Oh Crap, He's A Better Parent

...because the realization I had at that moment sat like a golf ball at the base of my throat. It was sinking in that my husband, with all his faults as a human being, was out-parenting me, and has been since the boys came out of their diapers.

Tonight I was lying on the floor of my boys’ bedroom floor with my arms thrown behind my head and my legs strewn carelessly on some piece of furniture where they don’t belong, listening to my husband being a parent. I’ve done this on countless occasions over the past six-plus years, but this time, my jaws clenched in rage and my eyes welled up with tears.

He was perched on a beanbag next to their bunk bed, leaning on our four-year-old’s lower bunk. I couldn’t see our first grader from my station on the floor, so it was hard to tell if he was listening to the long-form storytelling from his upper bunk. But when Mike finished the chapter and quizzed Hudson on some of the more obscure plot details, he answered every question with confident precision. Mike raised one dark eyebrow in proud approval, put the bookmark in place and kissed the boys goodnight.

Mike-the-parent was following the advice of Ms. Adams, Hudson’s teacher, who said we should work on his reading comprehension skills. He was also following the footsteps of his own parents, who guided him through one of those impossibly well-adjusted, high-achieving educations. The kind I never really thought existed when I was growing up.

My tears were involuntary. Sap and goo course like the Mississippi through my veins, but I was fighting it this time, because the realization I had at that moment sat like a golf ball at the base of my throat. It was sinking in that my husband, with all his faults as a human being, was out-parenting me, and has been since the boys came out of their diapers.

I was raised in a single-parent household, but I swear on a stack of whatever you hold sacred that I never regretted being raised by my mom. I knew from a very young age that we were much better off without our father’s influence, and I’ve told whoever will listen that because my parents split up before my brain took on the attributes of memory, I really didn’t know any difference.

I have a spectacular mother who surrounded my brother and me with a family that spoiled us as if we were trust fund children. Trust me, we aren’t, and at some point I finally realized that, but I do have a deep (and some find, annoying) reserve of entitlement that tells me I deserve the best. The trouble is, sometimes it’s hard to know what the best is and where to find it.

Six months after we started dating, Mike’s younger sister gave birth to his nephew--his first of what would become five nieces and nephews. I was already infatuated with him at the time, but he likes to throw people off the trail of his true intentions by saying things like “I hate the Dodgers,” even as he’s wearing a pair of Dodger Blue satin boxers. At that time, he had a habit of saying he would never have kids. My ovaries–about three years older than Mike’s testes–whined like angry Siamese cats every time they heard those words. But when I witnessed the spectacle of that man holding his two-week-old nephew for the first time, my ovaries sighed in relief, and I knew I had found the best.

I’ve moved through my adult life as a career woman self-assuredly knowing that I can, will be, and am a great mother. I take after my mother in many ways. I am independent, yet present. I am patient, I teach them fairness and good communication skills, I shower them with love, I show them how to manage conflict and I put a lot of sweat equity into making things available to them, like a playroom where they can play Wii, if they earn the privilege. My focus as a mother has been on my relationship with them, making sure they are safe, loved and provided with the tools they need to make good choices.

But that night, when I considered what parenting means to Mike, I saw between me and him the difference between the minors and the majors. It means doing all those touchy-feely things, then showing your children how to be good citizens of the world by being the president of the Parents’ Association and the School Site Council. It means actually reading the incessant number of fliers and letters that come home from school so you know what is happening in your child’s world during the day (but can I just say, isn’t it about time that schools get Green with a big G and start using email to communicate with its community?). It means signing them up for Little League, then getting emotional about the fact that you just signed your boy up for Little League. It means signing them up well in advance for summer camps that expand their imaginations and move their bodies, not just expecting that the babysitter or the grandparents will step in to care for them in between their First and Second grades.

Yes, I go to the plays and the carnivals, and to the games. I’ve volunteered in their classrooms. I bring them to the birthday parties, and I have a lot of fun doing it all. But do I regularly volunteer in advance to help set up or tear down at events? Rarely. Mike? Always. Mike knows the names of every child and parent in Hudson’s first grade class, plus the names of every other first grade teacher, and the names of his potential second grade teachers. I’ve retained about a third of that information, if that. No wonder he’s on a first-name basis with the school principal (who barely recognizes me). No wonder all the teachers beam when they see Michael Fox walk into the room.

And no wonder Hudson, who suffers with his father’s sub-par hand-eye coordination, is a solid baseball and soccer player. Hudson can also ride a two-wheel bike, really, really well. He can ride the two-wheeler because Mike gets out with them every single weekend. Riding the bikes, playing baseball, hiking, playing basketball, even skiing.

I sing to my kids. Mike teaches them how to sing.

Until recently, I wanted three children. I wanted three children so badly that I ached inside. There was an emptiness in my body; I thought that the only way it could be filled was by having another baby. I “knew” that I was destined to be the mother of at least one more child, because I had more love to give. Mike was adamant. He said no. I was so heartsick and desperate that I asked him to “do it for me.” But Mike knew it wasn’t fair to ask this of him, because he was already being a parent to our children, and he saw the future, where I would also need to work my heart out to feel whole, and where he would be the primary scorekeeper of three kids’ schoolwork, and where he’d be struggling to maintain some semblance of upward mobility in his own successful career. I was flat out being selfish, and I finally had to let go.

In that transaction, Mike unwittingly parented me. His conviction was strong, and his decision was wise.

A person knows when the best is presented to her. The best was thrown right in front of my face when Michael Fox planted a kiss on the forehead of his newborn nephew. Because of Mike, I have learned that being a parent means more than kissing wounds and teaching communication skills. And because of Mike, Hudson and Joseph are going to be outstanding parents and citizens of the world, just like him.


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