Fatherhood is loving you differently.
Every morning, some time around one o’clock, my wife wrestles herself free of the bed sheets and slogs her way to the living room. Half asleep and completely exhausted, she takes her position on the right side of the couch, unlatches her nursing bra, and gets to pumping. It’s a quiet time of night. Lit only by a small table lamp, my wife listens to the rhythmic motor of her pump, barking like a metronomic dog in the distant dark.
She grabs her iPad and checks to see if I’ve updated the blog. Some times I have, many times I haven’t. Yet she checks dutifully every night, just in case there’s something—anything—to pass the time. Tonight, there is.
Tonight, I’ve written a letter for Mother’s Day and published it with perfect timing for you, my wife.
I love you. And I don’t mean like I loved you in high school. When I loved you in high school, I was freshly wounded by Cupid’s arrow. Lovestruck. I was a boy, in love with a girl, under a teenage spell.
I love you. And I don’t mean like I loved you in college. When I loved you in college, I was beholden to you. You gave me everything: your time, your love, your endless understanding. I loved you for being the lover I couldn’t be, didn’t deserve, but had in spite of myself.
I love you. And I don’t mean like I loved you when we got married. When I loved you on our wedding day, I was awestruck. We were two trees, growing side by side in a forest, branches tangled in concert. An intertwined silhouette.
I love you. And I’m not exactly sure how to say this. One day, when we’re old and gray. When our kids are grandparents, and our great grandchildren are playing at our feet…maybe then I’ll look at you and speak the words it took me decades to find.
Until then, just know this: I love you. Greyson loves you. Charlotte loves you. Our children couldn’t be who they are without you. And neither could I. Thank you for being our wife, our mother…our everything.
Happy (First) Mother’s Day.
All my love,
It’s 1:01 a.m. when my iPhone lights up the bedroom to let me know some asshole wants to text in the middle of the night. It turns out the asshole is our nanny’s husband. He’s texting to let me know Joan has succumbed to an inimical stomach bug and won’t be able to watch the babies that day.
Like many stomach bugs, this one’s getting around pretty quickly, kind of like the viral equivalent of Wilt Chamberlain. Two hours after I get the text, I’m doubled over the toilet alternating between bouts of diarrhea and vomit. I can’t shake it. It’s the least awesome I’ve felt in years, like there’s a wet towel lodged in my gut and I’m wringing it out with every heave.
I check in with Ashley. She’s not feeling particularly well either, but as the only one of us who hasn’t knelt before the porcelain thrown, she’s our last and only hope to care for the babies. She’s also our most expensive. Due to America’s egregious maternity leave standards, Ashley had to use all of her vacation days, all of her sick days, and then borrow from the sick bank to stay with our babies during their first three months. So now, for a substitute teacher to cover her classes for a day, Ashley will have $200 docked from her paycheck.
For that amount, I figure I can suck it up and play Super Dad for a few hours. But when I go to fix the 6:00 a.m. bottles, I end up nursing a Diet Sprite on the kitchen floor instead. As much as I hate to have her do it, Ashley makes the call and requests a sub. I waddle (defeated) back to bed.
When you have twin babies, $200 means a lot. It’s over 1,000 diapers; 2,000 ounces of formula; or 11,000 wipes. It’s also one day home with two babies and a sick husband. I’d say the potential for buyer’s remorse is pretty high, but we won’t know for sure until the end of the month.
When Ashley gets home from work, she usually spends a few minutes with Joan, our nanny, to swap stories on the twins. It’s pretty mundane stuff that comes across less like anecdotes and more like game stats: FED% (number of ounces consumed divided by the number offered); MIC (minutes in crib); TF (technical foul—the number of times a baby pooped or peed on the supervising adult).
That being said, sometimes the stories are comic gold. A couple days ago, Ashley shared the following nugget with Joan:
"It was so funny last night. I was wiping Greyson’s bottom and he giggled. And I said, ‘Whaaaaat?!’ So I wiped again and he giggled again. It was really cute."
It’s not a funny story; it’s only kind of cute. There are episodes of Full House that would seem raunchy by comparison, yet Joan was in stitches. Perhaps she was laughing politely and just oversold her amusement. At least that’s what I would’ve assumed if I didn’t know the truth.
She wasn’t laughing at Ashley’s story so much as she was her watered down retelling of it. You see, Joan had already gotten the actual account that morning…from me:
"So, I’m in the kitchen fixing some bottles last night, and I hear Ashley call out from the nursery—totally deadpan, ‘Well, I found your son’s new ticklish spot.’
"And I say, ‘Oh yeah? What’s that?’
Fatherhood is coming home for the ‘Mommy and Baby Show.’
Ashley leaves for work at 7:00 and comes home at 5:00—a long day of mutual yearning that evaporates the instant she walks through the door. After that, it’s the Mommy and Baby Show. Admission is free as long as I leave work on time to get a seat. And why wouldn’t I? It’s a daily tour de force performance of laughter, love, and the occasional toot.
My wife stands in the kitchen wearing only a nursing bra and her underwear. We’ve become masters of expediency. Everything that used to take 20 minutes, we now get done in under 10. Her eyelids drop delicately over her eyes as she exhales through parted lips. I wish I could tell you this is going exactly where you think it is, but I can’t. This story doesn’t end between the sheets. It ends by the refrigerator, right where it started, in tears.
Ashley is one of those rare finds. She’s the love of my life, literally. We started dating when we were just 15. She’s intelligent, sexy, assiduous, empathetic, and the most stubbornly dedicated woman in any room—still, she isn’t perfect. At least she doesn’t think she is.
And tonight, she lets it be known.
She’s tired. She wakes up at 5:45 every morning, takes a shower, and helps feed the babies before getting dressed. She’s in the car by 7:00, pumping on her 40-minute commute to work where she teaches eighth grade literacy. She sees 150 kids, pumps during her planning, attends meetings (ranging from constructive to—more often than not—utterly pointless), then gets back in her car at 4:00 to pump on the drive home. From 5:00 to 9:00, she’s Mommy, which is both fulfilling and overwhelming. She pumps once the babies go to bed, but is up again at 1:00 in the morning to eek out every precious drop. In four hours, she’s doing it all over again.
Like I said, we’ve become masters of expediency. It takes no time at all to get to the heart of the matter. She doesn’t use many words, and she doesn’t need to. “I’m just so tired” is all she has to say, and she says it again, and again, and again. Sometimes, like this night, it takes the sound of Ashley’s heart breaking for me to hear her.
I know being a father is a lot of work, but—if her sobs are any indication—I have to wonder if it will ever compare to the exquisite burden of being a mother.