I own my own writing and editing business, and since opening up shop in November 2003, I have made a practice of saying yes—sometimes, I confess, without actually knowing yet how to do the thing I’m being asked to do, or without knowing how I will have enough time to meet the deadline.
“A 2,000-word article by next Monday? You got it!”
“Absolutely, I can write that book proposal for you!”
“A white paper for a new piece of software? Sure, piece of cake!”
It’s a strategy that has kept me busy, fortunately, but it’s all precariously balanced on having everything go right, all the time, every day.
But I have a 5-year-old now, a kindergartener, and I live in the real world, so that doesn’t happen.
What has happened lately is that, first, I left town for a few days to visit family, which put me behind with work. Seasonal allergies resulted, a few weeks ago, many long days of itchy, runny, nearly impossible-to-open eyes. And then, a week ago, it was followed by my leaning over to put something in the dishwasher and developing a terrible, painful case of sciatica.
It’s time that I admit it. I cannot, in fact, do it all.
Yet I have still stubbornly insisted on sticking to the plans I’ve made, and my unreasonably tight schedule, as well as on cooking that brand-new, complicated, time-consuming recipe for dinner; ferrying my daughter to and from school and after-school daycare, and delivering all the payments to the people who need to be paid. “I got this,” I keep telling myself.
I don’t got this, actually. Stuff is falling behind. I need to lean on my husband, and as I am discovering, this is not easy for me. We are two different people, who parent differently and have different ideas about how to run a household. While I like to think of myself as laid back, in truth I am not.
Don’t get me wrong: The man I married is an excellent husband and father. I would venture to say, in fact, that I could not have done better in the marriage department.
But I am also a control freak, as I’m realizing, and letting him be his messy, unworried, laid-back, playful, non-planning self is a true lesson in self-control.
He is the kind of guy who will decide to have ice cream before dinner (to the giddy delight of our daughter). He has no problem (until I point it out with a sigh) with our daughter wearing black gym shorts under her tutu, or a long-sleeved Grinch shirt in June. He’ll go swimming with her for four hours on a Sunday afternoon, barely making it back in time for dinner, even though I had insisted earlier that she needed to clean her room before dinner.
It’s all minor stuff, bad cop stuff, I know this. I also know that it makes him the kind of dad any girl would want. And somehow, I have gotten it into my head that he cannot be trusted with the littlest task.
When my sciatica was particularly bad the other night, and the only thing that felt good was lying flat on my back with an ice pack, he announced that he was going to make me dinner this time.
Hey, great, right? Who wouldn’t want their husband to make them dinner?
As it turns out, I guess I wouldn’t. I mean, it sounds nice in theory, but then I worry: Does he know that if he starts the meat too soon, it’ll be done and cold before the rice finishes cooking? Is he chopping those carrots small enough? It’s a lot easier to chop vegetables with that butcher knife than the small steak knife he’s using, I should point that out. Maybe I’ll just pop over there and give that pot a stir…
Before I know it, I’m cooking, and martyring myself as I consider that nobody can do this right but me.
What on earth is wrong with me? Here is this wonderful man trying to do something nice for me, and I’m picking his every move apart.
It was extraordinarily tough for me to sit down and let him cook. Did the rice stick to the pot a bit? Sure it did. And maybe the salad veggies weren’t chopped to the exactly perfect size for a bite. And who cares?! Plus, I got some much-needed rest.
And yet, I am now seeing this really unappealing side of myself: that I always feel the need to babysit him: Did you sign the reading log for school? Did you make sure not to put anything heavy on top of the sandwich in her lunchbox? Did you wipe the counters down after you did the dishes? They get greasy, you know! Don’t forget (even though I’ve reminded you a hundred times) to pay that bill/make that phone call/ fix that thing!
What is the danger in letting him be in control sometimes? Nothing. I know this. It’s arrogant of me to presume I’ve been in control all this time anyway. And yet I have this irrational feeling that giving over that illusion of control will inevitably lead to chaos. Maybe it’s my need to feel needed. Maybe it’s because I’m an older mom, and therefore set in my ways. Maybe it’s a deeply seated psychological need to control those around me. Who knows.
This is not uncommon, unfortunately. I know a lot of moms who joke about how clueless their husbands are. It’s one of those socially acceptable prejudices in our society. There are numerous sitcoms that portray lovable but hapless, utterly useless husbands and the incredibly forgiving wives who roll their eyes and love them anyway. I hate those women. I don’t want to be one. I want my daughter to feel comfortable turning to either of her parents for help, encouragement, and love. I want her to know that her dad’s special brand of parenting is a source of comfort, and to take pleasure in it—and to look for the same qualities in her own mate when she grows up. And that’s going to have to start with me relinquishing some of my precious control. Plus, ice cream before dinner is awesome, right?
Right now, as I write this, my back hurts. Sitting in my desk chair at this moment is painful, and I have officially had it with sciatica, but I’ve given up trying to fight it. My husband just brought me a glass of wine, is putting our daughter to bed, and when he is done he will be doing the dishes from dinner. We are happy, lucky girls, and I am trying, very hard, to enjoy it.