It’s late at night. I stupidly went to bed at midnight, and I hear her calling at 1 a.m. I’ve just fallen asleep, and it’s time for our toddler to do her every-other-night wake-up. But she doesn’t cry out “Mama.” She cries for “Daddy” and “Dada” and “Dah” and every other form she can think of to get who she wants. Because it’s not me.
I walk into her room, hoping when she’ll see me, she’ll stop crying and call out “Hold! Hold!” But she doesn’t, instead, when she sees me, she asks for “Daddy” again, still crying.
“No, it’s Mama,” I gently say as I pat her back, a knife twisting in my stomach, eyes welling up with tears, but staying strong for her. She eventually calms down and is fine with me being there, but she and I know I wasn’t her first choice.
It isn’t often like this during the day, when she often calls for me in my office when I’m working from home. I get the loud pounding on my office door when I’m on conference calls at least once a week when she slips away from my husband. He’s a dad who works part-time from home. No, the calling out for “Daddy” usually happens at night, or when she sees a bug outside that terrifies her. And I think that bothers me the most because it’s her subconscious talking, the part that I know she doesn’t even control, and I know that it’s rooted in her to call out for her daddy first, and then me. On Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, my husband ranks first, and I rank second. It goes food, water, hugs, Daddy, Mama.
I blame it on having to go back to work at three months. He stays at home with her and works when he can. And my job is to bring home the money, keep our house, and buy our food. It’s an important job, and one I frankly do love, but it’s hard not being around our children all day. But I know it’s also hard being around our children all day, and for that I give my husband a “You Survived” award almost every day.
“She drew on the wall today,” he’ll tell me affectionately with a hesitant smirk, thinking that either I may kill him for letting her do so or laugh. “But it’s okay, the magic eraser worked like a charm.”
He doesn’t know how I wanted to witness her first time drawing on the wall. Or rolling over. Or walking. Or talking. I would want no one else raising my children though. I don’t want them calling out “Karen!” in the middle of the night. It’s really not a bad thing that she loves her father so much. I just wish I could do it all. I try to feed them and bathe them and sing to them and put them to bed, all outside of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and then after all that I go back to working again. But it’s not enough. It’s never enough.
And then there are the nights like tonight when I put our toddler to bed and try not to get mad as I close my eyes to try to get her to close her eyes as she yells, “Mama! Mama! Mama! Mama! Mama! Mama! Mama! Mama! Mama!” (no joke, like 15 times, two inches from my face… I will spare you) as she plucks my lip and pokes my eye and put hers finger up my nose. I just sit there quietly and tell myself, “This is quality time.”
I try to put down my phone when I’m with her and give her my full attention. But there’s always the nagging part of my brain that asks me why am I not making money for her, providing for her, instead of being with her.
So tonight, if she wakes up and calls for “Daddy,” my heart will sink a little more, but I know it’s the right thing for us. I can’t be angry at having such an amazing husband who I trust my babies’ lives with every day, as much as I want to, or think I want to. He’s my everything to my everything, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.