst, a professor–and because of my marriage, I have been several things with my husband–a wife, a homeowner, a parent. And though we may grow and change, we often become more like ourselves, a distilled version of the people we once were.

Though lots of things about me are the same, my 23-year-old self would hardly recognize my 37-year-old self. In this life, I’m not just becoming a distilled version of who I once was–my marriage to this husband is shaping me into the person I hope to be.

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It feels like we just got started….

It’s over.

Kindergarten is over.

182 days completely and utterly finished.

I should not be surprised. For the last few weeks, my older daughter has counted down the days until her last day of kindergarten.

With each pronouncement, though, I secretly hoped time would stop somewhere between Memorial Day and Flag Day so I would not have to face this moment.

“Can you believe it? Only 8 more days!” she crowed gleefully one night over dinner a week ago.

“No, baby bug, I cannot believe it,” I said to myself.

Then the next week, she kept the reminders coming: “Three days left!” And then, “two more days.”

Finally, over dinner tonight, she dealt us a heavy blow.

“Tomorrow is the LAST day of kindergarten!” Her voice was filled with joy–not a note of sorrow. “And today we visited first grade, mommy. First grade looks like so much fun. I don’t care who my teacher will be, it is going to be great.”

It has been an incredible year for our family. My husband and I have worked incredibly hard, and we have watched our children change tremendously. These incredible little girls remain familiar and yet hardly recognizable to me. They are taller, smarter and sassier, and their energy draws you in. Every day, they surprise me with something new they have learned, a new observation or question. And every day, at least once a day, I kiss their scrumptious little faces, trying to reconcile the fact that they are not babies anymore.

I know I’ll probably cry when she hops out of the car tomorrow on her last day of kindergarten. I am so proud of how independent she has become, how curious she remains, and how determined she is. But tonight, after her pronouncement about the last day of school, I looked at my husband and sighed as small tears welled up.

“Doesn’t it feel like we just got started?” I wondered aloud.

He smiled, shaking his head, “It does.”

“Will it always feel like this?” I replied, gaining composure.

“I think so.”

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Home stretch…or maybe, victory lap?

Back in January, when I told people that I would simultaneously teach out my contract and start a new position outside of academia, it sounded simple to me even though I know it was an extremely complex arrangement. Most friends told me I was crazy to juggle two jobs besides everyday life. And as the semester progressed and I learned the rhythm of the new job while managing the demands of my two college classes, things were surprisingly manageable.

Weeks passed and on campus, the student papers started pouring in and at the new job, the demands for quick review of testimony for public hearings picked up. The kids sensed my constant distraction during family time: they stopped sleeping through the night and my little daughter started throwing exhausting temper tantrums during the day. Suddenly the work hours in the day just weren’t enough, especially because our sleeping hours were so frequently interrupted.

It snowed. It snowed more in one short month that it snows all winter in many places. Snow made everything scarce in our world: parking, traffic, space, patience. Snow piled up made for traffic everywhere and I started to run a razor thin margin picking up my girls at the end of the day. No matter what I did, every day for weeks I carefully sprinted through an icy parking lot around snow drifts taller than my house to make sure I squeezed through the preschool door before 5:29pm.

We saw audible after audible called on our schedules. A school sick call and a sick day. Dentist appointments and well child visits scheduled months ago that were somehow impossible to reschedule. The conference I agreed to attend back in October that came out of nowhere at the end of February. The out of town trip to Washington DC for a family Bat Mitzvah in March. New expectations of face time in my new position that my college teaching position never demanded. Feeling out how to manage the needs of my students while simultaneously devoting time to my new job. Three email accounts constantly pinging with messages.

Every minute of every day for almost four straight months I have been barreling from one thing to the next. It would be enough if I was overextended at work, but my husband has also been up to his eyeballs in an enormous work project that went live at the start of April. Because we were out of our faces working all the time, things felt like they were constantly coming apart at the seams.

I started stripping back anything that wasn’t relevant to family, work or sleep to reserve the time after dinner for the inboxing for the next day’s job. At night when I logged the day’s events in my journal, I found myself beginning every day with “busy” and I hated it.

All lives have busy. Busy is relative. What is busy to me might not be busy to you. Sometimes busy is the crushing weight of many small things to do. Sometimes busy is the impending anxiety of one large task that takes over everything. More often busy is the balance of acute and immediate demands layered over the long term pressures of work and life.

But for us, busy became the new normal, and we clawed our way from one day to the next, prioritizing and re-prioritizing the day to make it through.

I tried all semester to document where I was with my work but because I have been burning the candle at both ends, I started post after post and left them to languish in the drafts folder. I could not find the time to put together a coherent thought to share with anyone else. I managed to write about my mother’s birthday and pined for an extra twenty minutes to polish one of many blog drafts with titles like “the calm before the tectonic shift” and “idling” and “we made it to the middle” and “fighting our way back to normal” and “the change of seasons.” These reflections are a great road map for territory I hope I won’t traverse again (at least not for a little while).

Spring semester classes ended and not a moment too soon. I muddled through the presentations and the grading and the administrative stuff you do when you are closing up shop. And on a sunny day in May, I went to commencement. Commencement day for my students felt like commencement day for me, too. The end of something and also the beginning of something.

With the last four months in the rearview, I am not giving myself (or my husband) nearly enough credit. It would be easy to list the things that went wrong but too many things went right to even indulge the negativity. We managed to be out of town as a family, I went to a conference, we planned and executed our daughter’s birthday, no one has gone to ballet or swim class without their necessary attire, and we haven’t forgotten a lunch (though we did forget a snack one day–and never heard the end of it). No library books lost, and I read at least one book for book club. I registered the kids for summer camp and got coverage for their school vacation. We even found a place to take a much-needed vacation right after school ends for the kids. All in all, life around here is pretty normal except for the unrelenting flow of work.

If I had a dollar for every person that asked me how I was “doing it all” over the last four months, I’d have a nice little kitty to spend on vacation this summer. There is no magic pill, no special potion. We just overextended ourselves, and what I fear has happened is that we have all adjusted to feeling stretched. What we’ve been doing for these weeks is an unsustainable arrangement that is rapidly reaching its logical conclusion.

As one chapter ends and another begins, all I can do is thank the people who cheered me on during this home stretch of the hardest professional work I’ve balanced. I can finally look up and take a humble little victory lap.

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