Monday, May 10, 2010

Stepping Back In

I am fortunate to say that my husband and I have always been a good team when it comes to parenting. We have very similar values and will always back each other's decisions, even if we don't see completely eye-to-eye. We have enough trust in one another that we know we can iron out disagreements later, out of the presence of the kids, to present a consistent front in our work as parents.

At the same time, any of our kids will tell you that Mommy and Daddy are different. They may have told you this already, in that frank way that children do. They'll let you know, for instance, that if you want to do something messy, go to Mommy. If you want to do something silly, go to Daddy. Mommy also is much stricter with bedtime.

When I first had to step aside from parenting during my cancer treatment, this was one of the hardest things for me to let go. It's not that my husband doesn't do a good job with bedtime. In fact, my kids often prefer his bedtime rituals. He knows all the lyrics of so many songs, they can say, "Daddy, sing me a song about rain," and he will come up with three songs that he knows all the words to. If I am lucky I can think of one, and then maybe some others to which I can mumble and partially sing the chorus. It's just that when I say that the lights are out at 7:30, I am pretty good at making that happen within a five minute window.

To say that my husband, as my primary caretaker and as my children's, has had a lot on his plate these past six months is an understatement. My friends have visited and been amazed at how well he has juggled his load. He has been underslept, waking up first thing in the morning to get them off to school, working his job, caring for me, and then doing the bedtime routine by himself except for the few times friends have visited who knew how to step in and help. The post-bedtime evenings are filled with all the chores he hasn't been able to get to during the day.

In this time I have had between surgery and radiation, my energy has been creeping back. All the pent up frustration from being sidelined has probably given me greater zeal with my parenting in general, but on this one thing that wasn't being done in my way, last night, that zeal may have turned a bit fanatical.

We had been gardening all day, and my husband stayed outside later then the rest of us, finishing things up. I had fed the two youngest children and had already started their bedtime routine, with my eye on a 7:30 lights out for the youngest and 7:45 for my middle one. I was on track when he came in and realized that he hadn't kissed them goodnight. Back in our old life, this may have been simple enough: it's Mom's turn to put the kids to bed, Dad will kiss you goodnight, and we will go on. However, Daddy's been the bedtime guy for the past 6 months. A simple kiss on the cheek or forehead doesn't feel like enough to him or the kids. He needs to check in with me about the routine that has become his sole property; the children want things from him that have become their source of comfort. My timeline is derailed and I feel displaced.

I chase him out of the room, perhaps too harshly. I don't understand, in that moment, what is happening. I am short with him, want him to leave. Of course, the frustration is greater than me missing my goal of getting the children to bed punctually. It's the loss I feel, among so many losses of this disease, of losing my place, of losing my role in my family.

After the kids are in bed, we talk. I apologize for snapping. I agree that he has done a good job with this all of these months. But it is hard to express what Doing Bedtime symbolizes for me in my sense of myself as Mom. I have lost hair, breasts, energy, time and so much more during this treatment. That is one thing I feel I cannot lose.


  1. I am totally with you on feeling the sense of loss on being the Mommy! My husband also did an amazing job but there is just something that doesn't feel "right" when i am not being the Mommy!

  2. you have lost so much, you are absolutely right. And yet you, the phoenix, the Mom-Phoenix, are still very much alive and figuring it out one day at a time with your beautiful family. Thank you for your eloquence. Cancer is a thief but can't steal your passion and your joy.


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