It would be very easy for me to go on and on about how thankful I am for my boys. And I am, so deeply, but before this weekend is over, I need to give thanks for Elizabeth. As with the boys, I’m always thankful for her, but there have been a few realizations this year that make the thanking and the thankfulness that much more pertinent.
We have a non-traditional arrangement in our house: Elizabeth works a nine-to-five squarejohns and I stay at home with the kids and hustle freelance gigs. Though non-traditional, not all that uncommon, especially in Los Angeles, and by and large it’s felt pretty normal.
There are pieces of it that seem to fit nicely enough. Elizabeth, with her hereditary inclination to manage and succeed, has carved an apparently effortless path to the top of her department. And with a long list of songs I can play on the ukulele and reasonable skills in the kitchen, I make a suitable on-paper choice for domestic engineer.
I am not, however, the mother to these boys. I’ve always been conscious of that and have worked to carve out a place for both of us in the parenting. Our roles were so clear during maternity leaves (and the subsequent transitions back to work), but soon after the boys and I would find our day-to-day groove. It seemed like part of my job was not letting this issue come up. Maybe that meant a little more tap dancing, Poppa turned up to 11, but the fact that I was here and Mama was at work was a reality that we needed to drown out.
To be honest, I wasn’t even aware it was happening, even though Elizabeth told me several times that it was. Despite my best efforts, I was drowning her out, not the realities of our non-traditional arrangement. When I turned it down, I realized there are many times where her love, her arms, her voice, her words are needed and I am standing in her place. And painful and uncomfortable as it is, I have to let it be.
This is when the “non-traditional” aspect of the arrangement comes to kick us square in the grapes. There’s a sad, guilty feeling here, one that’s not talked about much by the stay-at-home dad set. It takes quite a bit of hubris to think you can turn evolution on it’s ear. It’s common these days, but that doesn’t make it any less boldfaced.
I believe that in the long run we’re probably not doing too much damage. I hope so anyway. Elizabeth is here for the boys – in-person more than most working parents and psychically more than some stay-at-home moms. That takes a tremendous amount of effort, not just to be so present for the kids, but to not be present. To know that she’s needed and is unable to come. It’s a great stress, and though causes cracks here and there, she holds it together exceptionally well.
And so for her I’m thankful. Her work away allows us a life of great circumstances; her work here makes life wonderful.