Saturday, December 22, 2012

This is feminist parenting

I wrote the following in the middle of a three-hour flight from Washington D.C. to Minneapolis on Thursday, December 20th. I would like to report that Felicity was a complete angel for Ian their entire time together.

This morning, I stepped onto a plane, waving goodbye to my husband, who had our 12-month baby strapped to his chest. This was to be the longest separation yet between myself and the baby, a whole seven hours and a half hours. I felt guiltily liberated. 

Our small family is going to Minnesota for the holidays. My husband has a conference in Atlanta immediately after Christmas, and I’m staying a week longer with my family before joining him back in New York City. We scheduled our flights separately, finding that the best price for my round-trip was to fly an hour to Washington D.C., enjoy a two and a half hour layover, and then sit on a three hour flight to Minneapolis. I booked my ticket with a lap infant, planning to have Felicity fly with me.

Ian, on the other hand, was able to purchase all direct flights. So despite lifting off thirty minutes before he would, I would arrive three and half hours later.

Two mornings ago, talking about our trip and upcoming flights as we prepared for the day, we realized how crazy it was for me to have two flights with the baby and an overall longer time waiting in airports and in the air. Ian suggested taking her. I readily agreed, knowing that I would have her on my lonesome on the journey from Minneapolis to New York City after the New Year. I recalled flying alone with her when she was a sleepy three months old and how challenging that seemed at the time. I felt happy to share the burden of parenting with my spouse.

Last night, thinking about the logistics, I started to panic. The maximum Ian and the baby have spent alone (without me easily accessible) is about four and half hours. It isn’t that he is never home or isn’t a good caretaker; he does much of the parenting when he is home, sharing in the diaper changes, feedings, baths, is in charge of bedtime, and is a really excellent and involved father. It is more the case that I am still breastfeeding. So even if I have appointments, am working, or am ill, I pop in every two to three hours, check on everyone, see if the baby needs to nurse, and generally offer an over-abundance of unnecessary ‘advice’ to my husband about baby-related things he already accomplishes with finesse.

I am in the process of weaning the baby down to one or two nursing sessions a day, and so was not so worried about an extended amount of time without breastfeeding her. Instead, I had a serious case of the maternal “what ifs”: what if her ears bother her on the flight and she screams for hours, and I’m not there to comfort her? What if she desperately decides she must nurse, adamantly giving my husband her nursing sign, refusing the soy milk, peanut butter, and fruit packets we carefully tucked into her diaper bag, and then refuses to be comforted? (This is her latest – and quite effective – tactic to get middle of the night feedings). 

As I write this, I realize our division of labor is good. This is feminist parenting. To say, I desperately would love some time to myself and would like to enjoy (as much as one can enjoy) my day in airports and in the air in solitude, with my book and my writing and my research project. To say, it makes more logistical sense for the baby to be in airports and in planes for less time, and to only have one descent, which can be so painful for little ears. To you, now that we are down to fewer nursing sessions, there is no reason why my very capable and nurturing husband can’t be the sole caretaker for the great challenge of taking a very active, newly willful, almost-toddler across the country. To say that he can handle it, no matter what the day brings. To say that even if she does get upset and cries for their entire three hour flight, it will not permanently damage her and she will be fine, and he will be fine as well. 

They were supposed to be landing about the same time my last flight was taking off. I kept my phone on as long as possible, holding it nervously in my hand, desperately wanting to know how everything went. Alas, I had to turn it off before he texted to say that they’d landed. 

Although it has been nice to be able to think about other things besides the baby, to read and not be juggling a baby on my lap, and work on editing my current research project instead of singing endless renditions of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, the desire to know what is happening is overwhelming. I am accustomed to being in control (or at least feeling that I am in control). 

I find myself counting down the minutes until I see them: ninety minutes left in the air, another thirty or so until I can hug the baby, kiss my husband, and know that being a mother doesn’t always equate to sacrificing what I need and want.