This weekend, my daughters and I were on our own while Andrew was at the state math competition with his high school students. He kissed the girls goodbye on Thursday night and promised to see them on Sunday.
Here is the secret truth: they did not really register his absence until he returned. Upon seeing him again today, they were thrilled. But while he was out of sight, he was painlessly out of mind. He is the other parent in the house. He is the Not Mommy.
Do they love him? Madly. Are they attached to him? Firmly. Do they look for him when he is not here? Rarely. Since the time they were babies, the world has been divided into Mommy and Everyone Else.
When Katie was a baby, she would spend a great deal of time with Andrew over the weekends. On Monday, when he came home from work, she was very interested in him. She would smile and gurgle gleefully when he came into the room. As the work week continued and she saw less of him, she would respond to him with less enthusiasm.
By Thursday nights, she often refused to leave my arms to go to him. When the weekend arrived, he played with her for hours, and she would rebuild her bond with him, just in time for Monday to arrive and the cycle to be repeated.
The interesting thing about this situation is that I worked full time as well. During Katie's infancy, I was still at my banking job, and Katie spent five days a week in daycare at the YMCA. But our bond never weakened throughout the week.
It wasn't because I was the primary parent, and it wasn't because I spent more time with her. I only saw her for a short time each day, just like Andrew. The difference was that I was Mommy.
There is something profound about being a mother, something that transcends time and distance and even biology. I am Katie's adoptive mother, and yet she curls her body into my arms as if she were flesh of my flesh. I feel that the role of Mother is something sacred.
Part of this is brain chemistry. I can actually feel the oxytocin being released when I cuddle my children. There is an ancient sense of belonging together, a Mother-Child relationship that cannot be underestimated. I remember when Katie was a toddler, how I was moved to tears by the following poem:
This girl child speaks five words.
No for no and no for yes, "no" for either
no or yes.
"Teewee" for wheat or oats or corn or barley
or any food taken with a spoon.
"Go way" as an edict to keep your distance
and let her determinations operate.
"Spoon" for spoon or cup or anything to be
handled, all instruments, tools, paraphernalia of
utility and convenience are SPOONS.
Mama is her only epithet and synonym for God and
the Government and the one force of majesty
and intelligence obeying the call of pity, hunger,
pain, cold, dark--MAMA, MAMA, MAMA.
Katie is no longer a baby, and even Annie Rose has just turned three.
But our need and attachment to each other has not materially changed with time.
This past weekend, Katie and Annie Rose and I were our own little unit
while Andrew was coaching his teenagers to mathematical success. Some
things were harder without him around. I missed having him to laugh
with when the girls were being irascible. I missed having someone to
talk to at night after they went to sleep, and I missed having a second
pair of hands around to help with meals, baths and errands.
But in some ways, it was easier to be on our own. When Daddy is
around, the house is messier, we never get anywhere on time, and things
are generally more hectic. Mommy runs the house more smoothly, and
there is no getting around that.
Andrew and I have laughed about this phenomenon. No matter what, I
always prefer his company to his absence. But sometimes his "help" is
like letting Annie Rose "help" when I am cooking. His idea of clean is
my idea of not a total disaster. He considers it to be a successful
time of watching the girls if everyone is still alive and the house is
still standing when I return.
He can either watch the girls or cook dinner or clean the house, but it
is truly beyond his capabilities to do all at the same time. And yet
for a mother, multitasking is simply a way of life. Recently, Katie
and I were discussing this, and we came to the conclusion that, "Daddy
is Not Mommy. So we have to expect less of him."
Today, Daddy returned, and the girls showered him with attention for an
hour. But soon enough, I retreated to the couch to lie down for a
while before coaching Katie's soccer game. Within minutes, Katie was
lying in my arms, asleep, and Annie Rose was clambering to find a spot
on top of me where she could rest. In my eighth month of pregnancy, I
could feel the new baby kicking in my belly, already jockeying with its
sisters for mother love.
Lying there, holding my children close, I appreciated that the great
responsibility of being a mother comes with even greater rewards. For
five minutes, the house was clean, the kids were fed, there was nowhere
we had to be, and I could just offer up myself as Mama.