Falling into gender roles

One of the more identity-warping aspects of parenthood is the way that it has pushed certain traditional gender roles into my marriage.  I didn’t expect this: I grew up in the “girls can do anything” generation and married someone who had no interest in being a stereotypical breadwinner.  But then BAM! societal structures whacked me in the face.

Some of it seems to make sense in the context of our family.  My husband is older than me; he has a real job and I’m a grad student.  Now that he’s working outside of academia, he makes a lot more than me.  My status as a student means that my hours are flexible, my vacation is not tracked, and, well, it just makes sense for me to be the one who stays home when the kid is sick.  To be the one who takes at-home days so that we can save money on daycare.  If we have a second kid after I finish my PhD, it’ll be totally logical for me to be the one to take “leave” for a few months or maybe longer.

But…  Would that calculation change if my husband’s new job offered paternity leave?  (It doesn’t.)  Would I have chosen to stay home as much as I did if daycare were more affordable?

What happens when we move somewhere where daycare costs even more?  Where the waiting lists are months long?  Who has to stay home then?

What happens if we have that second kid and I take some time off to parent—will I be losing forever the opportunity to have the kind of career I once imagined?  Am I doomed to be the secondary breadwinner, looking at a life of trying to sell jewelry and fake nails to my friends?

My husband and I had a fight the other day about money.  He’d started to say things that sounded like he thought of his salary as something he earned for himself and partially distributed to me for stuff, as opposed to something he earned for our family.  It turned out we were taking our worries out on each other: he felt bad about spending less time with our son (he’s had to work weekends recently), while I was worried (jealous?) that I made so much less.  It bothers me very much that we’ve been pushed in these directions.

Today is one of my at-home days, and I’m busy trying to fill the hours with dishes and knitting and crayons.  Likely my husband will be working again this weekend.  I feel unfulfilled, like I’m turning into the stereotype of a bored 1960’s housewife.

I’m not sure where to go from here.

What’s next, the plague?

I took Little Boy to the doctor today, only to discover that he has an ear infection AND another (!!) case of hand, foot, and mouth disease.  The former is treatable with antibiotics and the latter is not severe, but still, really, universe?

Oh, and there’s a non-negligible chance that he inherited my allergies.

An honest chat between parents

My husband and I often touch base on chat when we first arrive at our workstations.  Here’s how that went this morning, when I got to campus after dropping Little Boy off at daycare:

Me:  At school.  Grumpy boy this morning.

Husband:  No kidding.

Me:  He was OK playing with stuff while I signed him in, but got very sad when I handed him to [Teacher A] outside.

Husband:  I don’t know what’s up with him lately.

Me:  Me neither.

Husband:  Well, daycare’s problem for a while.

Me:  Yes, thank goodness.

Husband: #realparents

Me:  “And Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again!”*

Husband:  Heck yes.

Me:  I think it used to be more culturally acceptable to say that.  Now we have to go through this act of how much we miss our kids when they start school.**

Husband:  Bleh. 

Husband:  I’m going to channel Red Forman.

Me:  LOL

*For those who don’t immediately recognize it, this is a line from the carol “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.”

**To be fair, I did miss Little Boy when he started daycare.  But that was one of the best things that’s ever happened for our mother-son relationship.

Jumbled bits and pieces

Today has been a struggle to pull my mind back together after a family vacation (pros: family, lack of work; cons: four days in the car with a ten-month-old).  I forgot to put on makeup this morning, for goodness’ sake.  So for tonight’s post, enjoy a sampling of the things that have been bouncing around my brain.

  • The house was not invaded by insects while we were away.  I am relieved.
  • Obnoxious ex-advisor continues to be obnoxious, now with more unprompted and condescending reprimands about how the culture of our field operates.  If it weren’t so aggravating, it would be hilarious: 90% of the times she’s done this, she’s been wrong.  (The other 10% of the time, she gets it right — but she misses that I was already well aware of cultural conventions and chose to work around them for a very deliberate reason.)
  • The long days in the car with a ten-month-old were exhausting, but they weren’t really that bad.  As on our first, shorter road trip, Little Boy generally napped well, ate well, and handled the new places and people with aplomb.
  • Rest areas without changing tables make me grumpy.  Really, I’d like to see changing tables everywhere, but a facility that is built specifically for highway travelers to use the bathroom doesn’t have any good excuse to leave them out.
  • I’ve been strongly tempted to join the Dark Side open a Twitter account under my blog name, even though that I’ve rolled my eyes at Twitter for years and am a huge Luddite with a flip phone.  I am currently stymied by the need to come up with The Perfect Profile Picture.
  • Despite arriving to pick Little Boy up from daycare at 5:15 p.m., we’re consistently some of the last parents in his age group to do so.  This doesn’t bother me, but I do find it rather odd.  Where do these other parents work?

Have a random thought to share?  Leave it in the comments below.

The fear of judgment continues

Hi, my name is Crazy Grad Mama, and I’m an insecure parent

My latest mommy-guilt paranoia is about the food we pack for daycare.  We’ve taken an adventurous but lackadaisical approach to introducing solid food, one that’s based on offering Little Boy spoonfuls of leftover spaghetti, bites of avocado, crusts of PB&J, and even a small sliver of pizza.  At the time Little Boy started daycare, he’d been regularly eating one solid meal per day at dinnertime and was just starting on the concept of lunch.  I figured sending him one bowlful of something for lunch (plus plenty of Cheerios for snack time) would be plenty to begin with.  Applesauce one day, yogurt the next, maybe some puréed peas – I could handle this.

Except that after about a week, we were informed that he needed more food.  It’s his teachers’ job to give us feedback on this, of course, but there are a range of approaches to saying, “Hey, you need to pack more food because your kid is getting hungry in the afternoon,” and, well, they didn’t really hit the right one.  Cue me feeling like a crappy parent.

This also means coming up with twice as many packable baby meals per week.  But there’s a reason I’m not usually the family cook, and that reason is the fact that I can barely muster up the mental energy to care about cooking (much less meal planning) on a regular basis.

Half of Little Boy’s current easy-prep menu turns out to be unsuitable for packing – avocados and bananas turn brown, peanut butter is an allergy no-no.  He’s not far enough along in the art of self-feeding to assume that he’ll eat large quantities of finger food (indeed, his teachers report that he mostly plays with the Cheerios), so the random small bits of adult food we provide at home won’t be much good for satiating his hunger at daycare.

It’s starting to annoy my husband a little, I think.  The increasingly desperate look on my face when I realize that we’re going to have to send Little Boy with yogurt and applesauce again.  “His teachers are going to think we’re terrible parents,” I say.  “We can’t send him with the same thing every day.”

Someday, I might look back on these times and laugh that I was so worried about something that seems so irrelevant in the long run.  It’s not like I’m sending my kid to daycare with fried Twinkies and Pepsi.  And it’s such an easy issue to solve, once we hit a weekend when I’m not feeling quite so sick.  Fruits and vegetables are readily boiled / steamed / baked and puréed once you have them on hand.

The underlying insecurity, however, is not so easy to solve.  I have a tendency to assume that people are thinking the worst, especially when it comes to my mothering.  (For instance, I used to close the windows when Little Boy did tummy time, because he protested the indignity so strenuously that I worried others would hear the crying and be concerned.)  Right now, it really matters to me that the daycare teachers think well of us.  I don’t need to be the best at this, but I don’t want to be laughably far behind.

It’s no fun being sick

It took exactly three days of daycare for Little Boy to catch a cold.  And another three days for him to give it to me.  Thanks, kid.  Consequently, we’ve been a house full of sick people for the past week.  After the cold (or at least the worst part of the cold), there was the stomach bug.  My husband and I spent that morning taking turns in the rocking chair, soothing our poor little sick baby to sleep on our shoulders.

I know we’re in for many repeats of this cycle as Little Boy’s immune system confronts a whole new world of germs.  Ugh.  Oh well, it has to happen sometime.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

A wonderful thing happened on the first day Little Boy spent at daycare: I missed him.

Of course you missed your baby, you might be thinking.  Every time you talk about daycare, you talk about how much you’re going to miss him.

What I didn’t realize was how strong that missing would be.

It’s a visceral emotion, this missing.  An overwhelming desire to see my Little Boy’s expressions, hear his voice, pick him up and shower him with hugs and kisses.  I want to hold him to my heart and feel the solid warmth of him in my arms.  When we all got home that first evening, my husband and I were competing for who got to change Little Boy’s diaper.  Not who had to, who got to.  That’s how much we missed him.

I’m so relieved.

So this is what parental love feels like.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always loved my kid.  But as a culture, we present motherhood as a magic, all-consuming love like nothing you’ve ever felt before.  In consequence, it’s hard not to feel like there isn’t something just a little bit wrong with you when you want to take breaks from your baby.

It turns out I really, really need that time to be me.  Because in the freedom to do my own thing, knowing that my child is safe and happy and having fun without me, I realize just how much he means to me.  And I’m reassured that I am, in fact, capable of that kind of emotional connection.

Thanks, daycare.

Weird mommy guilt

On the way home from taking our son to meet the teachers at his new daycare, my husband said, “It’s going to be really hard to drop him off that first day.”

I was silent for a moment before responding.

“Sometimes I secretly wonder if I’m a bad mother, because I don’t feel guilty about this at all.  I’m going to walk in and go, ‘Here, take my kid, thanks, bye.’ ”

He laughed.

There are some important caveats to that sentiment.  I don’t entrust our baby’s care to just anyone – only close and competent family members, carefully-screened babysitters, and a thoughtfully-selected and widely-recommended daycare.  I will miss my son after a while, for sure; he is adorable and I love his little habits.  And my comfort level with handing him over to anyone who’s not his father has definitely increased significantly as Little Boy has gotten older.  It wasn’t until he was about four months old that I felt confident giving a caregiver a basic schedule rather than a long list of “if he cries, try this and this and this and that.”

Oddly though, much of my difficulty in leaving Little Boy in the early days was not concern for him, but concern for the person taking care of him.  In the beginning, when you’re nursing completely on demand – especially before your baby is old enough to take a bottle – mom’s absence means removing the easiest and most reliable soothing method.  Even later, I felt awful heading to school knowing that my husband’s postpartum depression was going to get worse with every minute that he had to take care of a baby who wasn’t perfectly happy.  Somehow, I’d internalized the idea that an unhappy baby was my fault even when I wasn’t there.

Now, however, I don’t feel guilty that Little Boy will be spending much of his time with “strangers.”  I’m a better, calmer, and more engaging mother if I get real breaks, and my husband will hopefully be a much-less-stressed father when he can stop having to try to get work done during nap time.  Plus (weirdly capitalistic as this may sound), we’re paying the daycare providers; I don’t have to feel like I’m taking advantage of their goodwill on those days when my son becomes a Purple Minion.

My brain, however, is not so easily settled.  Does my lack of guilt about daycare make me a bad parent?  Aren’t I supposed to feel guilty about this?

Enrolled at daycare

We’re very fortunate: daycare wait lists are almost non-existent in our city.  We didn’t have to pay any registration fees during pregnancy, nor worry about whether any infant spots might open up in time.  In fact, when I called around over last few weeks, all four of the centers I contacted had openings for an eight-month-old.  Whew!

The original plan had been to keep Little Boy home for a year, trading baby care shifts between parents throughout the day.  Both my husband’s job and my grad-school “job” can be accomplished remotely and at odd hours, and nobody bats an eye if I bring a cute little baby to the office with me from time to time.

Like most plans made by new parents, this one didn’t fully mesh with the realities of caring for a tiny human.  Hauling Little Boy to campus turned out to be way more work than it was worth and has thus been reserved for only very particular situations.  My maternity leave was only half the length of the need-intensive “fourth trimester,” so we struggled to find time to work and sleep and stay sane until our son developed a more consistent sleep schedule.  But we managed.

Now, however, we’re ready for daycare.  Little Boy is down to two naps a day and my husband’s boss has started dropping passive-aggressive hints about “face time.”  What’s more, I think Little Boy has reached a stage of inquisitiveness and interaction where he will benefit from some new people, new toys, and new activities.  He loves his Mommy and Daddy for sure, but we sometimes run out of exciting and fun baby games by the end of the day.

As lovely as a one-on-one nanny would be, we can’t afford one.  And I’m extremely uncomfortable using an in-home daycare without knowing the caregiver personally.  That leaves daycare centers, where at least I know there’s oversight, training and backup plans.

We ended up touring three such centers.  The third was struck from the list immediately after the tour: although in a prime location, it had a run-down playground with a swingless swing set and rough AstroTurf.  The sole caregiver for five infants spent part of her time washing high chair trays, her back turned away from the small baby sleeping on the floor while others crawled around him.  (This makes it sound really terrible – it was OK, but we’d seen better.)

The remaining options both had definite positives.  Daycare #1 was a nationwide chain with a sparklingly clean center, close to home, with large playgrounds and attractive wooden toys.  But the infant care ratio was still 1:5, and their full-time cost would be a serious strain on our budget.  Daycare #2 was a local place, close to work, with an older building and a religious bent.  Their classrooms lacked the neat uniformity of the other place, but they put 2 caregivers in a room with 8 children (caregivers working on early childhood degrees, I might add) and you could just feel the increased level of personalization.  Moreover, several friends highly recommended Daycare #2, and the center offers a 3-day-a-week plan that we can afford.

So Daycare #2 it is!  Tomorrow we take Little Boy for a visit; next Monday, he starts his new adventure.  Like every parent before me, I’ll miss him when he’s gone, but for now we’ll still have two whole days a week together by ourselves (plus weekends as a family).  Plenty of time for him to practice those hugs he’s recently learned how to give.

Readers with kids – what did you choose to do for childcare?  Was it an easy decision or a hard one?  If you went with daycare, did you have any trouble finding an open spot?