In the first of three weekly excerpts from Between Interruptions, a collection of essays by Canadian women, Globe Style editor Sheree-Lee Olson grapples with her role as mother and breadwinner.
I am my father.
Except my father never cried at work. He'd come home and my mother would pour him a Scotch and he'd shout at us instead. I come home and my husband pours me a glass of merlot, and sometimes I shout at him, and sometimes I tell him I cried at work.
"What about?" he asks.
"What do you think? I want to quit. I've had enough."
This is unhelpful to a man trying to wrangle two cranky boys who have a mixed relationship with dinner and homework. This is particularly unhelpful to a man who would rather be doing anything other than what he is doing now, heating up yet another plate of pasta that is destined to remain uneaten while wolfing down his own dinner and trolling through the day's increment of paperwork from the school apparatchiks.
A lot of days, we both hate our jobs.
"The difference is," he says, raising his voice over the machine-gun fire coming from the shooter game on the computer, "you get to come home at the end of the day, whereas I -"
"Whereas you get to be alone during the day," I say. And though I know I'm not supposed to, I wonder what he did today anyway. "Whereas I - Jesus Christ, why is the cat sleeping on my new jacket?"
Some days, it's better for everyone if I just take my wine upstairs.
I take my wine upstairs in search of Zen. Sometimes I find Zen in a British mystery or a Seinfeld rerun; sometimes I find it lying on my bed watching the shadows of leaves play across the wall. I lie there in a cocoon of guilt and resentment, wondering when the cocoon will split apart to reveal what I was supposed to be: a great mother.
I am not a great mother. Instead, I have become the other parent.
But I am not a 21st-century father. I am the father I grew up with, back in the days when fathers were gods smelling of cologne and tobacco, who came home late and tickled their children mercilessly before bed. They never did dishes.
I never do dishes.
I have not done dishes since I went back to work 13 years ago. For 13 years, I have eaten my husband's meals thinking the same thing: that I could do it better. That my boys would be there in the kitchen with me, baking cookies, making omelettes. That their fingernails would be clean. That they would not cry about school.
It's a complete delusion.
It's a delusion because if I ever really had the skill set required to be that irony-challenged creation, a "supermom" - and I doubt that I ever did - they are certainly lost now. The latest brain science only confirms what our pop-psych prophets have been telling us forever: by doing, you become.
My husband, when I met him, was a charming domestic savage who worked in a bookstore by day and hung out in bars at night. He lived in a basement and washed his dishes in the tub. Now, he is an object of neighbourhood respect - a man who has gone the distance. An actual stay-at-home dad!
This is what you learn when you grow up: temporary's just another word for permanent. Our house was an ancient semi held together with duct tape and crack filler. We cycled through periods of despair and absurd optimism; we still do. It'll be better when. It'll be okay until.
I left my baby with a man who had never held one before his own was born. I left him until. Until I could figure something out: go part-time, start a business, sell a novel, any fantasy at all to feed my desperation to stay within that magic circle of first baby love. But we had a mortgage, and exactly one career between us, and it was mine.
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