The truth is I fantasized about Joe’s leave for weeks beforehand. The more my knees buckled under pregnancy, the more I dreamed of the Prince Charming arriving by white chariot/stroller. Was there any situation that wouldn’t be readily fixed by the addition of two handsome hands? I doubted it. All I had to do was have the baby, and paradise would arrive.
In the very last weeks before the baby came, I found myself deeply done with my current children. I’m not sure if that’s part of the rapid hormonal heart-shuffle before a new baby arrives but the way room in my heart was made for a new child was this: I became very satisfied with the extent that I had raised my current children, and I was ready to pass them on to better hands. Anyone’s hands, really, so long as they were open. Had a boarding school for preK called at that point, I probably would have sent them. “They love carrots,” I would have scribbled on the submission form as I cheerfully waved goodbye for a month, or six.
After Alma was born, of course, my true feelings re-appeared and I was overwhelmed with pride at how amazing and incredible they two were. Was it too much to say they were the best humans to ever exist? my addled brain wondered. No, it was not.
In a bizarre, nearly other-worldly, turn of events, Joe was able to take eight weeks of paternity leave from his job after Alma was born. It was the longest amount of time Joan and Lux had ever had with him in their lives. It happened as a result of Alma’s birth, but really it was a way for us to parent in a way we hadn’t before, and a window of time to regain our balance after the disruption of a new baby.
It absolutely flew by for all of us.
As I look back over it, a few thoughts occur to me about what we learned/loved/lost…
learned: stop the interrupting starfish
Have you heard the joke about the interrupting starfish? Ideally no, because the gist of the joke of is being interrupted. It’s a hardy-har-har refresher on how annoying that is. On paternity leave Joe and I realized we were raising a fledgling stock of interrupting starfish, and frequently we weren’t even bothering to correct them. We would look at each other over their heads, one of us biting our lip mid-story, and shrug. Most of our weekly conversation seemed to happen over dinner, at which point I was too tired to deliberately pause the interrupters, and anyway, my ear seemed more tuned to their pleas than Joe’s voice.
On his leave, because we were together so much more and noticed that the interrupting had become a serious and troubling habit, we got our game back. “Dad is telling me a story.” “Shhh I’m listening to Dad.” “Dad was talking.”
They still interrupt, but now they’re accustomed to us stopping them immediately, and there’s no eyes-wide-brimming-with-insulted-tears. Just finished conversations.
learned: the home office doesn’t work
Oh the home office. Long have I fantasized about the perfect life, with Joe somehow working at home, and interacting with the girls all day. It seemed so plausible and perfect. Then Joe actually did try to work at home and it drove us both crazy. I really couldn’t stand the sight of him typing away at the computer, headphones in place, as noisy chaos built around me. “Go ahead darling, get some work done.” Five minutes later…”Hello?! I could use some help here!”
And it made no sense to the girls. They couldn’t tell when he was working, and when he was open to being recruited for a game or going outside.
We quickly realized it was far better for him to be out of the space for a couple hours. And me handling the situation myself, chaotic as it was. I stopped day dreaming about home offices, and started appreciating all he got done while he was away. Then he came home, and I got to take a break.
loved: it’s just as blissful to coparent as you’ve imagined
That said, when Joe was home with me, not trying to work, but home with me for more than just a weekend, it was wonderful. It felt like we had kids and we were dating again. We took shifts with the girls. They did adventures outdoors. I napped with Alma. We made lunch together. I said things like “I can’t help with that because I have no free hands, but Dad can!” We lounged over our coffee cups. We did errands with just one or two children at our heels. We got deep into conversations and cheerfully shushed the girls when they tried to stomp in. Yes, it was bliss.
loved: kids, they’re fun
What Joe experienced can be summed up as: kids, they’re fun. Joe got to experience the humor and joy of discussing the exact same topic from different perspectives for five days in a row. He got to catch spiders and bring them outside. Go for a walk and stomp on snow piles. Go to a museum, then go to a candy store on the way back. He got to memorize constellations and read good books aloud. The girls become less mysterious: he understood what they meant when they used their strange monosyllabic giggle language. He understood why they had an unexpected meltdown at 5pm, because he saw them sprinting back-and-forth at 11am, and having vehement disagreements at 2pm.
They become less stressful: they all three got to wake up late, leave late, and stay late because they were having fun, and none of that mattered because no one was trying to get anywhere anyway.
lost: and yet, even with all that help many things still went wrong…
There were some nights when I become convinced that Lux and Joan had eaten nothing but candy and cookies for the last week. I tried to recall the last green thing they had eaten, and failed. Lux went to ballet class without her hair in a bun and she was the only lonely kid whose parents forgot it was Parent Watch week. I missed my six week postpartum check-up. I told my pediatrician I ordered a Vitamin D supplement for Alma and that was a lie. I still haven’t ordered it. Even though we were both on-duty all day, we often collapsed on the couch after bedtime just the same. The capitalist in me frowned at the fact that with twice the labor working at the same job, we ended up with double the exhaustion. “Bedtime” actually just means they are in their room with the door closed–still chatting, still playing, not tucked in whatsoever.