I'm at home with the Nugget this morning -- he was banished from daycare for having a fever yesterday. I'm sitting here enjoying his running commentary as he plays (Oh! Bow! See it? Present! Open it? Cake! Me eat it? Yes!). I had lunch with a friend yesterday who has a 16-month-old and is in that impatiently-awaiting-the-talking phase. She asked me when Nugget started talking, and I was totally unable to answer the question because at this point it seems like he's always been a chatterbox, although in fact he was slow to start talking. When I finally sussed it out, I realized that his talking didn't really take off until the beginning of August, which is not that long ago at all. It's amazing how fast everything changes for him.
Obviously this sort of thing plays a role in the mommy track aspect of my decision to leave my firm. It sucks to be missing so much at this point in his life. And I'm told it doesn't get any easier; one partner told me that his kids, now in their teens, seem to need him more than ever. (I was surprised--I would've thought teenagers wouldn't want their parents around--and he assured me that of course they don't want him, but their needs are greater than ever.) Those are two different things though -- how much Nugget needs me versus how much I want to be there. My dad is a Biglaw partner, and a workaholic, but I don't feel like he was absent when I look back on my childhood. He balanced it well. Of course, my mom was at home being a full-time mom, which makes a big difference. But I want to set aside the (very thorny and controversial) question of what is best for Nugget for a moment and just recognize this: I want to spend more time with him.(Question for another post: why does it seem harder for women to be away from their kids because of work than it is for most men?)
Turning to what Nugget needs. This is where it gets hard to sort out the politics, if you will, from the realities. First, there's what my husband and I are capable of. We are pretty awesome people by our own measure, but we're not much for organization and time management. So what my family needs is different from what works for other people. There are certainly people who can set up a wholesome routine for their kids, with home-cooked, sit-down family dinners and regular bedtimes, while both parents work at demanding jobs. That is not us.
Second, there's what my husband is capable of. I love him beyond what words can express, and he is a great dad who loves Nugget and me immeasurably, but to be blunt, he couldn't cut it as a stay-at-home dad. I hate that we failed in our reversal of traditional gender roles. I feel like I'm letting us--women, society, forward-thinking people--all down by admitting that my family needs mom at home more. But I don't know how much can be generalized from our situation. Is it that my husband didn't have a baby doll growing up? Is it that society expects him to do something different? Maybe we're an outlier and you can safely ignore us when you look at the data on gender roles.
Or maybe focusing on gender misses the point. Maybe the truth is, some people--male or female--just aren't naturally inclined to be the hearth-tender. More women might do it because we're expected to, but that doesn't mean we're any more suited to it.
I'm more suited to it than Trent, so I'm going to man up and make more time in my life to make sure we all get healthy food in our bellies, clothes that fit on our backs, and all the other necessities. Note the word necessities. I don't plan on spending all my time on this. Not just because I want more out of my life, but also because frankly, and here's where I am going to set aside my careful respect for others' choices, I don't think that sort of focus is good for anyone. I am firmly opposed to helicopter parenting. And I think when an individual is focusing all of his or her energies on parenting, the helicopter is inevitable. So I hope to find some balance. If you see me writing here about the charts I've created to track my son's development as a percentile of the rest of the population, or the monograph I'm writing on the incidence of allergies among children on an all-organic diet, please call me on it.