I’ve written a number of times about my admiration for the work my wife puts into being a parent. She’s home with Eitan every day, feeding him, playing with him, cleaning him up, cleaning up after him, making sure he doesn’t set the apartment on fire1 and everything else a mom needs to do. She does an amazing job, even when she’s not feeling her best.
Which brings me to last week.
You might have noticed that’s it’s been about two weeks since I published my last post. The first week was just really busy with work, as I had to prepare a presentation for the entire department, in addition to my usual responsibilities of home visits and other paperwork. Last week was a little different, though. Trudy wasn’t feeling well on Monday evening and woke up Tuesday morning with a fever above 103, so I took a personal day to look after Eitan and let her recover a bit.
Eitan and I went to music class in the morning and he napped for a while on the way home. I had been so proud of myself for managing to get him out of the car and into the apartment without waking him up, but as soon as I tried to put him down on the bed, his eyes popped open. We spent most of the rest of the day at home; Trudy slept a fair amount while I chased after Eitan and kept him away from her so she could relax. I know that sounds pretty simple, but when you consider the fact that Eitan is a very active 16-month-old whose idea of playing includes riding his father like a horse, throwing his toys and food2 and figuring out all the different kinds of noises he can make with his voice, you start to think a little differently about the energy he demands. Once he was finally asleep for the night, I felt like Arnold Schwarzenegger after his first day of teaching in Kindergarten Cop:
I collapsed onto the couch to watch some television with Trudy before we went to bed ourselves. My muscles ached, my head hurt, there was a slight ringing in my ears and my throat was sore.
I know what you’re probably thinking. “That’s so pathetic. Your wife does this every day by herself and you’re complaining about one day when you weren’t even alone the whole day. Get over it.” I assure you, I was thinking that same thing that night. And then, as I was sitting on the couch, my headache got worse and I started feeling chilly. When I eventually took my temperature, the thermometer read 102.7.
It might not sound like it, but I thought this was terrific news. I wasn’t exhausted because I’d spent a day with Eitan; I was exhausted because I was sick. And even though there’s clearly no shame in being exhausted from spending a day looking after a toddler (as any stay-at-home parent will readily admit), I somehow felt better knowing that Eitan wasn’t the only reason for my feeling beat. Every parent wants to take care of their children and every parent questions whether they’re making the right decisions and whether or not they’ve got what it takes to be a good parent. It’s amazing how quickly the feelings of self-doubt begin to creep in when something goes wrong, whether it’s about a child getting hurt, a child getting sick or a child throwing a tantrum in a public space.3 My first reaction is always to feel like I’m doing something wrong. That’s why I felt much better knowing that it was my body being attacked by infection as opposed to being a wimp who couldn’t cut it after one day of chasing a toddler. I’d been thinking that there was something wrong with me, that I somehow was not making the grade because I was so wiped at the end of the day. But when I saw I had a fever, I had been given a different reason to point to.
I may have come down with strep throat, but my self-esteem was perfectly healthy.
1. Last week Eitan figured out how to open the protective cases we put on the stove to keep him from getting to the knobs. Remember, he’s smart. ↩
2. Yeah, this hasn’t totally been solved yet. We’re almost there. ↩
3. I’m open to the possibility that this doesn’t happen to everyone and it’s just me. Most of the blogs and other articles I’ve read, though, support my point. ↩