I was already on my last nerve when she said it.
I'd been up since before 6 a.m. with my punch-drunk toddler, who's going through a clingy phase where he screams like I've abandoned him any time I dare to exit a room. And an anti-nap phase that's degraded to the point that we spend every weekend afternoon driving in circles listening to "The Wheels on the Bus" on repeat until he nods off in the back seat. And an anti-food phase, unless that food is bananas, saltine crackers or whatever sugary snack I happen to be eating in an attempt to keep my own eyes open.
Plus, later that morning I'd finally taken a good look in an angled mirror and confirmed that my never-ending postpartum hair loss had indeed migrated from the sides and top of my head (where I'd been sporting broken spikes of mom bangs not unlike a lion's mane for well over a year) to the back, where I could add "a zig-zag part highlighting patches of thinning strands" to the list of casualties childbirth had bestowed upon my body (rest in pieces, vagina).
This was all happening as my husband slept off the 24-hour stomach bug he'd brought home from work the day before. A bug that caused him to shout-vomit for the better part of the previous afternoon (BLARGHHH), while I was working in our living room and trying to meet a deadline (BLARGHHH), and also bringing him glasses of water and cool cloths (BLARGHHH), all of this rendering him unable to help with childcare that evening (BLARGHHH), or the necessary disinfecting of the bathroom he'd temporarily camped out in (BLARGHHHH), or the general cleaning and tidying of the squalor we call our home (BLARGHHHH) before the arrival of his mother, who was visiting us from out of town that weekend.
So, I guess I was already feeling a little skittish when — after my husband emerged from the bedroom later that morning, shakily downed some Gatorade and declared that the Great Sickening of 2018 was over — we decided to take my 17-month-old to the mall for brunch.
As expected, my son refused to eat any of the food I'd ordered and painstakingly cut into small pieces for him, save for the banana garnish. The rest, with a series of gleeful shrieks, he whipped at the ground. He then spent the rest of the meal screaming with rage because I wouldn't let him play with knives or attempt to swallow sugar packets and creamers. Finally, my mother-in-law zipped him away in the stroller so my husband and I could scarf down our now-cold eggs, pay the bill and sheepishly pick soggy pieces of toast off the floor.
We all met back up a few minutes later, my grinning son waving a new "Curious George" book from Nana in the air and making monkey sounds. We were just close enough to nap time that I knew he'd fall asleep on the five-minute car ride home, foiling any chance of making it to the crib. With a sigh, I steered our group toward the exit.
"Oh, wait. His coat," I cautioned my husband before he wheeled our son out the doors and into winter's icy embrace wearing only a long-sleeved shirt and jeans.
My husband patiently zipped our wriggly toddler into his jacket, put a hat on his head and slipped on his mittens as I shoved his backpack underneath the stroller, making sure the two sippy cups of water in the side pockets didn't fall out and roll across the floor.
My husband — when he's not projectile vomiting — is a devoted, involved and caring father (and partner).
I straightened up to see a middle-aged woman watching my husband tuck my son's pants into his boots.
And that's when she said it.
"You sure have him well-trained!"
A number of responses came to mind.
That I'm worried I'm going bald from stress, for one. That I'd spent my previous evening scrubbing my husband's puke remnants out of the bathroom, and my morning coaxing my son to eat some yogurt and scrambling after him while he ran laps of the living room screaming "Mamaaaa! Ball! BALLLLLL!" That my right boob (megaboob) is twice as big as my left boob (flappy flap) thanks to the extended breastfeeding I've tried and failed to quit (no, YOU find a better way to make my son fall asleep at night).
That trying to balance motherhood and a full-time job constantly makes me feel like I'm failing at both. That the anguish I feel when my son sobs "Mamaaaa!" as my husband pries him out of my arms to take him to daycare each morning is killing me. And so is the guilt when I'm relieved he's gone and I can make a coffee, sit down and get to work.
That my husband — when he's not projectile vomiting — is a devoted, involved and caring father (and partner). That we split most childcare and household tasks 50/50 ever since I went back to work last fall. That I don't think that makes me lucky, because we agreed to raise a child together, and fatherhood means zipping your toddler into a coat (and motherhood means reminding your husband that this is necessary).
But in my exhaustion, and because I'm mindful of causing scenes that might make me YouTube famous, all I said to the woman who called my husband "well trained" was "yep!" and then I walked outside with my (now appropriately dressed) family.
My husband isn't well-trained. He's just a dad. A very good one, as strangers often remind me, whether it's via compliments or approving glances. Even 20 minutes earlier, as he picked globs of scrambled egg off the restaurant floor, two elderly women beamed at him. I was frantically cutting slices of banana into bite-sized pieces so my child would neither starve nor choke to death at the time, but no big deal.
We took my son to his weekly swimming lesson later that afternoon. Which reminds me, my son is actually going through four phases of things he hates: being away from Mamaaaa, napping, eating AND getting in the freaking pool unless he's clinging to Mamaaaa like a barnacle.
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So, swimming, which is supposed to be my husband's burden (er, I mean, special bonding time) with our son, now falls to me.
As I squatted in the moderately warm kiddie pool with my son whining in my ear, and lowered my mouth to the water at the instructor's encouragement to blow bubbles just in time to see another baby vomit ever so stealthily beside me, I looked up at my husband. He was sitting on the bench with all the other moms, holding our bags and waving at us.
Later, as I limped, hunched over, up the ramp (my son was wrapped around my leg and gripping the top of my bathing suit at the time, making it impossible for me to straighten up without flashing megaboob and flappy flap to the entire aquatic centre), my husband met us with open arms and fresh towels. If anyone beamed at him, I was too busy prying my child from my leg to notice.
My husband isn't well-trained. He's just a dad. And there are no trophies for raising a toddler (but I'd gladly take one).
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