First, a little context:
Three days earlier I came home late as I always do on Wednesdays, just as the kids were finishing up books and snuggles before bed. We’ve recently been edging ever closer to finishing “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (remember, you can’t watch the movie unless you’ve read the book first). They can taste the finishline (and a new movie to watch), so they’ve been extra-special excited about bedtime reading lately. On Wednesdays UnDorkMommy has to handle the bedtime routine alone, and of course part of that is reading books to the big kids. We got the kids all tucked in and sat down to touch base as husband and wife. “So, how was your day teaching?” she asked.
“Fine, fine,” I replied. “Were the kids good tonight? How far did you get in Harry Potter?”
“We didn’t read Harry Potter. We read something else.”
“Really? Why not?”
She looked at me with disapointment in her eyes. “They told me they don’t want me to read Harry Potter to them anymore because I don’t do the voices like you do.”
For a little more context, fast forward to this Saturday:
This weekend was the local Mountain Bike Fair. We live in an outdoorsy place, so mountain bikes are kindof a big thing. It’s the sort of place where parents post on facebook “Just took Jr. for his/her first time on the pump track!” (For those people out of the know, a pump track is a dirt track with mounds, and moguls and banks etc). There’s a bike store near our house with some amazing pump tracks out back for all levels. We pass by the tracks whenever the family goes hiking and I’ve used the pump track as an incentive for the kids to learn how to ride their bikes.
“As soon as you’re good enough on your bike, I’ll take you to the pump track.”
Six or Seven months ago Episode IV finally got off her training wheels, and we’ve been working on getting her competence and confidence up to pump track levels. A few weeks ago Episode V finally got off his training wheels and we’ve been practicing out at the park every opportunity we get. To spur his interest and get him motivated I took him out to the Mountain Bike Fair to watch the pros go flying into the air X-games-style. I expected we’d be there about 30 minutes before his attention span puttered out and we’d be off to the next thing.
It was like walking into Disneyland for the first time. We weren’t there for 5 minutes before he spotted the bunny-hill pump track just for little kids that they built specifically for this event. That was that. We walked back to the car, got his bike out of the back and three hours later we’d watched the pro aeronautics, gone on the kids’ pump track (twice), ridden a real off-road trail, checked out all the vendors, sat on a hay bale eating pizza and popsicles watching a racing event, and acquired some impressive sunburns. In short, it was amazing! He even got a medal. Episode V and I came home totally pumped (no pun intended), totally exhausted and totally overstimulated.
We spent the second half of Saturday at the park with the whole family. The two big kids practiced off-roading on their bikes with me coaching and cheering them on, and UnDorkMommy spent most of her energy keeping Episode VI from eating sand and getting run over by his older siblings. By the end of the day everyone was exhausted, and all three kids went to bed relatively easily. After Episode IV was asleep, my wife came down the hall and walked up behind me as I was checking my Email. She put her hand on my shoulder. I could tell something was weighing on her heart. That’s when she said it.
“You know, sometimes it’s really tough” she said, a tremor in her voice. “…keeping up with you. Sometimes it’s really hard. You’re the fun one. I just can’t compete with that”
I had absolutely no idea what to say.
I wanted to say something comforting, something reassuring. I love her so much. I could appreciate how she was feeling, and how an idea like that could hurt once it took root. I wanted to be there for her – to say something meaningful that would put her at ease, reaffirm how amazing she is, how amazing and important she is to the kids. I should have been able to do that for her. But the words… the idea behind them… and the notion that I could be the root of that pain…
There is no way anyone could describe UnDorkMommy as anything other than “fun”. She’s incredibly fun. She just isn’t a dork. She has no idea how to be a dork. It just isn’t in her DNA. Before we had kids she used to make fun of me and say “Man, you are a dork!”
And I used to respond with, “Yep. But someday our kids are really going to appreciate it.” It would seem that perhaps that prophecy has come true.
Let’s be clear, my wife is the most important, most amazing, most crucial element of this entire family. When I’m off figuring out how to get an arcade game into my house, she’s the one making sure the kids are having a healthy lunch. When I’m spending my time writing blog posts, she’s the one arranging their extracurricular schedules. She’s the one who makes sure they have a sweater when they leave the house. She’s the one who makes the sandwiches for their lunch just the way they like ’em. She’s the one who plans and makes dinners every night. She’s the one who gets them on time to doctor’s appointments, and swim lessons, and play dates. She’s the one who makes sure the milk in the fridge isn’t sour. She’s the one who makes sure their bedsheets are clean, that they take their medicine and that they play nicely with one another.
She’s the last person the kids want to see before they go to sleep. She’s the first person they want to see when they wake up. If they have a bad dream in the middle of the night, it’s her body they need to feel next to theirs that makes the monsters go away (and all that stuff goes for me as well).
Sure, I’m the one who does the epic lego marathons. I’m the one who knows all the words to all the Disney songs. I’m the one who does the lightsaber fights and dances to “Gungnam Style” in the livingroom. But when there’s a scrape on the knee, it’s her kisses that have the healing magic. On a rainy day it’s the cookies she makes that turn everything around. When someone is sick, it’s her arms they crawl into for comfort. She is the rock-center, the core, the heart of our family. She nourished those children in her belly. She birthed them. She nursed them as infants from her own body. She dedicates every waking moment to nurturing them as children and to helping them grow into compassionate, confident, amazing human beings.
How can I compete with that?
The truth is all this dorkiness, all this childlike buffoonery… it’s all for show.
I’m a dancing bear at the circus making a fool of myself in front of my children because — That’s. All. I’ve. Got.
It’s a desperate act to be relevent in the lives of my kids because ultimately the short-lived sugar rush of dessert isn’t what sustains you the way Mommy’s healthy meal does. It isn’t what keeps you alive. Sure, I have my role to play in nurturing our children. Sure, their lives are enriched because I’m demostrative, I’m involved in their lives and I’m totally invested in the family. Yes, their lives are immeasurably better because I love them so much.
But compared to the absolutely crucial, nourishing, healthy, dependable, selfless love that they get from their mother — the nourishment that none of us in this family, myself included, could live without — I have to put on the superhero T-shirts. I have to build the zip-lines in the backyard. I have to make the Transformer Halloween costumes from scratch. I have to do the voices when I read Harry Potter.
Because in all honesty, compared to my wife, I just can’t compete.