Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

August 20, 2001

Moms vs. Dads: They're not the same

Lying in bed a couple nights ago, I started thinking about the difference between mothers and fathers. This wasn’t just idle contemplation. On the contrary, I was lying in a patch of cookie crumbs, and the topic naturally came to mind.

“Adam, wake up,” I said. “How did crumbs get in the sheets?”

“Oh,” he said. “Lucy must have forgotten she had a cookie.”

A cookie in bed? This is half the difference between mothers and fathers.

I had taken a rare night off — just the third one since Lucy was born nearly a year ago. Adam, Lucy and I had traveled to Whistler, British Columbia, for a wedding. The night before the ceremony, the women all went out to dinner together while the “menfolk” tended the “chilluns.” (That’s how the groom described it, anyway — menfolk and chilluns. And to think, he grew up in New Jersey.)

Tending chilluns apparently requires putting them to bed with cookies. When I came home, I found Lucy passed out. Her arms were flung out to either side, and she wore the serene mask of deep sleep. I didn’t know about the forgotten cookie until I was all tucked in myself, on top of the many crumbs it had shed escaping Lucy’s grip. And I didn’t find it until the next morning when I was making the bed. It popped out, a sad little disk all gnawed around the edges.

Naturally, I ate it.

This is the other half of the difference between mothers and fathers. Dads put babies to bed with cookies. Moms sleep in the crumbs, and then eat the wounded hunks their children have discarded. I draw the line when it comes to food bits that find their way into her diapers. But my scavenging technique has saved me precious time in the morning. Why make breakfast, when there’s a perfectly good source of nutrition in the crib, the high chair, the car seat and baby’s little overall pockets? Now that I’m thinking of it, it’s probably a really good thing I can’t reach my own nipples. Who knows what kind of snacking I would have done in these often desperate first months of Lucy’s life?

But getting back to nutrition. Adam put Lucy to bed with dessert. This is not something I would ever do. And it’s not just because it will rot her perfect little teeth, though that is one very good reason to avoid the practice. Rather, a slept-on cookie just doesn’t make a great breakfast for me. If I’m going to put Lucy to bed with anything, it ought to be a pot of coffee and a scone. But I wouldn’t trust her to leave me with any leftovers. So for now, I put Lucy to bed with clean teeth and a hug. And also with Adam, who does the hard part of getting her to sleep at night.

He has developed a routine, something I would never have the patience to do. And yet, it is one of the things that have made me love him even more this year ever. The routine goes like this: Adam changes Lucy’s diaper and puts her in her jammies. I know. It’s exactly what I would do. The next thing I would do is read her a book, pop her in the crib and say, “Nighty night.”

This wouldn’t get Lucy to sleep in a million years. Or in 15 minutes, which is about how long I can tolerate. What Adam does next is say goodnight to everything on the second floor of our house. He and Lucy say goodnight to the pictures on the walls. They say goodnight to my T-shirts, and goodnight to the lamp that’s still in the closet because we don’t have a bedside table to put it on. They say goodnight to babies No. 1, 2, 3 and 4, who make appearances in various mirrors between the bedroom and bathroom. They rustle the shower curtain, and bid it goodnight. They say goodnight to the computer, and to each stuffed animal in Lucy’s room. Then they read a book or two.

Then Lucy and Adam come downstairs and say goodnight. Often, I nurse Lucy a little bit, and then return her to Adam, who takes her upstairs to do the whole routine over again.

About 45 minutes after he’s started, Adam comes down with empty arms. I could never do a bedtime routine like this. I would never think to say goodnight to the shower curtain. I also don’t have the patience to coax her to sleep. My thought process goes more like this: Babies need sleep. You’re a baby. You should go to sleep, or I will fail you as a parent. Also, if I put you to bed with a cookie, your teeth will rot. And I will fail you as a parent.

Adam is the creative, patient one who invents all the voices for the stuffed animals. I am the one who focuses on such boring things as tooth enamel, sleep requirements, sunscreen, immunizations, nutrition and general crud removal. I suppose our roles could just as easily be switched, assuming I could for more than 12 seconds let go of my Catholic guilt complex and Protestant work ethic. A lobotomy might make that possible, but, as they say, I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.

So for now, I’m happy to let Adam be the fun one. That could be because Lucy lets me know all the time that she needs me. No, she doesn’t say, “Hey. Thanks for looking out for my teeth.” Her need runs deeper than that. When she falls and bonks her head, I’m the one she stretches her arms toward. When she wakes up from a nap, she doesn’t smile until I’m holding her. And she will cry, guaranteed, if I put her down before she’s had her fill.

Adam got a little taste of what it’s like to be the necessary parent last week. He took Lucy to the aquarium, because he thought it would be fun for her to watch the seals eat. In retrospect, this was a bad idea. Lucy got one look at the frogmen who were gliding around underwater doling out fish parts, and she had a panic attack. Adam says she crawled up his shoulder and clutched his head. Only the much smaller, much cuter sea otters restored her.

“It felt really good to be the one she wanted,” Adam told me later.

I knew what he meant. And someday, when he’s the one grilling her boyfriends in the living room, maybe I can be the fun one.

Then again, maybe not. All those teen-age boys want the same thing — to be in extremely close proximity to Lucy’s perfect, perfect teeth. The mere thought of it makes me want to stick another cookie in her crib.


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