“Mommy, I’m very jealous,” he declares from the middle row of our minivan. Although my eyes are trained on the traffic in front of me, I am well aware of the pout that accompanies that tone of voice. I proceed cautiously, because I also know that his four-year-old sense of justice requires me immediately to remediate the situation once he has voiced his dissatisfaction. “Gavin’s daddy drops him off at school every day.”
Hitting my right turn signal so I can queue up to get on the 405, I silently curse Gavin’s daddy. I’m jealous, too, I want to say. I’m jealous that Gavin’s mommy only has to come to the preschool once a day. I’m jealous that she does not have to parent all by herself on the weekdays. And, most of all, I’m jealous that she does not have to hear her son kvetch all week long about not having his daddy around.
Of course, this is not how I respond. I glance in my side-view mirror and say, “I know you miss your Daddy, baby. He’s working really hard right now. I miss him, too. But, you get to see him all weekend, and you get Mommy dropping you off at school.” Even as I say this, I know I am offering weak solace, at best.
Zachary is at that age when children start to identify with the same-sex parent. He is trying to learn what it means to be a man, and he is looking around for role models. Unfortunately, there are none to be found. From Monday to Friday, my kids rarely speak to an adult male, much less see their father. When he is not on the road, my husband leaves for work before they wake and returns once they are in bed.
It is hard on the children, I am fully aware, but it is the nature of his work. Even as recently as a few months ago, I railed against it myself. I admonished Jacob that we could not continue this way indefinitely. “You are going to need to find a way to be here a few evenings a week,” I told him. “We always said we would not be one of those families where the kids never see their father.”
Jacob, on the other hand, was between a rock and a very hard place. What exactly was he supposed to do? He was giving his all to a project at work that demanded his attention, but he was also giving his all on the weekends to his kids. How much “all” did he have to give?
My friends fueled my frustration. Tell him he needs to pull back from work, they advised. It’s not fair to you or the kids. We are the generation that is not going to be like our parents, with the father scarcely seeing the kids because work is so all-consuming. I was enforcing fairness and the values we had agreed upon long before we had children.
When we had first discussed having children, we had promised one another that Jacob’s career would not become more important than mine, even if he earned more than I did. We declared that he would always be home to tuck the kids in, except when he was travelling. We pledged to maintain a sane work-life balance, even if it meant a career sacrifice.
However, when we so sagaciously committed ourselves to this perfectly aligned equation of parenting, we failed to factor in the variable of Wall Street raining bricks while the housing market sank. We neglected to foresee our savings bleeding value and layoffs across almost every industry.
It becomes a lot harder to nag my husband to leave a job he loves in search of one that brings him home in time for bath when there are no jobs for the getting. I have suddenly gained the perspective of valuing the fact that he is employed, even if he spends more time working than I would like. Not everyone is so fortunate these days.
Suddenly, counting our blessings involves appreciating the chance to work one’s tail off. The economy is giving us a new outlook on all of the alternative scenarios.
As I veer the car off onto the Olympic/Pico exit, Zachary informs me he only wants Daddy. I acknowledge his complaint, although the refrain is getting a little stale as far as I am concerned. Really, child? Is that much whining absolutely necessary?
From Zach’s perspective, of course, the whining is warranted, and perhaps it is even effective. If he draws enough attention to the tragic state of affairs, perhaps it will miraculously resolve itself. Resolution-by-bitching, as it were. Only from an adult viewpoint is whining pointless. As we mature, we realize that complaining about the unchangeable merely puts us in a foul mood; results are best obtained through actual action.
This economic catastrophe has been one giant kick in the rear for the country and the world, forcing us to stop complaining to one another about how hard life is and start looking for real solutions. I turn into my driveway, considering that, in fact, our family does not have it so bad.