I used to be an interesting person. Not anymore. People with interesting lives have free time -- to ski, travel, help the downtrodden, read, go to museums, and do all the things that interesting people do. Me? At the end of the day or over the weekend, I'm probably changing the diaper of our 4-month-old while my wife chases our 2½-year-old -- who is clutching Magic Markers and "coloring" one of our cats -- around the house. Beyond work and family, the only exciting thing I've got going on is that I recently bought a new toothbrush. You know, one of those fancy ones with the blue-tinted indicator bristles that clean your teeth and massage your gums at the same time.
But it wasn't always this way. A million years ago, I made it through entire days and nights without being covered in baby drool. I could walk to another room uninhibited with responsibility -- and without plotting a strategy first. Yes, once upon a time, I even read books that didn't begin with the phrase "Once upon a time."
So when I'm feeling sleep-deprived and exhausted, which is to say every day, I yearn for a few hours -- or even just a few minutes -- of my old carefree life back.
And to get it, I'll admit, I've employed the sort of ethics usually reserved for shoplifters and spammers. For instance, in a seemingly grand gesture of chivalry, I'll say to my wife, Susan, "You know, you deserve a night off from cooking and cleaning." Instead of preparing a meal myself, however, I selflessly offer to go and pick up some takeout. But when I hop into the car to bring back the fast food, I know full well that I'm only in this for the 40-minute round-trip where I can be alone and listen to the radio.
So it was that in the first couple of months after our second daughter, Lorelei, was born, I transformed myself into a virtual domestic superhero: Errand Boy, our family's go-to guy for evening and weekend grocery trips, oil changes, dry-cleaning drop-offs, prescription pick-ups, and diaper and formula runs. Before my wife could even finish the sentence "We're running out of..." I would be eagerly at her side, car keys in hand.
Unfortunately, Susan is a smart woman and it didn't take long before she caught on to what I was really doing -- and wanted in on the action.
One evening after a long, hard day at work, when the baby wipes were low, I announced my intentions to purchase some at the grocery store, thereby making life easier for my spouse. Maybe I laid it on too thick, or perhaps she took my words to heart, because Susan asked if I'd mind taking both of our daughters along with me, so she could have an hour to herself of peace and quiet.
I tried flashing a noncommittal smile. (I was told later that I actually looked like a prisoner in a spy movie who has just been caught with a secret escape tunnel underneath his bed.) "Dear, remember, my darling," I stammered, "I'm going on this trip for you, not me, and if the girls are going to be cranky, it's now, right before bedtime, which could turn into a shopping fiasco for me, not to mention a driving hazard, and I know you wouldn't want that... " I didn't have to finish; I was already backing out of the driveway.
Days later, when I casually suggested getting takeout pizza for dinner, my wife stared at me and then the door. Suddenly, we were in a race for the keys and wrestling each other to the floor for them. If my wife hadn't grown up fighting off an older brother, I'm sure our infant and preschooler would have been spared the sight of seeing their father tumbling headfirst over the ottoman in defeat.
"Back in a jiffy," my wife shouted as she sprinted for the car. I'm not sure how long a jiffy is, but whenever we run out of diapers or have an urge for takeout, Susan's average jiffy is clocking in at 71 minutes.
Geoff Williams is a Babytalk contributing editor and a freelance writer in Loveland, Ohio.
A Lesson LearnedThe lesson? It's not just us guys. My wife cherishes her independence, too. Through respectful communication and thoughtful negotiation, though, we can each express our individual needs and work out a way for us both to get the time and space we so desperately crave.
Sigh. Who am I kidding? The "communication" ship has sailed. The chance to negotiate free time is before the baby comes or in those first few weeks when you're still figuring things out, not months after your routine has solidified.
And that's why I seem to have zero time to myself; I was a terrible negotiator. See, moms generally know more about the inner workings of babycare than the fathers. So when you're working out the terms of sharing parental responsibilities -- who does what and when -- women (or at least, my wife) actually have the home court advantage, a lesson I learned the hard way.
Some background: After the birth of my first daughter, Isabelle, my wife and I agreed to split the nighttime duties. One of us would give her a bath and the other would put her to bed. I picked the latter. With the bath, I reasoned, I might accidentally drown one of us. And leaning over the tub on the hard tile floor would be agony on my knees and back. My wife would tackle the difficult stuff, I thought, and I'd take the rocking chair, where Isabelle would drift off peacefully in my arms as I sat back, relaxed, and nodded off myself.
Only it didn't quite work out that way.
As Isabelle got older and more resistant to bedtime, it was clear that nothing about this process would be peaceful. I rocked so much, the rocker broke. Isabelle became heavier in my arms, leaving my back just as sore as it would have been bending over the bathtub. And my feet began to hurt from standing and swaying Isabelle to sleep in my arms for what seemed like an eternity every night. I broke every rule about putting babies to bed that you can break, and my nighttime duty was often taking two hours to complete.
Baths, on the other hand, always ran approximately 10 minutes. During her free time, my wife read paperbacks and soaked in her own tub. Sometimes she even scrapbooked. But by the time Isabelle was out cold, I had to hit the mattress myself if I wanted anything resembling a normal night's sleep.
Now that Lorelei is in the picture, my wife bathes both girls and puts Isabelle to bed, all in about 20 minutes' time, having almost undone the damage I did (through my bedtime bungling) with our first child.
Meanwhile, I'm in charge of getting Lorelei to sleep, an activity that is going better than it did with Isabelle but still, through the occasional twist of fate (the other night, for example, our dog, Nellie, started to bark at a squirrel outside just as Lorelei was fading off, leaving her alert and ready for a rousing round of peekaboo) or my own mismanagement, sometimes succeeds in swallowing up my entire evening.
My griping may make it sound like I wish things had worked out differently. That I wish we had waited longer to have children, for instance, which couldn't be further from the truth. I love our girls beyond what I ever believed was possible, and when I envision my existence without them, it's always a nightmarish scenario where I'm living in squalor, eating dirt, and shaking my fists at the heavens crying, "Why? Why?"
Nevertheless, parenting is exhausting, and so I'll probably always be trying to recapture those madcap glory days when I could all too easily get more than nine consecutive minutes of free time. And on the days when I can't, I've learned to make the most of the time that I do have. For instance, last night, it took me over two hours to get Lorelei to sleep in her crib, but I left her room in a good frame of mind anyway because, the way I saw it, I still had enough time to pursue plenty of exciting opportunities that have recently come my way. Did I mention that I just bought a new toothbrush?