Several years ago, when I worked from home, I used to pick up Lucy from pre-school. I would wait outside the classroom with a cluster of moms, and when we heard the goodbye song from inside, the door would swing open and the teacher would announce “Come on in, mommies!”
Except then she would notice me in the group and “Come-on-in-mommies” would morph into “Come on in MommmyyzzzEVERYONE!”
Probably every community is like this, but in our town, the moms are usually picking up the kids. In our town, Working Moms are distinctly in the minority.
Which is the way of the world, right? Dads traditionally work. Moms traditionally stay at home with the kids. It’s fine! It’s great!
But also, that model isn’t for everyone.
Liz is a working mom. (The term “working mom” is, at best, a misnomer. Stay-at-home-moms aren’t exactly spending their days swaying in hammocks and teaching themselves how to juggle.) Liz has always been a working mom. This identity stands out more often than you would think – most notably when Liz is invited to daytime social events on a weekday, for example. She can’t, she tells them. Because she’s working. This happens fairly regularly.
Now, this next point may seem obvious, but:
As a man, I have never been invited to do social things during the day.
If I sent out a mass email out to my male friends, inviting them to brunch at 10:30 a.m. on a Tuesday? They’d think I had lost my mind. They’d imagine me tapping out that email dressed in a stained bathrobe, eyes bloodshot, Cheetos dangling off my beard like Christmas ornaments. They would ask if I was okay, not rhetorically but urgently, with a hint of confusion, like a cop trying to calm a man who had just taken his mailbox hostage.
These male friends of mine would most certainly not respond with an apologetic email explaining that they were, in fact, Working Dads, and thus, unfortunately, would not be able to attend, and that they were so sorry.
When we moved in to our new home, our friends would come over and see the home office and inevitably turn to me.
“So, this is your office?”
“It’s actually Liz’s office. She works from home,” I would remind them.
“Oh! Right. Of course.”
“People do know that I work, right?” Liz would whisper to me.
Liz is a lawyer, and she works most days from home. I work in the city. Our kids are in school all day and we have a nanny for a couple of hours every day after school. It works well for our family. We’re happy. Liz loves her job, I love my job.
But there is a complication:
Because there are so many moms that don’t work, and because Liz is classified as a working mom and not a stay-at-home mom, I can see Liz’s internal struggle.
“I just want to make sure Finn and Lucy grow up knowing I’m there for them,” Liz would tell me. “I want them to feel that. I want them to have a great mom.”
My sweet Lizzie worries about that. I’m guessing many Working Moms out there worry about that.
Now, I don’t want to invalidate Liz’s internal struggle with a trite “Don’t worry! You’re a great mom!” Even though she’s a GREAT mom. She’s an amazing mom. She loves our kids like crazy and it shows.
So instead, I’ll just offer some context.
Lizzie is in the kitchen when the kids get up each morning. I’m already rushing off for the train, and Lizzie is making breakfast for the kids. She’s asking if they had any dreams and listens intently to them. She’s playing music Lucy loves, and I find myself running out the door to Lizzie and Lucy singing about Wang Chunging tonight. She sits and listens to Finn talk about the book he’s reading as he scarfs down the scrambled eggs she made.
She is completely present with them until they board the bus. Then she starts her work day in her office. She does sophisticated work that I do not understand. She has very few breaks. She often uses those breaks to take care of Beasley.
Every night, without fail, we have dinner together. Liz stops, no matter how intense her day is, pausing for the couple of hours that we’ll all have together before the kids go to bed. Her work phone and laptop never leave her office. She refuses to be distracted.
After dinner, I’ll find Liz and Finn and Lucy in one of their rooms, lying on a bed in what we call a Family Flop. I’ll listen to Liz telling them a story that includes various animals and kings and queens and high adventure and I wonder what crazy book this is. Then I realize she’s not reading it at all but literally making it up as she goes along. The kids are utterly enthralled. (Seriously, this is a gift she has.)
Then she tucks the kids in. With Finn, she saves time for an epic, deep conversation that makes him feel loved. With Lucy, they get under the covers and pretend to be chickens or they play Would You Rather. (Finn and Lucy are very different.)
Lizzie is constantly sending me articles about raising our kids. She helps them pick out activities. She signs them up for everything. She arranges all their play dates.
Now, I know Lizzie is going to be CRINGING at this blog entry. She is going to be genuinely upset at me for going on and on about her. (She hates it more than almost anything, when she feels like the attention is focused on her. Seriously.)
So I will say this directly to her: This is my blog, babe. And I DO have a point to all this. Here it is:
We tell ourselves, so often, that we are not enough. I can’t help but believe that moms are afflicted by this more than almost anyone, whether they are working moms or stay at home moms.
My Lizzie is enough.
She will beat herself up because she is not doing everything. But she is enough. And that’s not just me saying that, and it’s not just our kids saying that. It is the God that we believe in – He is telling her that. It is at the very root of who He is and how He feels about us. He would tell you that you are enough, too.
Anyway, here are the Top Five Awkward Moments When I Took the Place of Mommy.
When Finn was young I was dropping him off at this new program for toddlers, and I had to fill out a form that asked “Are you the mother of the child you are dropping off, or are you the caregiver?” I wrote “I’m the father?” Because it felt like I had done something wrong.
2.) Moms coffee.
This is often labeled the more generic “Parents coffee” but it wasn’t in this case. I’ve already described my grave discomfort in meeting other parents. Now imagine I am the only dad at a mom’s coffee and that the moms seemed to already know each other. They pretended to be interested in me, the way you might if your nephew wanted to show you how he had just learned how to use his new pogo stick but he was still terrible at it.
Finn was dressed up as a monkey and was maybe a year old and I took him to this little Halloween thing in NYC and it was really cute and then the music teacher said “Okay, everyone turn around and give mommy a big hug!” and Finn sort of frowned and gave a little monkey shrug and hugged me. Which hopefully meant he understood that the teacher meant “parent” rather than looking at me and thinking “Well, I guess this human is a woman.”
One night when Liz was away the kids asked me to tell them a made-up story. I’m not good at made-up stories so I started to tell them about a boy who discovered he was a wizard, only then remembering that Liz had already read them those books. They pretended to be amazed anyway. When I named the boy wizard Alexander, Lucy asked if we could name him Harry Potter instead. I said we could.
I was working from home one time when our cleaning woman walked into the kitchen with a stack of folded bath towels. She paused when she saw me. “Is your wife here?” she asked. I told her Liz was out, but that I would help her. “I would really need to talk to her,” she insisted. When I assured her that I would be able to answer any questions, she very reluctantly nodded to the towels. “I am not sure where you keep your towels.” (I was able to answer that question for her.)
That’s all I got.