Banana Peels and Beach Parties
I was recently discussing with my husband the legendary status he has achieved among the members of my moms’ group. When I was away giving a workshop, my beloved partner was home with my four-year-old daughter (I took the baby with me) and he simply cracked under the pressure. When I returned, the house was in a state of disarray, the extent of which I did not immediately appreciate. When looking for something on top of the refrigerator a week after my return, I noticed that there was a not-small amount of garbage up there, including banana peels. That’s right. Banana peels. On. Top. Of. The. Refrigerator. Not pretty, let me assure you.
I realize that I could not expect things to be done to my exacting (compulsive? anal?) standards in my absence, and I’m okay with that. But banana peels on the top of the fridge? Really? Really??? I’m not asking him to put them in the compost bin – I realize that dealing with a heaping barrel of rotting food is beyond him, and I’m even okay with that. But – hello – the garbage can?
His response, upon hearing of his mythological stature among the “Mom Army” (as he calls my friends), was to wonder if I also share with them the good things he does. Well, of course I do – just not as often, because those things are not nearly as funny.
He defended himself by noting that he was referred to as “Dad of the Year” at our family reunion yesterday. He took both kids by himself (ages 1 and 4) because I was home caring for our very ill and very senior dog, and working on my master’s thesis when I wasn’t cleaning up piles of…well, you get the idea. Why “Dad of the Year”, I asked? Because, he told me, apparently not all fathers would be willing to care for two kids alone (did I mention this was a family reunion? I’m not sure that qualifies as caring for kids alone, but whatever), no matter the age. The fact his kids are young and vibrant, and he is willing to care for them for a day without their mother, apparently qualifies him for a Nobel Prize.
Don’t get me wrong – I love my husband. He is a wonderful, involved and loving father and partner. He does most of the housework in our family, and I am much happier, saner, and more productive because of his contributions to our household. I would say that the work is split, maybe not 50/50 but closer to even than most.
But I was reminded of a book reading of Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman that I watched on CSPAN, where she talked about how ridiculously low expectations are of fathers. When is the last time someone called you “Mom of the Year”, she wonders? Let me see….um…NEVER! If I was doing what my husband was doing yesterday, which simply involved ensuring that his two children were fed and relatively clean and making sure neither one of them floated out to sea, I would be seen as simply doing my job at best – and I probably would have drawn some criticism from someone somewhere for doing something wrong. As Waldman said, in order for someone to comment on what a good mom I am, I would need to be performing a tracheotomy while nursing my baby, teaching my four-year-old trigonometry, and knitting sweaters for refugee children in Afghanistan – all at the same time.
This isn’t really about how low the bar is for fathers, but rather how unreachably high it is for mothers. When I mentioned that I felt guilty not going to the reunion, my husband asked if it was because I was leaving him with both kids for the day. Why should I feel guilty about that? I take care of them both alone (really alone) all the time, and if I’m not mistaken, and I’m pretty sure I’m not, they’re his kids too. The implication that I should feel guilty about relinquishing the care of my two young children to their father for fifteen hours is, well, offensive. (For the record, what I felt guilty about was the fact that I was missing an opportunity to spend time with family members that I rarely get to see.)
Mothers are supposed to do it all, and do it to perfection, without recognition, support, encouragement, or security. All this we do under the scrutinizing eyes of the Good Mother Police. Meanwhile, fathers are showered with accolades for simply being in the same physical space as their offspring. So I say, let’s try something new. Next time you see a mother spending time with her children, pushing them on a swing at the park or picking out books at the library, walk up to her and tell her, “I was just watching you with your child, and I think you’re a great mom.” When you see a mother struggling to carry groceries and a screaming toddler to her car, offer her a hand. When you see that glazed-over look that mothers get after listening to preschooler prattle for hours on end, or the shell-shocked gaze of a mother of teenagers, give her a warm and friendly smile. Our government may not support us with legislation, our employers may not support us with their policies, our families and friends may not even support us. Let’s at least support each other.