After my husband and I had kids, bed also became the object of my dearest fantasies -- the oasis I dreamed about in my late-afternoon stupor, when I knew that many hours still lay between me and the sheets.
My covetous view of bed changed, however, midway through my third pregnancy, when some suspicious bleeding led my obstetrician to prescribe bed rest for several days, possibly longer.
"But I have two small kids!" I protested. For those of you more gestationally fortunate, "bed rest" means lying there for hour upon idle hour -- or in the worst cases, week upon idle week -- afraid that even taking a quick shower or reaching for the TV remote might make you lose your baby.
What would my 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter do without Mama to attend to them every second of their exhausting days? Who could I get to fill my maternal shoes? Our relatives live far away. Hiring a nanny was financially out of the question. The answer, of course, was that the children's father would have to be their mother (he runs his own company from home), although I must confess I had my doubts.
George is a wonderful, involved dad; he changes diapers, does "this little piggy," and pitches baseballs equally well -- and equally willingly. But George has always slept straight through 3 AM feedings and bad dreams. I'm the chief of childhood minutiae around here; the one who pours the juice, monitors the wee-wees, and knows what "do the coyote" means (a dry-eye technique for shampooing hair). On top of being both Mama and Daddy, George would have to play nurse to me too. But -- the biggest, overriding but -- the unborn baby's health was paramount. "Get in bed, stay in bed, and don't worry about a thing," George ordered.
The first few hours went quickly enough. There was the novelty of gliding between fresh sheets in the middle of the day and the welcome release from snack doling and bottom wiping. "Mommy's sick," my husband explained to the kids, closing my door. I read straight through one of those books that ordinarily serve as dust catchers. I napped. With the door closed and the fan whirring, you couldn't even tell there were two tots downstairs. It was so quiet. Quiet usually means trouble's afoot. Did George realize this?
"Mommy! Mommy!" I heard them cry. Or did I? My maternal engines idling nervously, I pictured the kids stoned on Cheetos and Popsicles; my daughter's unchanged Pull-Ups sagging to her knees; six straight hours of the Cartoon Network turning their little eyeballs into black-and-white checkerboards. Darn it, why was it so quiet downstairs?
"Mommy! Mommy!" It was the kids, bursting through my bedroom doorway with excited squeals. George had taken them out to dinner and bought each child a toy doctor's kit. They were palpably relieved at being able to take an active part in my scary convalescence. Solemnly, they listened to my heartbeat, "tested" my blood pressure, and administered innumerable shots. "You must stay in bed!" admonished the 2-year-old, wagging a pudgy finger. I had to admit that, had the circumstances been reversed, with me filling in for a bedridden George, I'd never have thought of something so clever.
Then the object of my admiration appeared. "Okay, you can get up now," he said, handing me my robe. Already? I wondered. Was he throwing in the towel after just a few hours? Then two young muscle-bound guys materialized in the bedroom and began to remove the saggy, full-size, 10-year-old mattress on which I had just been lying. A few minutes later, they marched back up the stairs brandishing a brand-new, ultra-firm king-size model. George put down new sheets and sent me back to bed. Wow!
That wasn't all. My dinner that evening arrived on a tray -- stuffed salmon, baked potato, and broccoli on good china, with a chocolate bar on the side. The kids sat with me quietly, impressed and awaiting the chocolate.
Now, I don't know what the kitchen looked like or exactly how often my daughter's Pull-Ups were changed, but for the next several days George knocked himself out keeping everyone happy. He rented six movies for me (half based on Jane Austen novels, half starring Harrison Ford). He monitored the kids' frequent visits to give me more "shots" and let them deliver my mail (from which he'd removed all the bills, leaving only the juicy catalogs). They went to the park and the zoo.
Blessedly, my bout with bed rest lasted less than a week. The bleeding stopped as mysteriously as it had begun, and four and a half months later my baby daughter was born beautiful and perfect. But the lessons of the episode linger on today.
I learned that Dad really can be interchangeable with Mom, if only I'll let him. And that it takes more than one person to keep a family running -- it's a minuet among all its members. When one of us falls back, the others fill in.
Sometimes now, on particularly long days, when all three kids are crying at once and I begin to unspool, shrieking back at them like the Anti-June Cleaver, my husband will say to me, in an oh-stop-being-a-martyr tone of voice, "Why don't you just go to bed?"
And you know what? I do. Contributing editor Paula Spencer wrote the Parenting Guide to Pregnancy & Childbirth