Adapted from a post originally published on my former blog on June 19, 2011.
You know how we moms have that reputation for quietly, almost invisibly taking care of everyone? A reputation for taking care of all the little, mundane details that keep a household and family running? A reputation we like to regularly polish and sometimes shove in our partners’ faces to ensure that they properly appreciate its gleam?
I do that sort of caretaking in our family. But so does Daniel.
No, he doesn’t have the pediatrician’s phone number memorized or buy birthday gifts for the kids’ friends or recite our weekend schedule down to the smallest detail without consulting a calendar. Sometimes I heave beleaguered sighs when he forgets that snacks sent to school have to be peanut-free, puts Leah’s socks in Meg’s drawer, or refers to a child’s long-time friend with the completely wrong name. My sighs are weighted by that tired (tired as in exhausted, tired as in overused) mother’s lament: Do I have to keep track of everything around here? Do I have to do everything around here?
No, actually, no I don’t. Because Daniel keeps track of all sorts of details that I either don’t think about or choose to ignore. Then I insist on believing that the things I keep track of are somehow more vital, more central, less dispensable than the things he keeps track of.
A few weeks ago, I was doing a more thorough than usual cleaning of our master bathroom. I even unscrewed the drain cover to clean out the accumulated gunk. I’d only done that once before, despite owning this house for six years. I rarely do it because Daniel does it whenever he cleans the bathroom. Which is not often. Maybe three or four times a year. But when he does clean the bathroom, he always clears that nasty, stinking, gummy drain.
It got me thinking about all the little things he does every day, every week, every month that I don’t even have to think about. He cleans the litter box, and he’s not even a cat person. He changes the lightbulbs and knows off the top of his head which wattage bulbs we have and which we need. He disposes of the often-decapitated animal carcasses that the cat-he-doesn’t-really-like regularly brings us. He vacuums out my car. He cleans and organizes the refrigerator. He empties the dishwasher. He folds the laundry. He clears the dead limbs from our back woods. He decides that the porch windows need cleaning, so he cleans them.
It’s not just chores that Daniel does with quiet grace. He signs off on Meg’s homework, after sitting with her at the kitchen table to help her through a tough assignment. He gives the kids piggy-back rides up to bed, plays a quick game of charades if they are cooperative with the whole pajama/toothbrushing routine, agrees to read just one more chapter of their bedtime story. He shows them planets through his telescope, adjusts the training wheels on their bikes, hikes with them up to Heublein tower, teaches them the proper way to wash dishes at a campsite. When confronted with fidgety, bored, complaining children, he breaks out the Slip ‘N Slide, the paints and easel, the Play Doh, the Kapla blocks, the train set.
Did I mention that he works at a high-profile job with many responsibilities, and spends two hours a day commuting? My book group once read the classic working-mother novel, I Don’t Know How She Does It. I don’t know how he does it.
If I had to be a single mom to these kids, I could do it. I would do it. Of course I would. Sometimes I fall into the trap of believing that I already do everything anyway, that the minutiae in my head and the chores that I do on auto-pilot and the ways I most naturally interact with my kids are clearly the only minutiae and chores and interactions that matter. But they’re not.
Happy Father’s Day to the man whose brain holds the minutiae mine cannot hold, whose hands do the chores that I cannot do (or often just don’t want to do), and who loves our children in ways I cannot love them.