I was walking out the door with my younger son, Key, in one hand, and my earbuds in the other, on my way to the grocery store. Mr. Spreadsheet saw me and commented on the earbuds.
“Do you think you should be using those?” He asked.
“Yeah,” I replied. “Why not?”
“Well what if Key cries and needs you?”
“Oh, well I only ever use one,” I said, and made my way to the car.
I didn’t elaborate at the time, but when I got to the car, I realized that I haven’t used both earbuds more than a handful of times since Lock was born 6 1/2 years ago, and until today, Mr. Spreadsheet had no idea. It got me to thinking about the differences between us as parents, and about what it means to be the “default parent.”
Mr. Spreadsheet is an amazing father. He loves his boys as much as I do. He loves taking Lock on bike rides, to movies, shopping for the boys’ clothes, and running around the house with Key. He will gladly keep the boys for a weekend once a year while I take a ladies weekend off from motherhood. He will roll around on the bed with them, play music for impromptu dance parties, help with homework, read books, and once in awhile, he’ll even change a diaper. But he’s not the default parent.
Being a default parent means that you never get to sleep longer than your earliest riser. It means that whenever someone’s sick, you’re probably going to pull an all-nighter. It means that at the end of a long road trip, instead of taking a nap, you’re on the hook for watching energetic kids who just napped the whole way home. Being the default parent means that whenever someone’s hungry (and someone’s always hungry), you need to drop what you’re doing and take care of business. It means that your working day is from 6am to 8pm if you’re lucky, but you’re always on-call. It means tackling colds without Nyquil, because you can’t afford to be drugged up if someone needs you in the middle of the night, and listening to your favorite music with one ear, while the other earbud hangs, dangling and useless.
Motherhood came as a shock to me. I didn’t realize how much I would miss my former life. I didn’t know that there would be days when snuggles and kisses couldn’t make up for the loss of long, meandering drives out into the middle of nowhere, with no agenda or timeline. I didn’t know how long I would mourn lazy Sundays, movie marathons, peaceful brunches, and reading or writing without interruptions. It’s difficult to come to terms with a completely new existence, even when it was 100% your own choice.
There are upsides to being the default parent. I get more snuggles and more attention. They turn to me when they scrape their knees or need advice, and it feels good to be needed. I also realize that there are days when my husband would love to be the default parent. It would be awful going to work every day, leaving these munchkins behind, watching them go to the other parent when they need something…being absent for so much of their lives.
Our roles are set, and reversing them at this point would be a monumental change–one neither of us would probably prefer. Being a default parent is tough but rewarding. Being the bread-winning parent means slogging through work every day, but you retain your sense of self and purpose. I think that’s perhaps the biggest challenge of being the default parent. It’s easy to lose yourself. Someone mentioned to me recently that I was such a good writer and artist, it seemed like my talent was going to waste. I replied that I was spending these years of my life raising two boys, and that should be enough…but is it?
Since I started blogging a week and a half ago, I have started to rethink my answer. I HAD been letting my talents go to waste in more ways than one. Not only had I been letting my writing muscles atrophy, but as an introvert with social anxiety, I tend to sit on my thoughts and feelings instead of sharing them with the world. Maybe the world will continue on course without the minutia of my thoughts. Maybe the world would never miss my writing, but I’m not doing this for the whole world. I’m doing it because I have a voice, and a little tiny corner of the universe that will stop and listen. What a waste to throw that away.
I’m glad I have two ear buds. One may hang loose, getting tangled in my collar and sleeves, but it reminds me that I’m a mom, and that I have a responsibility to raise two beautiful boys into strong men. The other one sits firmly in place, reminding me that I also have a responsibility to myself, my gifts, and my tiny little corner of the world.