During the school year, my sons ask me all day: “When is daddy coming home?” “Will daddy be home when we get there?” “How much longer till daddy gets here?” I answer their questions patiently. I want him to come home, too. When the door creaks open, the man of the house appears and my husband grins from ear-to-ear, arms held out. “Daddy!” at least two of the three kids shriek. My sons love daddy more than me. They run at him and land in a hug. When he retires to the bedroom to change, they tackle him and climb on his stomach, bounce on his back, babble "daddy-daddy-daddy-daddy" nonstop. He asks them what they did that day: “Did you go to the park?” “Did you do school?” — the things he already knows they did, because I texted him about them. He makes me text him about the kids while he’s at work. He misses them horribly. They miss him just as badly. At night, my oldest and middle sons sneak out of bed to sleep with him.
During the summer, my husband takes them outside to play. He buys them water guns and baby pools and octopus sprinklers, the type of things I’d never think to purchase, or treat as a nuisance request. He sets up matchbox car tracks for them. When they hurt, they want him — all but the baby, for whom I still hold the breastfeeding trump card. Daddy cuddles with them on the couch. Daddy knows which Kung-Fu Panda is playing. Daddy takes them on toad hunts with their special toad catching nets, and last night they caught five whole toads, two little ones and three big ones, and now they’re sitting in the visitor tank on my side table.
Daddy is a very popular man.
On the other hand, I write. I take them outside, turn on the hose, and let them spray each other while I write. Sometimes, when they hurt, they want me, because they want a Band-Aid, and my heart melts. I make a bigger deal of their pinprick wound than I should, cooing and sympathizing and Band-Aiding as many times as they want. I play trains sometimes, or Legos, but not regularly. Mostly, I "ooh" and "aah" over their Lego creations. I never know what How to Train Your Dragon movie is playing, and I only know the names of half the dragons, anyway. When we go in search of frogs and toads, I sit on the bank and freak out when they brandish a white-bellied bullfrog at me. They think this is hilarious.
I try not to be hurt when they run screaming for daddy instead of me. He swears they do the same thing when I’m gone, but he’s only trying to make me feel better. They’re happy to see me, sure, but I don’t believe that anyone, other than the baby, is asking for me every hour while I’m gone.
I am also fairly popular. But not as popular as daddy.
Part of that is my need to write. When they’re looking at a screen, I’m looking at a screen, so we can’t bond over kid pop culture (though I can sing the theme songs in silly voices). I don’t understand quite that boy need for mud and dirt and spraying water. My husband, from his childhood, knows instinctively what the kids will like. He takes down the big spaceship and the giant Star Wars walker. I, on the other hand, tell them to clean their rooms. I fold laundry. I pick up toys and bitch about picking up toys. Not that my husband doesn’t do housework — he does more than his share. I just do mine in front of the kids.
I try not to be hurt when they run screaming for daddy instead of me. He swears they do the same thing when I’m gone, but he’s only trying to make me feel better. They’re happy to see me, sure, but I don’t believe that anyone, other than the baby, is asking for me every hour while I’m gone. It’s hard to grapple with the fact that my husband knows what our sons like more than I do. It’s hard to know they love that he’ll capture toads who pee on him, and they just accept that I won’t. I went fishing with them to try to bond over something they’re gaga about. I made a few casts for the baby. Once, I impaled a worm on a hook to try to help my middle son. He immediately cast it into a tree, and all my stomach-clenching work was for naught, because my husband had to cut the line, thread a new bobber, and then tie on a new hook.
Daddy routinely saves the day.
I’m not bitter. My husband has slept with my oldest sons since they were night-weaned, and it’s only natural they’d go to him for comfort after that. When the baby wakes in the middle of the night, my husband reads him books while I turn on the TV, because I can’t engage with anything at 3:30 in the morning. When our oldest found a long, whipping gray thing in the dirt, I swore it was a giant worm and told him to keep it away from me. On the other hand, my husband just knew it was a worm snake and thought it the coolest find of the week. He took pictures. To my boys, daddy is just way cooler than me.
I sometimes wish my husband wasn’t so freaking cool, and I wasn’t so unbearably mom-like and lame.
Sometimes I resent it. Kids quantify love, and I wish at times they loved me more. Not even more than him, just more. But I make my choice to write while they play, instead of letting them squirt me with the hose. I can’t fish. I’m repulsed by hopping creatures, by squirming worm-things. No toad is going to pee on me, thank you very much. I sometimes wish my husband wasn’t so freaking cool, and I wasn’t so unbearably mom-like and lame.
But all these things that I think make me lame help make him an amazing father. He takes them on toad hunts. He can identify those giant frogs, those icky snakes. He cooks for them and sleeps cruciform, one of them on each side, heads on his arms, despite the pain it causes in his back. I’m sure when they were babies, he resented that I always held them and breastfed them and slept with them. Now it’s his turn. And I’m grateful to him. I really am.
But I do wish I was a little bit cooler. Then maybe they'd love me more.