In bed, I chewed my nails.
“What are you so stressed about?” my husband asked.
“Tomorrow,” I said.
He didn’t get it.
“I love you,” he said.
I turned so my back faced him. “I love you sometimes,” I said.
Before having a child, my husband and I had been equals. In college, where we had met 18 years ago, I was Ms. 4.0 Perfectionist Who Was Going to Conquer the World With Her Brilliance. He was content to be B-average. Having the upper hand worked for me.
After we graduated, he moved across the country for my continuing studies. Then I returned the favor five years later—I owed him, after all—and I moved across the Atlantic Ocean for his job. We both thrived professionally in Switzerland, despite some trailing spouse setbacks on my end. Even after giving birth to our daughter, thanks to Swiss culture and policies, I was able to easily take a six-month leave and go back to a job I enjoyed and could succeed at—even at my newly chosen three-days-a-week schedule.
But since moving back to the States, I’ve yet to find the culture of professional part-time work that abounded in Switzerland (and there is a higher percentage of women in the work force in Switzerland than the U.S., most likely because of it). So to work professionally part-time in the U.S., I must work for myself. From home. Which means that whenever there’s a home issue—broken furnace, cut gas line, sick child, it’s me who gets to deal with it.
Sure, it’s a luxury problem to have. But it’s a problem that often makes me burn up as much as my feverish little girl.
Monday morning, my daughter woke up at 8:30 coughing. No way could I send her to school. My husband, as predicted, was long gone. I struggled through the morning, trying to work on a project that was due the following day while my daughter watched Peppa Pig YouTube videos. In German. This way, I could justify some educational value. This way, I could concentrate—since it’s easier to focus when your native language isn’t blaring from a laptop.
After lunch, I read my daughter exactly five requested books. Then she crawled into my lap. She wanted to be held like a baby. So I held her like a baby—even though at almost three and a half she barely fit in my arms. I stroked her feverish face. And then I felt something strange—gratefulness.
How much longer would I be able to hold her like this? She never wanted to be held these days. She was a “big girl” 95 percent of the time. Last night, she had gotten up at 2 a.m., come into our bedroom, grabbed a tissue from the box at my bedside, blown her nose, and gone directly back to her bed without saying a word. Even now, she didn’t need me like she used to. A 35-pound little girl filled my arms—but suddenly, so did a sense of loss. A little girl. Who wanted to be held like a baby. Maybe for the last time?
Time then, stood still. This was okay. With her in my arms, everything was okay. I was at peace with the world.
Then my husband came home.
“You know, I’m really behind. I’m going to have to work this evening,” he said.
“Don’t even talk to me about being behind,” I snapped, suddenly out of my Zen state. He acted as if it were he who had tried to work through German Peppa Pig videos, which had eventually morphed into English, and then, thanks to my daughter’s ability to now click a computer mouse, into bad versions of Old McDonald. On repeat.
Wait, only big girls could work a laptop’s computer mouse. I looked at her half asleep in my arms and I thought, at this moment, she’s still a baby. At least for one more evening. Then I waved my husband upstairs, where the office was.
“Go work,” I said.
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