Nevertheless. Sometimes I, like all parents, especially primary caregivers, feel a little beleaguered after long bouts of caregiving.
My wife has been working a lot lately, so I've been doing a lot of solo parenting. Last week, she worked every weekday and half of Saturday, had a work thing one evening, went to the gym after work a couple times, and went shopping with a girlfriend on Sunday. This is an anomaly, since she usually keeps a very reasonable work schedule and gets to spend a lot of time with the kids. I want her to make money, and I want her to work out, and I want her to wear nice clothes. But I was feeling a little drained from the intensive daddy-daughter time.
On Monday, I dropped the kids off at preschool and then swung by my wife's clinic to swap cars for reasons too boring to go into. My wife is a family doctor at a community clinic that serves mostly uninsured, often undocumented, and sometimes very complicated patients. She sees about 24 patients a day, and sometimes she has to toggle between speaking/thinking in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese all day long.
When I returned with her car, she happened to be doing paperwork in her office between patients, so I took the opportunity to fill her in on the morning's activities.
One of our girls has been exhibiting a new degree of self-consciousness, which is kind of cute, but a little worrisome at the same time. Ever since the incident with the earrings in the electrical outlet, for example, she hasn't let any visitors go upstairs where they might see the traces of burned plastic from the short circuit, about which she clearly feels a lot of shame. She doesn't like people laughing when she does something accidentally hilarious, she doesn't want anyone to call her cute, and I'm sure she wouldn't like me writing about her (but I'm gonna avoid thinking about that for a while longer). As I told my wife, our self-conscious daughter caught a glimpse of herself in the rear view mirror on the way to school, and became suddenly consumed with fear that everyone would see the long, thin scratch across her face that she got while playing fairies among a bunch of potted bougainvilleas. I barely assuaged her fear by saying that I would cover it up with sunscreen and no one would notice.
As I told my wife this story, she started ushering me toward the door that leads to the waiting room and the building's exit.
Before I left, I wanted to relate one bit of dialogue from the morning ride to school.
Kid B: [Looking at her open mouth in the rearview] Can you get a sunburn on your tongue?
Me: Hmmm...I don't know. Maybe if you left your mouth open, and your tongue hanging out all day.
Kid A: You could put sunscreen on your tongue!
Me: I guess you could. But it seems like sunscreen would taste really bad.
Kid A: Does sunscreen taste like poop?
Me: Hmm. I don't know. I've never tasted poop before. [Realizing what I just said] AND NEITHER SHOULD YOU. NEVER TASTE POOP. IT'S A REALLY BAD IDEA.
Kid B: We should ask Mommy what it tastes like!
Kid B: No--poop!
Me: Why do you think Mommy would know?
Both kids: Because she's a doctor!!
Kid A: Can doctors fix poop?
Me: Um...yeah? I guess? Yeah. Sure. If there's something wrong with your poop, a doctor should be able to fix it.
By the time I had finished with this story, my wife and I were at the door to the waiting room, and she had opened it just enough to peek at the reception desk. I had expected big laughs from the story, but only got a distracted chuckle.
I leaned in for a kiss, but my wife dodged me to get a better look out the door.
"What's the matter?" I said. "You ashamed to be seen kissing me?" I was joking, but feeling a little rebuffed too. Why wasn't she paying attention to me? Me and my fascinating stories about what a great job I'm doing parenting our kids? I had been feeding, bathing, and entertaining them for seven days straight with no break (except, you know, when they were in school for three of those days, or at the gym's childcare while I exercised). I had dealt with dropoff drama, taken them to the pool and the beach, hosted a playdate, taken them on a hike, read all of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to them, and never complained once.
"That's my patient. I've got to go," she said, giving me a quick peck.
The woman at the reception desk was sixty-ish and disheveled, her long white tangles spilling onto the front desk. Her head was in her hands as she wept and moaned. The young lady working the reception area tried to calm her down, but the lady kept babbling and sobbing. The receptionist looked at my wife with one of those "I-don't-know-what-else-to-do" shrugs and a "help-me" look on her face. My wife buttoned her lab coat and headed for the exam room.