My kids love to play a game with me. We call it “Scavenger Hunt.” You can only start a round when Mom has been out of the house for at least 8 hours, and you get a higher start value (kind of like Olympic gymnastics) for the longer I’ve been gone. Dad is not allowed to play.
For the opening move, as soon as I pull in the driveway from a trip, one or both of my children will run to me and ask me to find something. The requestor is only allowed to describe the item in the most vague of terms.
“Mom, where is my fing?” This is from my five year old, in his sweet little boy lisp.
“What thing? What does it look like?” Unloading bags from the car.
“It’s my favorite.”
“What color is it?” Now I’m almost up the stairs and actually into the house.
“Um, I don’t know.”
“How big is it?”
“It’s kind of big.” No further details are allowed.
“Did you ask your Dad?” I think to myself — you know, the guy who’s been here all week while I’ve been gone.
We had a rousing round of Scavenger Hunt this year when I returned from Scientific Assembly in Washington, DC. I finally achieved victory when I located the elusive orange fidget spinner. One more in the win column!
Then I finally made it all the way into the kitchen. Dishes were in the sink. The laundry basket was full. Homework needed to be done. My bags felt really heavy as I dragged them through the unfinished. I sighed and got to work, but I was resentful.
My husband’s been a stay at home dad for almost a decade now. He gave up a career in production agriculture and food safety to follow me around in the Air Force. He’s the quintessential cowboy; always in a pair of Wranglers, trailed by a few dogs, quiet but steady. Growing up in a family with very traditional gender roles, my inlaws still struggle to understand the choice that led him to raise the children while I bring home the paycheck.
Over the years, Tim filled in as Mom and Dad while I deployed twice. He was the only witness when my youngest began to walk. He struggled solo through the broken nights of bottles and teething. He’s been the one who stayed home, made school happen, picked up sick kids, and cooked a thousand meals. He did it all with the solid confidence that is his trademark.
As I started loads of laundry and emptied the dishwasher, it was really easy to look around the house and see all of the things that weren’t done. I started to grumble, and a fight was looming on the horizon, just one more snide comment on my part away.
Then, my youngest ran through the kitchen with his unicorn horn and wings still on. You see, I came home on Halloween. I missed dressing up the kids to go to school on Halloween in their costumes, but I made it home in time for trick or treating.
My man’s man husband, over his serious reservations, had dutifully dressed up his son in a pink sparkly unicorn horn, purple mane and tail, and pink sparkly wings to complete his winged “nunicorn” outfit. Tim hauled his older brother, the SWAT officer, to second grade, and then delivered our little boy unicorn to preschool. He sighed at the choice of costume by the younger child, but he supported them no matter what.
It then dawned on me that it was a lot easier to see what was not done, than what he did do. The things that were done — the Halloween costumes, the meals cooked, the children run to and fro — those disappeared into the fabric of everyday life. The few minor things that didn’t get done were much more obvious, but I realized they were way less important than the things that did get done.
A decade ago, my husband made a choice to stay home and dedicate his energy to raising our boys. I don’t think I could do the same, but his decision has allowed me to grow my career and pursue my passions both professionally and personally. He makes the family happen while I travel to conferences, speak around the country, and serve around the world. It’s not always easy, and we have the occasional fight, but this fall, I have a little different perspective on how the important things get done, and the rest isn’t worth fighting over. After all, there are unicorns to dress and fidget spinners to find.
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