I am married to a man who has taken more women’s studies classes than I have. A man whose youthful band had a hit song titled, “Menses Man.” He is the one who will teach our daughter the history of feminism. He is the one who will take her to see the WNBA. And he is the one who has no idea where the Tupperware goes.
Here’s the thing. Co-Parenting, that ridiculously named concept that mothers and fathers carry the same workload, is a myth. It is a lovely, righteous ideal. I want it to be real as much as my daughter wants unicorns and mermaids to be real. But it’s not. So I tell myself what I tell her when she cries because she’ll never get to see a real fairy-tale creature: “Well, you can see it in your heart, and in your imagination.”
Thirty hours into having a baby, a truth of motherhood hit me like a Mac truck. Lying there, sliced open, breasts hard and unruly as barnacled rocks, I woke up seconds before our newborn daughter cried to eat. Unable to sit up and reach her out of her bassinet, I called to my husband, snoring in the chair across the room. He woke up delirious, exhausted. “I’ve hit a wall,” he cried, “I can’t do it. I just can’t do it.”
Can’t do it? I thought. Hit a wall?
“Can’t do it” has no place in motherhood. It is a non-thought. Even 30 hours into the gig I knew that. I said nothing, and he brought me the baby. I remember wondering how our marriage would ever survive. I remember wondering how any marriage survives having kids.
Two of the magazines I stole from my doctor’s office have articles for the modern mom. “Sleep vs. Sex: You Don’t Have to Choose,” promises one. “Having It All — Sleep AND Sex” teases the other. It occurs to me that lack of sleep isn’t really the problem. Pre-baby my husband and I were often sleepless, but we always managed a groggy roll in the morning. Even now I pass on precious sleep hours just to stay up and sit alone in the dark. Exhaustion alone doesn’t destroy my libido; not liking my husband does.
Truth: I have withheld sex because I was angry. I have pretended to be asleep. I have wondered when it would be over so I could check my e-mail or clean the house. I have seen his erect penis as a tiny drill sergeant, demanding, demanding: “Hup — Two — Three — Four — I — Am — Just — Another — Chore . . .”
I have muttered under my breath, “Grow the fuck up.”
He calls 6:00pm “The Bitching Hour.” I am a monster. Messy people undo the only things I have accomplished all day. I do them, again, bitter. I hate the dishwasher, hate the laundry, hate playing unicorn. “You’re tracking mud,” I grunt. I am not passive-aggressive, I am aggressive-aggressive. “You just don’t understand,” I snarl.
“OK,” he says, playing his card. “Let’s switch. My turn to stay home.”
I hiss and pour myself a glass of wine.
The moms on TV are superheroes. They are vessels of goodness guiding their angelic infants with serenity and fine direction. They are masterful cleaners and multi-taskers who look lovely and respectable in gentle business suits. They are well-shaped and well kept-up. Responsible adults, caring not only for their darling children, but for their endlessly incompetent and sex-starved husbands, as well.
We are on vacation in Hawaii. There is maid service. There is no laundry because we don’t wear clothes. There is fish to cook on a grill someone else will have to scrape and clean.
Day 1: I try to nap while my husband takes our daughter to the pool but instead I worry he will let her drown.
Day 2: No one goes to work. I get up early with our daughter and we look for dolphins while my husband sleeps.
Day 3: We are getting used to this. I notice, as they head to the pool together, how brown my husband is, how his skin matches the caramel skin of our daughter. I nap.
Day 4: She wants only him, only his attention. It’s amazing. He has become the default parent nearly overnight. I think about being jealous, but choose to lie on the cool marble floor of the bathroom instead.
Day 5: I sit poolside reading and watching the two of them play mermaid for hours in the pool. Later, he carries her up to the room and puts her down for a nap. There is nothing to do, nothing to get done. My husband and I lie on the cool marble floor together, our sun kissed skin generating an altogether different kind of heat. “You are my Queen,” he whispers, and I shiver. For the first time in a long while, my heart and my imagination are open. Here, anything can happen; magic is alive, and so, for a while, am I.
I love this man; I reach to show him.