Not a babysitter. Not a stand-in for Mom. A parent.

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Photo by Mike Scheid on Unsplash

When my husband and I were dating, we discussed the roles of parents, both our own and those we would become. Victor was a latchkey kid, so he wanted someone to stay at home. Although he was self-reliant, he wanted a responsible caregiver for our kids. My own parents were traditional in terms of Dad working and Mom staying home, so Victor’s plan was familiar to me. Before and after school and all summer long, Mom was ready with breakfast and Band-Aids as needed for my brothers and me. Once Victor and I had children, our parental roles fell into place effortlessly based on our early discussions. For the most part, Victor parented the kids while I worked.

We agreed to a few long-term, equitable deals when the babies arrived. I was in charge of input (breastfeeding) while he was in charge of output (diapering). I carried each baby inside for nine months while he carried each baby outside (usually tucked into a sling) until they could walk. I was often awake in the nighttime while he was in charge of daytime. We had one baby every two years until we had three beautiful blue-eyed children. As they learned to speak, we became Mama and Papa. There is no greater contribution to the future than raising the next generation, so we were determined to be the best parents possible.

Daycare was not an option for us, so we became tag-team parents. Victor worked as a group exercise instructor at various fitness clubs, so it made sense for him to split his shifts. A typical weekday started at 4:30 a.m. when Victor got up and headed to the first club to teach a 5:30 a.m. Athletic Training and Conditioning (ATAC) class. His second class — formally called No Limits — was at a different club at 7:00 a.m. and while he was teaching, the kids and I started our day. He and I met up at my workplace and traded vehicles (sun-roofed sedan for sedate mini-van) so while I was working, he was parenting.

He took the kids grocery shopping. He prepared lunch and dinner daily. He arranged play dates. He took the kids to the pool and the park and on bike rides to swim and play and move. They rode the train to visit museums and dip their toes into Lake Michigan. They spent much of their time outside, and he was outside with them. They made mud pies and became mud people. They put the sprinkler under the trampoline and jumped in the upside-down rain. Whether pushing swings or building treehouses, he taught them basic physics and how to use power tools. They learned and grew and thrived under his watchful tutelage.

When my workday was done, he met me again with the mini-van full of kids in car seats and headed off to teach another class or train another client. Parenting for me consisted of baths, books, and bedtime. Our arrangement was perfect, since cleanliness, reading, and sleeping are high on my skills list. Clean, sleepy children were the perfect audience for my off-key singing. I created individual lullabies from old movies and musical artists. Even today our kids can (and do) sing them word for word, often complaining that the original lyrics are incorrect.

It wasn’t all perfection and playtime. Don’t get me wrong. I was appalled that he permitted the children to play tag and hide in the clothes carousels at the store when I thought they should be constrained in the cart. I was equally appalled that he once lost our son, who was discovered safely sitting in the book section, reading quietly, despite the mandatory store lockdown. Tipping canoes and tumbling into the pond did more to teach the children how to swim than the regular lessons I took them to on Saturdays. The irony of these situations was not lost on me, thank goodness, and I learned to loosen the tight rein I was trying to hold. Our children were always safe in his capable hands. More than just safe, they became self-confident, independent, and infinitely capable.

While I am typing on my laptop, Victor is playing Mario Kart with our two sons, now both in college. The game is loud and rowdy, with lots of colorful language and laughter. Although Victor now has apraxia (he can’t speak), his laughter is unchanged and I love to hear it. He is chuckling now because he is (not surprisingly) holding his own. Our daughter, a youth librarian, brought a Nintendo Switch home on loan and Victor promptly learned to play it one-handed. I didn’t even know what a Switch was until Victor texted me on his assistive device that he wanted one.

The one-handed Switch is necessary now, just as it was necessary for us to switch roles all those years ago. We still live unconventionally. It was once considered unusual for me to change the oil while he did the gardening and for him to prepare the meals while I mowed the lawn. Some things have changed since then. But no matter what comes our way, we will always be a team. A team of two.

I love being Mrs. Page, whether substitute teaching six-foot-tall students or typing an essay. Meanwhile, Victor was born to be a dad. And that’s Mister, to you. Mr. Dad.

I thought my emotion was sadness but actually it’s grief. “Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying” — said Dad. “Words are all I have” — goes the song.

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