It’s not easy being a parent in the first decade of the new millennium. It takes more than just being a mom or a dad.
It takes a ceiling fan.
The other day, I was trying to read the cover story of this week’s New York magazine about a woman who is starting a TV network for Alpha Moms. I wanted to know who these Alpha Moms were. But my 41/2-week-old baby needed attention. So I cradled him in one arm, turned on the ceiling fan in the living room and stood there reading while he watched the blades slowly turning. He likes that.
Me, I’m a Beta Mom. Beta Moms fall short of Alpha Moms in terms of doing it all. But we do raise our kids. Oh, we can work at home or in an office, but we generally care for our own offspring.
Right now, I am typing this all lower case with one hand because I am holding the baby and can’t hit the shift key.
The Alpha Mom gets a report on how many diapers her baby goes through in a day. I change our baby’s diapers and report to myself. Oh, I don’t change them all. My husband changes some and so does our wonderful ten-year-old daughter. Our sons, aged eight and five, sing to him, fetch bottles, wipes, and gently push the stroller back and forth on our porch. The dog licks the top of the baby’s head when within reach. I think she thinks he’s a puppy. The cat stares at him.
Since I came home from the hospital four weeks ago after my fourth c-section, the whole family has been pitching in to make things work. Avoiding excessive stair climbing meant the laundry room was off limits to me. My husband did what was suddenly double the amount of wash we had with two adults and three kids just by adding a baby. Besides projectile vomiting on me several times a day necessitating various wardrobe changes for both of us, the baby seemed to continuously pee out the back of his diaper all over his bedding. (Three sons and I still have not figured out this mystery.)
My husband is a Gamma spouse because he does a lot but not with Alpha perfection. He bought all the groceries this month, occasionally buying bread no one likes or industrial size cans of tuna that would feed an entire high-school cafeteria. Bigger is better, he says.
He also tells people the baby is sleeping through the night. The twist is that it’s my husband who is sleeping through the night so he misses the part when the baby and I are up.
But if I need to go back to sleep in the morning, he and the tot go off to watch cable news and check e-mail while I get some rest. My Gamma guy takes the three older kids to their Little League games on three different fields, sometimes all on the same night.
Our house is kind of messy. The living room and dining room are littered with burping cloths, toys, shoes, comic books, baseball gloves. The kitchen counter has 14 cans of formula on it. Baby bottles are drying on a towel. Dinner has been sandwiches more times than I’d like to admit these past few weeks.
It may not be pretty but we get it done. I guess we don’t have the right to call ourselves Alpha parents but, as far as we’re concerned, parenting has a certain hands-on quality to it. The woman in the article said she wanted to maintain a sense of self. I can understand that. We sometimes get overwhelmed with the day-to-day stuff but we know who we are…we’re parents.
Happy Father’s Day.
–Susan Konig, a journalist, is author of the new book Why Animals Sleep So Close to the Road (And Other Lies I Tell My Children).