“Mom, can you help me build a fort?”
Ugh. At least once every week, one of the kids asks me this question. Whether I say yes or no, what I’m usually thinking is Here we go making my living room look like a Mumbai slum again. They usually ask after I’ve just cleaned, because as any parent can attest, there’s nothing like a clean house to spark little kids’ imagination. And by “imagination,” I mean the metaphorical taking of a toy-dump.
My husband is the fort god. He creates kick-ass multiplexes of blankets and pillows and cushions and chairs and heavy anchors that may or may not result in concussions if pulled down. The kids spend hours playing in these forts, dragging in collections of books and stuffed animals. They always have to eat in the forts, so they sneak in snack-cups full of perishables, such as applesauce or pretty much anything that can roll away. (Our holidays wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t find a petrified baby carrot while rearranging furniture for our Christmas tree each year.)
I do not build awesome forts. I suck at them on purpose. I suck because I want them to be easy for lazy American children to clean up:
Honestly, last week my 9-year-old said the worst part of her day was having to go up and down the stairs not once but TWICE while getting ready for bed. She made sure I read the exhaustion all over her face, and my response—indignant laughter—totally puzzled her. For a kid who often makes our living room look like scenes from Slumdog Millionaire, she shouldn’t need me to point out the first-world luxury of having a house let alone one that requires a staircase.
My husband’s and my differing philosophies about forts are telling about the dynamic in our house. He’s helpful and patient and laid-back with the kids. He lets them climb all over his back like spider monkeys despite his herniated disk, and can be easily badgered into playing a loud game of chase in the house, a game in which he howls like a hyena and takes two steps at a time to seize his deliriously willing victims. Me? I’m the one always spoiling movie night by forbidding popcorn in the living room; the one who burns up over Jackson Pollack toothpaste scenes on the bathroom counter; the one who doesn’t tolerate so much as a smidge of backtalk or an ounce of sass. In other words, I’m the bad guy.
Before you give me an amen, before you dwell now on the times your husband indulged in being happy-fun parent while you toiled over dinner dishes and shouted at the kids to put on their jammies, just let me finish. I’m actually not complaining. Sure I’ve done my share of that, but in my heart, I’ve grown to feel yin-yang parenting is actually quite good for the kids. As long as Mom and Dad are a solid front on the big stuff, the yin-yang approach means the kids always have discipline and structure but also have a soft place to land. Besides, what comes with being the “bad guy” is that I’m also the one the kids tend to run to when they’ve had a bad day and need security. I’m honestly the goofier, wilder one in my marriage, but in our parenting life, even though I’m easily up for a fart-off or booger jokes, I think I just might be their rock. And it’s me who’s cast myself in this more serious role, because I’m wired to play it, not because my husband made me.
This isn’t about an imbalance in our responsibilities. My husband hasn’t shirked anything. I’m not picking up parental slack. It’s not a competition, and I’m not jockeying for first in a game of who’s-the-favorite. We’re being the parents we’re wired to be, and fortunately it creates balance. My kids just get different needs fulfilled by their two different parents’ very different natures. Yeah, they need to slum it with daddy, but they need their mean old mom, too.