We’re over a month into the new school year at this point. Eitan is in Pre-K now, which means he’s in school before 8:30 and gets out after 3:30. It’s a long day for him, especially since he was still napping on occasion over the summer, but he’s adjusted nicely. There are usually some tears at points during the couple of hours between getting dismissed from school and going to bed, largely because he’s exhausted and refuses to nap during rest time at school. All things considered, though, he’s getting used to his new schedule.
My routine has not been affected too severely. I’m still going to work every day and seeing private practice patients some evenings. The biggest difference for me is that now I’m teaching religious school again on Sunday mornings and Tuesday evenings, plus leading children’s services in synagogue a few Saturday mornings each month. It’s the same work as before, just more of it. Plus, since Eitan is usually wiped, he’s asleep by the time I get home some nights.
What this really means is that now Trudy has been thrust back into those early stages of stay-at-home mom status. She was able to spend most of her summer days at the beach with friends and relatives, plus both of our kids. Now that Eitan is in school and the summer is over, she’s spending most of each day just with Shayna. Shayna may be a great baby who doesn’t give us too much trouble (more about this in a minute), but she’s not the best conversationalist. Say what you will about the tantrums and defiance that come with having a four-year-old, but there is still something nice about having someone around who can actually talk to you, as opposed to just smiling, staring off into space or sleeping.
Of course, Trudy is handling everything like a pro. Our kids are clothed, fed and happy and, after a summer of taking care of a little boy and an infant girl, she’s certainly earned a little quieter time at home. She’s tired too at the end of the day, though, as one would expect her to be after spending the day nursing and playing with Shayna, running errands, cleaning the apartment, cooking dinner and then keeping Eitan awake and calm long enough after school to eat, bathe and get to bed.
It’s hard for me to picture that kind of a day. I spend the first hour and a half of my day with Eitan (and Shayna, depending on what time she wakes up) and then I don’t see them until much later. Even then, I sometimes don’t see Eitan until the next morning, depending on what time I get home at night. I have trouble imagining going through the entire day without much adult interaction or acknowledgment of my efforts. (Babies aren’t really good at saying thank you.)
One night, I was coming home late after a private practice session and, when I texted Trudy to say I was on my way, she responded that Shayna had been crying for fifteen minutes and that I should come home quickly. I got home about ten minutes later and I could hear Shayna still crying as I unlocked the door. She didn’t seem like she was in pain; it wasn’t that forceful adamant screaming cry. But she was definitely irritable or uncomfortable or something and she was making her displeasure known. I came inside, put my bag down and walked over to take Shayna from Trudy. I picked her up, patted her back, bounced her in my arms a little and walked around as I told her to calm down.
She stopped crying in less than a minute.
Trudy’s eyes got wide for a second and then very narrow as she glared at Shayna and started cursing.
I couldn’t blame Trudy. It’s a familiar refrain in parenting circles that the primary caregiver puts so much effort and energy into taking care of the kids during the day and then the kids seem to like the other parent better. An outsider might have laughed when Shayna stopped crying; I did not. I understood the humor of the situation to a point but my bigger concern was Trudy feeling like our infant daughter had just waved her tiny little middle finger in Trudy’s face.
My level of experience with feeling that type of rejection from an infant may be limited; after all, I’ve been working full time since before Eitan was born so the opportunities for me to be the sole at-home parent for an entire day for even one child have been few and far between. That being said, I can remember quite a few times, especially when Eitan was very young, when I felt completely useless as a parent because Eitan only wanted his mother. Eitan was – and still is – very attached to Trudy, so hearing him say he only wants Mommy to read to him, for instance, feels like a four-year-old hitting me in the stomach with a Heisman pose. Plus, as far as the cursing is concerned, I can remember a few distinct instances where I let a few of my own blue streaks fly at Eitan.1 Trust me when I say that sailors have nothing on exhausted parents in the foul language realm.
I don’t want to speak for Trudy, but she seemed to end up fine. She’d had an incredibly long day that was capped by a three month old2 essentially saying, “Okay, Mommy, I’ve had enough of you.” Honestly, Trudy had probably had enough of Shayna too at that point. The key, for both of us as new-ish parents, has been to remember that it’s natural for kids to prefer one parent over the other at certain times and to make sure we each have opportunities to keep bonding with both of our children. We keep talking with each other about our needs and our kids’ needs so that we stay on the same page. Keeping the lines of communication open is how we keep as much of our sanity as possible and how we keep our kids from tearing our emotions apart. If we end up using some R-rated language here and there, but we keep ourselves together as a result, so be it.
1. The triggers for my outbursts usually involved bodily fluids getting all over me or an Eitan who just wouldn’t stop crying but I was really just expressing my frustration about feeling like I was a completely inept parent. I felt that way a lot, especially early on.↩
2. Shayna was still three months old when this happened.↩