A Conversation: Two Perspectives on Parenting

Marlene: Michael was the new husband of the girl next door and I met him one afternoon when we were both in our backyards – I was reading and he was taking a break from studying for the dreaded bar exam. He was so stressed out and I felt a little sorry for him. My husband is a lawyer and, at the time, my oldest son was in law school. In addition, many of my friends are lawyers, so I knew the importance of his impending test. We chatted and I tried to be encouraging.

He passed the bar exam with flying colors and started practicing law in Manhattan, ultimately moving to New Hampshire for a more balanced lifestyle. Through the magic of Facebook we were able to stay in touch and I even got to view his son’s gender reveal, which was kind of cool. I’ve enjoyed seeing the adorable pictures he and his wife post of their baby, who is now one year old. 

Recently, Michael and I started comparing parenting notes – we are at different ends of the parenting spectrum – and it was interesting to hear the perspective of a newish father. My sons are 18, 23 and 27. Next week, when my youngest leaves for college, we will officially be empty nesters.  

Michael: It’s hard to describe what studying for the bar exam is like. You walk around with your hair on fire while simultaneously shivering. Dramatics aside, I walked around in circles on the backyard deck reciting the elements of some obscure property doctrine. Meanwhile, Marlene was on her deck trying to enjoy the nice weather and a book. Behind that book, though, is someone who knew exactly what I was going through. So she was kind enough to come over and offer some words of encouragement. We’ve stayed friends since that day.

Marlene: Awww, so sweet. Thank you. 

Michael: [Long pause] OK, I’m back. My one-year old was just shrieking at the top of his lungs. Turns out my wife was trying to convince him to eat mashed broccoli by coating it in baby yogurt. Didn’t work. He knows the truth. We’re trying to be good parents and feed him his greens. But it’s exhausting.  

Marlene: I no longer care what my kids eat. They can have cake three times a day and I’m good with that. I gave them a vegetable and fruit at every meal for decades; what they eat now is not my problem. Although the funny thing is now they actually do want to eat healthy food.

Meanwhile, Michael texts me and tells me he has to take a “baby bedtime” break. I lived in NH for a few years and I know that it is in the same time zone as NY. Since it’s only 5:30 pm and the sun is shining brightly here, I ask him what gives.

Michael: It’s a long process. Food, play, bath, bottle, book, sleep. You heard about this evening’s food saga; I’ll spare you. Nighttime playtime is Bennett’s last surge of energy – typically right when I walk in the door from work. We have a clear objective right now: tire the baby out!  We also have a clear problem: we’re tired. Really, really tired. Fortunately, by the time he gets to the bath, he’s tired, so we make it quick. Dry him off. Read a book. Night night, sleep tight. Yeah, right. Bennett has been sleeping through the night for awhile now. But we still don’t.The monitor is on my side of the bed. Volume on full blast. (Yeah, I know, new parent syndrome.) Any cry or sigh and we both pop up, turn the monitor screen on, and look closely to see if he’s breathing. Good news, he is. Of course, he is. 

Marlene: Ah, the baby monitor. Good times… I imagine it’s going to be many hours before my older sons will be going to sleep. It’s a long process. They have work, food, girlfriend/fiancée, etc. I’m grateful they no longer wake me up in the middle of the night. Although instead, I get woken up by hot flashes. (Sorry Michael.) I don’t even keep my cell phone near my bed – I know they are okay. I mean I worry, because that never ever ends, but it’s different when they are older. 

Michael: I actually like that the baby is up early. I get to spend time with him before the craziness of my work day takes hold. We switch who has to stagger down the steps, make the bottle, climb back up the steps, and go get him. That misery is of course handsomely rewarded when I open the door to the baby and he pops his head up smiling. I happily scoop him up. Then … shit. Literally, he had a blow out. The day begins. 

Marlene: I like that I no longer need to wake up at the crack of dawn to get breakfast on the table and someone to the bus stop. Most days I don’t even need to set an alarm.

Michael: It’s easy to fall into the routine of when baby sleeps we sleep. But we are ready for a night out. Hopefully my mother-in-law will agree to stand guard so Jonelle and I can get out of the house for an hour or so. Need some time on our own. 

Marlene: My older sons and their girls said they will be home Saturday night which is nice; we haven’t all been together in a while. Other than stop at the grocery store for a few things, I don’t have to do much to prepare for their arrival. My house is cleaner than it’s been in decades. There are only two Little Tykes toys left in the basement (for the future grandchildren). I make my kids get rid of stuff almost every time they come home. 

Michael: I will say, everyone warned us: there are toys everywhere. From the moment B is awake to that night time bottle, some object of entertainment is on the floor. They take over every room. They’re on the kitchen table. On his high chair. In the bathtub. The car. Everywhere. Jonelle has finally stopped trying to keep the house completely spotless. (Just mostly spotless.) Keeping up with everything is intense. 

Marlene: It’s kind of nice seeing how my kids are turning out–I feel like we are reaping the rewards of all those years of intense parenting.

Michael: We hope Bennett stays forever this age. Just a few teeth.  Some jumbled words. Drunken sailor walking. Belly laughs. Then the next big change happens, and we love that too. Now we are constantly wondering what he will be like when he’s older, while simultaneously wishing he never changes.

Marlene: You may not be wishing he would stay the same age forever when he becomes a teenager. But nothing, and I mean nothing  beats a baby belly laugh.

Marlene: Although we are at such different places in the world of parenting, I know Michael and I both want our kids to be happy and to know we are there for them. I think whether your kids are babies or adults, that is something that never changes. I don’t think I could go back to the beginning but I am looking forward to grandbabies. 

Michael: Parenting is a different world. You enter it nervous, but feel overjoyed. You live it tired, but are so excited for what’s to come. You contemplate life before the baby, but know you wouldn’t change a thing. And when you feel like you need a break from that world … thankfully he has grandparents. 

Marlene: Sounds like you’ve got it all under control—can’t wait to check back with you and see how it’s going.

Michael: Want to babysit?

Marlene: Lol. Next time you’re in NY, drop him off!

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