Here’s something that struck me repeatedly on Aidan’s birthday: How the hell would I pull this off without Harlan?
On the day of his birthday party, we got up early and got to work. I put toys away, straightened the house, hung up the Happy Birthday sign, put out the hors d’oeuvres, drinks, plates, glasses, party favors and hats, and Harlan started making lasagna and, as it simmered and then baked, vacuumed the whole house, including the cat-hair-encrusted couches, and mopped Jack’s favorite pee-spot on the living room floor with vinegar. We also took turns feeding Aidan, changing Aidan and keeping him entertained until naptime.
I decided to download photos to make room on my camera, make a party playlist and—God forbid—take a shower and Harlan had to run out for onions and last minute presents, so the day flew and suddenly it was 1:30 and we hadn’t picked up the cake. I zipped down to Harvard Square to a street I’d never seen before but miraculously and easily found, parked in a tow-away zone, picked up the cake after a momentary mix-up that was ultimately resolved, thanked the lord my car was still there, zipped home again, and arrived at 2:10.
Guests were set to arrive at 2.
When I got there, no one had arrived yet and Aidan was hysterical in his crib—he’d awakened from his nap during a lasagna noodle crisis, so Harlan hadn’t been able to fetch him. I ran upstairs, sat on the floor by his crib cradling him in my arms, nursed him, distracted him with teddy bears and stuffed monkeys who just had to nuzzle his neck because he’s so sweet, got him into a party outfit, raced him downstairs, his tear-stained cheeks dry but still trembling. Plopped him down in front of his toy chest, as I rushed through my remaining tasks: tying balloons to the front railing, taping down the new rug—I envisioned some kid breaking his neck at my kid’s birthday party—plugging in my computer to get the music going (correction: I couldn’t figure out how to do it and almost lost it, so Harlan graciously took over). I let go of my idea of scrubbing the kitchen counters and stove and instead prayed nobody would scrutinize the grossness. Harlan had made the salad (which was supposed to be my job) while I was gone, washed the dishes along the way.
It all went like clockwork. Even the guests cooperated with the chaos, and no one arrived before three.
Harlan and I were quite a team.
A few weeks ago, Aidan got the stomach flu. He caught it from his dad, who had had it a couple days earlier. It was a nightmare. He threw up about every twenty minutes, the first couple times all over his bed, so we had to change and wash his bedding, including mattress pad, bumpers, blankets and stuffed animals, and remake the bed, which is more time-consuming than you’d think. With later vomiting, we were able to lay a towel down on top and just remove that and his clothes (and occasionally mine), rather than all the bedding. But it was rough.
As I rocked him, nursed him, sang to him for the fifth, sixth, seventh time in the night and Harlan ran yet another load of laundry to the basement, both of us delirious with the lack of sleep and love and heartbreak for our confused, wretching baby, I thought, how would you do this as a single parent? How would you handle both the comforting and the laundry? How would you physically pull it off?
I have profound respect for parents who do it, and at the same time, am so grateful that I have a partner to share the work of raising a child with.
Car trips are the same. One of us stays with Aidan if he’s asleep in the carseat or runs around a rest stop with him if he’s restless or changes his diaper if it’s wet, while the other pees, grabs the McChicken sandwiches and fries, fills the gas tank. To do it alone would be so draining, so hard.
Not to mention just every day of our lives! Harlan makes dinner while I give Aidan his bath and put him to bed. Harlan comforts him when he cries in the night. He takes him downstairs in the morning so I can get an extra hour of sleep. I, of course, take care of him during the day so Harlan can go off to work.
Harlan would react to all this with great skepticism. The memories of my bitching and whining and snapping about the mind-numbing errands I have to run and the time I have to spend in mommy mode, as opposed to human being—with my own needs and interests—mode, are fresh, and I imagine they sting. And yet every day I appreciate my husband, the man who pitches in constantly to help with our son, who cooks dinner and treasures their early morning breakfast and playtime together while mommy gets to sleep. Yes, I feel overworked and overburdened sometimes and sometimes I wish I could write and read and go get a haircut or a pedicure without worrying about whether I can bring Aidan along. But everyday I also recognize how lucky I am to have such a wonderful husband, who calms me down and helps whenever he can and gives so much.