IT WAS 6:30 A.M. My husband had taken out the garbage, walked
the dog and done the dishes. He was settling in to his second cup
of coffee when I dropped the bomb.
"Do you really want our child to spend 10 hours a day in a
day-care center?" said I, cool as a cucumber.
"Who what?" he said. "I thought we settled that last week."
"One word," I said, leafing calmly through my appointment book.
"A simple yes or no."
Like a German shepherd at Heathrow, my husband can detect the
whiff of gunpowder in "simple yes or no" questions.
"I am not going to get into this with you," he said. He began
edging away from the kitchen table.
"Yes or no?" I said, the coolness turned to menace.
"I told you," he said. "I'm not going to. . . ."
"You're not going to help me with this, are you?" I screamed.
Suddenly, my appointment book flew out of my hands, sending
application forms for several child-care programs fluttering into
the dog's dish. A chair sailed toward the oven, landing just shy of
the gimpy cat. A bagel hurtled to the floor, cream-cheese-side
down. The big, blond dog swallowed it in one gulp.
Let the record show that I am normally a rational woman, not at
all the tantrum type. Few things can make me instantly hysterical,
but child care tops my list.
Like most working mothers, I suffer from the Schlafly (as in
Phyllis)-Cleaver (as in June and Ward) Syndrome, manifested by
perpetual, ulcerative, failed-feminist guilt. At work I am wracked
with guilt about what I miss in my children's lives: the look of
wonder on my 3-year-old's face when she saw a chick emerge from an
egg, the award my 12-year-old got at school for poetry. At home I
torture myself with the story I missed, certain to be someone
else's Pulitzer Prize.
Most working fathers I know don't suffer like this for the same
reason that they don't answer a baby's cry in the night - mothers
do it for them.
My recent fit of hysteria was occasioned by the worst news a
working mother can get: The baby sitter was leaving. Min, the
gentle, infinitely patient woman who helps take care of my
children, was moving away. This is a woman who in two years has
never missed a day of work, never arrived late, who kept my
children happy and my home life intact while I was working to pay
for that home, that life.
At such moments of reckoning I realize the foundation of my
sanity has dry rot. …