Meditations on Being a Feminist Parent
My kid has a tractor obsession. Like, he goes bananas any time he sees one of the damn things. This bit of information will, hopefully, help explain why I found myself at the International Plowing Match And Expo on Friday with Theo and my mother.
The plowing match was held not far from where I grew up in Kitchener, Ontario, and was filled with men who looked like this:
It was basically a whole day of mingling with old white farmer dudes, watching people use old-timey plows and admiring farming equipment. In a way, it was oddly comforting, or at least comfortingly familiar; I feel like a lot of my Kitchener childhood was spent around old white farmer dudes, so seeing their mutton chop beards and dingy overalls definitely gave me the warm glow of home.
Anyway, Theo basically had the time of his life. There were so many dang tractors at the show; there was even a tractor square dance. I kid you not. I bought Theo a toy tractor, which he promptly named Go and hasn’t put down since.
That night, after we got back to Toronto, I went over to my friend Caitlin’s place to help her pack for an upcoming move. Afterwards, I texted Matt to let him know that I was on my way home, and asked how Theo was doing.
The response I received was less than encouraging:
Bad. He just threw up.
Theo spent the rest of the night throwing up, and part of Saturday. Weirdly, he seemed totally fine in between bouts of vomiting; he would get ‘er done without much fuss, then run off and go about his business. He was fine all day Sunday, so we brought him to daycare this morning.
Unfortunately, Theo-the-puke-machine turned into Theo-the-poop-machine this afternoon. Which means that one of us has to stay home with him tomorrow.
So here’s where things get tricky: as Theo’s mother, and the person who has been his primary caregiver for, oh, pretty much his entire life, I feel like I should be the one to stay home. But I won’t be, because, as a person who has recently joined Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Club Of Serious Grown Ups And For-Real Feminists, I have to, you know, go to work. Matt’s job is in some ways more flexible than mine, and it was easier for him, in this particular instance, to take the time off.
This made me feel guilty. Because, really, doesn’t a sick baby need their mother most of all?
I’ve been feeling a lot of guilt lately. Granted, we’re only about two-and-half weeks into Theo’s daycare career, but I’m frustrated that I’m having so much trouble ironing out the bugs in our schedules. The hardest part is that I feel like I barely see him.
In a perfect world, I would only have to work two evenings a week, and would be able to pick him up mid-afternoon most days. In the real world, I’ve had to jump at a few subbing opportunities that have come my way (the first rule for new yoga teachers being Make Yourself Available), and I often find myself coming home before going to pick my kid up so that I can get a bit of housework done before Hurricane Theo returns.
I guess that what it boils down to is, what’s most important to me right now: being with my kid every moment that I’m not managing the studio, or trying to balance my Theo time with my building my career as a yoga teacher time? More and more often, I’m finding that building my career is winning out.
Why? Well, I spent the first nineteen months of Theo’s life devoting the vast majority of my time and energy to his well-being. I’m glad that I did, because that was what worked best for me and my family. But now that Theo is older, and really beginning to assert himself as his own person, daycare seems to be a really good fit for him. He’s excited to go, and he often talks about his friends there: Ella, Anand and Eliana have all come up recently in conversation. Oh, and my favorite, Jonah, which Theo pronounces “Gonad.”
It’s not that Theo and I didn’t have fun when we were home together, but I’ve realized something: this is a tough age for me. I don’t mean that Theo is difficult to be around, or that he’s throwing terrible tantrums (not yet, anyway), but I often find myself unsure of what he needs from me as a mother these days. When he was a tiny baby, it was easy to know what he wanted: me, and plenty of it. When he’s older, and we’re able to have proper conversations, I think I’ll find that easier, too. But this stage, this in-between I-need-you-but-don’t-need-you stage, is tough.
I have a hard time knowing when to inundate him with talking and singing and general in-your-faceness, and when to just let him play quietly. I feel like I spend so much of our time together chasing him away from things he’s not supposed to be touching, and trying to convince him to do whatever it is I want him to do. Maybe I’m kidding myself, but I think that being in daycare for a good chunk of the day makes him more eager to listen to me when he does get home. And instead of spending my time half-assing my way through housework while he desperately tries to get my attention (or dragging myself through it late at night, after he’s gone to bed), I can get it done quickly and easily while he’s not there.
And then there’s the whole work thing: these early days are important for networking, and I need to build a reputation as someone who is eager to work, and able to pick up classes on short notice. I’m creating a foundation for what will hopefully be a solid career. This is something that will, someday, benefit not just me, but Theo, and Matt, and any of our future kids too.
And, finally, it’s becoming increasingly important for Theo to learn that it’s not just mom who’s the solution to all of his problems.
As Matt spends more and more time with him, Theo is learning that his father can be just as much of a source of tenderness and comfort as his mother can. He is learning that the world is much bigger than just one person and her boobs, and that people other than mama can be relied on to fulfill his wants and needs. The more time he spends apart from me, the better Theo is becoming at communicating just what those wants and needs are.
You guys, Theo is growing up.
I guess that what I ultimately want to say here is that being a feminist parent is about balance: learning to balance your kid’s needs with your own, and figuring out how that will shape your life. It’s about realizing that you, as a mother, do not need to be the be-all-end-all of your child’s life. You can learn to share the responsibility. You can figure out when to step back and say, I’m going to focus on myself for, like, five minutes and my kid will be just fine.
Most of all, it’s about accepting the fact that you have needs, too, and your kid does not always trump those needs, no matter what some magazine or parenting blog or conservative politician wants you to think.
Now, if only I could beef up Theo’s immune system and get him to stop bringing home these daycare bugs, I would be totally set.