We lost my two-year-old in a holiday crowd yesterday and when I say "we" I do not mean me. A dark, packed theater full of Nutcracker patrons was just beginning to drain into the lobby of the park district when someone turned to me and said, "where's Stella?" What do you mean, where's Stella?! And the hunt began as 13 of our family members dispersed in all directions, covering exits and (in retrospect, sort of hilariously) yelling STELLLLLAAAAA ala Marlon Brando. She was eventually recovered. She's in that building two times a week, so she knew her way around and had navigated herself to room 107 where her sister was collecting accolades for the world's best performance of a mouse.
In the nerves that followed, one thing was clear. All those people who heard us yelling and helped us search and watched as we were reunited with our fearless middle child were thinking the same thing: that woman didn't keep track of her child. I'm sure most parents related. Two-year-olds get lost. It happens. Sympathetic parents probably thought, "She has her hands full with all those kids, no wonder one got away ". I imagine there was a "don't have so many damn babies if you can't keep track of them" thought passing through the crowd.
The panacea to this indictment? I could have hushed the whole crowd by saying, "she ran away from her dad". That's right, I had the baby, he had Stella and we weren't together when she went missing. He would have been let off the hook immediately. Dads are adorable! I guess a dad in the role of "responsible parent" is endearing, but absurd like a rottweiler dressed up for a tea party. EYE ROLL. I mean, it still would have been my fault for passing the blame to him and making him "babysit" one of the forty babies that I impregnated myself with (or somehow "talked him into" having, or used my jezebellian wiles to craft into existence). Because everybody knows, when something goes wrong with a kid, it's always the mother's fault.
I had a conversation with a fellow writer the other day who, in the best of intentions, was critical of his subject by writing, "he should've listened to his mother". I understand where the writer was coming from. That saying is meant to be a criticism of a ne'r-do-well to insinuate that someone rejected their good parenting. The "listen to your mother" paradigm is so ingrained in our culture and our language, no one stops to think how harmful that is to both men and women. It dismisses the parenting abilities of men and places a bunch of crap burden on women.
Everything is mom's fault. It's a sentiment as old as the Garden of Eden. Missing socks? Failing grades? Sandy Hook shooting? There's always a mother to blame.
The truth of what happened yesterday is somewhere in the middle. I was in the back of the theater retrieving the baby's car seat while my husband had Stella. The story I got later was there was some confusion as he turned to pick up a jacket and someone distracted him with a bouquet. In a flash, the kid ran off and disappeared into the milieu. I could have just kept all the kids with me. I could have, as someone helpfully pointed out to me once via troll mail, "kept my legs together" in the first place. I could have never existed altogether. I could have refrained from tempting Adam with fruit in the beginning of time. Because Adam was never equally at fault for eating that delicious apple, right? Everything wrong in the world is because of a woman! It's always the mother's fault!
You know what? Make it stop, people. My husband is just as capable of parenting as I am. He's just as able to make a parenting mistake, too, and take responsibility for it. The world doesn't have to tip-toe around him or praise him for just showing up. Dads are not fragile buffoons. If our kids grow up to commit crimes or sell their bodies, it will be the fault of both of us or neither of us equally. I might be more used to handling the kids than he is, but I'm not better suited for parenting just because I'm the mom, like how I'm not intrinsically better at making macaroni or straightening the living room. I've just had more practice. Dads can do these things! They are not hard! When pillows are not fluffed or kids go on interstate crime sprees, it is not automatically all the mother's fault.
However. If Stella becomes a world-renowned neurosurgeon with a Man Booker prize for her side work in fiction? My husband's a great dad and all, but I'll take that mothering trophy ya'll are passing out. Thank-you, thank-you.
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Filed under: Daddy issues