Gender roles are so damn confusing.
The downstairs toilet clogged. I tried to flush it, but then all the water came up. Maybe it overflowed, I don’t know. I ran.
When Victoria got home from work, I asked her to plunge it. She said she would. Later that night, while turning off the light, I asked, “Did you fix the toilet?” She forgot.
I went to bed thinking: I need a husband.
The next morning, I woke up from a freaky dream. Victoria was already awake, reading Barron’s. I said, “I tried to stab my dad with a plastic knife, but the knife wouldn’t penetrate. We were at the Bagel Nosh.” But Victoria didn’t hear me; she had already started telling me about her dream.
“I was flying a small plane,” she said. She told me everything about her flight goggles and the scarf, like Snoopy fighting the Red Barron. She said, “I was skimming the tops of the trees.”
I nodded and said, “Ah huh, ah huh,” the way my mom does; the way I’d learned to listen in a conflict resolution class I took after college. Now I can’t stop active listening; it’s become a habit. And Victoria went on feeling totally listened to, I was sure.
I was annoyed. I wanted to get back to telling her my dream. But then the kids were up and in our bed telling me about their dreams.
We all went downstairs to have breakfast. It was a Friday and I felt anxious because somehow, Victoria had managed to register the kids for all 10 weeks of summer, except for the one coming up.
I said, “I’m worried about what I’m going to do without camp next week.”
Victoria said, “What do you mean?” like she was surprised. I wasn’t surprised. I know by now that Victoria has the worst memory for family details, even worse than my dad who couldn’t remember my best friend’s name no matter how many times she slept over.
To be fair, Victoria and I only reviewed the kids’ camp schedules twice. Once when I mapped out their summers and again after Victoria botched camp registration.
Now, on the third mention of the scheduling problem, Victoria picked at her cuticles and asked, “What are we going to do with the kids for a week?”
I said, “Did you forget? I’m the one who stays home and can’t get anything done when the kids are around.”
After I dropped the kids that morning—Sebastian at My First Camp, Tashi at Club Play—I called Victoria at the office. “Great news: Sebastian’s counselor told me he’s well behaved.”
Victoria said, “Huhhhh?” I told her again and she pretended to listen, but I could hear her tapping away at her keyboard.
When this happens I feel like Barbara Hershey in Beaches. I know there must be a more recent reference, but who has time to watch movies? The way I remember it, there’s this scene where Barbara Hershey is having dinner with her husband after he comes home from a busy day at work. They’re sitting in a manicured dining room drinking wine and eating something like poached salmon. They eat without talking, until Barbara Hershey says, “I bought a wrench today.”He doesn’t respond. He’s not interested in her wrench.
I said, “Bye, talk to you later,” but I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to talk to Victoria again. She didn’t deserve to hear my dreams or my camp reports or whether or not I bought a wrench today.
I hung up thinking: I do have a husband.
I know this is old-fashioned, but I’d learned through watching my parents that a wife supports her husband, which means a lot of active listening. She also keeps the kids’ camp schedules.
When I complained to my mom about these duties, she said, “You are just like your father. You want someone else to take care of everything. You want a wife.”
This cut to my core. I was a feminist. I believed that traditional gender roles were arbitrary and meant to keep women down. I would never keep a woman down.
I said, “A wife? That sounds nice.”
The truth was, I wanted a husband and a wife. But I’m a woman married to a woman and now I’m confused.
At 3:30, I picked up the kids. I wanted to get back to work, but they were all over me: “Can I have a popsicle, Mommy? Mommy, how many pieces of salt are in the Dead Sea? What’s the highest number you can count to, Mommy?”
I couldn’t shake them so I came up with this idea to surprise Victoria after work—actually, after her post-work workout. Let her handle them for a while. At 7:00, we were outside Equinox Gym when Victoria emerged. The kids jumped all over her.
We settled into a booth at my favorite café and just as the food came, Tashi announced she had to go to the bathroom. I knew Victoria was hungry from work and working out, but she didn’t try to do Rock, Paper, Scissors, like I would have. Instead, because she knows public bathrooms gross me out, she shimmied out of the booth and took Tashi’s hand. I said, “Don’t touch anything. Put paper down. Wash your hands up to your elbows.”
I have said, “Don’t touch anything,” so many times, Sebastian announces, “I didn’t touch anything,” even before we reach the bathroom. At home. Then he flushes with his little fat foot.
Because she doesn’t get dry heaves over the expulsion of body fluids, Victoria became Bathroom Mom. When Tashi fell out of her new big-girl bed, I ran in and held her, but when Victoria turned on the light, I saw blood all over Tashi. I must have looked like I was going to cry or barf because Victoria hurried in and held us both. She pressed a burp cloth against Tashi’s chin until the bleeding stopped.
The last time Sebastian got sick, I ran to the bathroom holding him under the armpits with my arms stretched in front of me. Vomit splattered on the floor. Victoria swept in and held him. She didn’t seem to care that vomit got into her hair.
And since I can handle dog vomit much better than human vomit and since I am not as afraid of cockroaches or other Florida wildlife, I’m Animal Control Mom.
Whenever there’s a lizard in the house, I assemble the team: Sebastian and me. We corner the lizard. Then one of us, usually me, grabs its tail and takes it outside.
Maybe traditional ideas about husband and wife, mom and dad, really are arbitrary.
At home, I reminded Victoria that the toilet was still clogged, so she went to fix it. After I had put the kids to bed and she came upstairs, I said, “Did you remember to wash your hands up to your elbows?”
She said, “Of course.”
Andrea Askowtiz is the author of the memoir My Miserable, Lonely, Lesbian Pregnancy and the co-host of the podcast Writing Class Radio. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Salon, The Rumpus, Huffington Post, AEON, and on PBS and NPR.