Her husband's job is demanding. He's an attorney and often has to spend long days at the office and work on weekends. When he gets home the kids are often in bed. He gets up early to help get them ready in the morning. I wonder how he manages on so little sleep.
"That's just the way it is right now," my sister says. My job has more flexibility so it makes sense that I'm the default for picking up the kids from school, taking them to appointments and soccer practice, staying home with them when they are sick."
Many couples I know have a similar arrangement: the spouse with more flexibility is the default child chauffeur, preschool pageant volunteer, dinner maker. The job that yields more income is protected by both parties.
"I just couldn't imagine Chris having to leave the office in the middle of the day with all he's got going on," she said, then joked, "but me--I'm always backing toward the exit while people are still talking to me. I'm always in a state of having to be somewhere else."
She doesn't tell me this to complain. It's just more of an observation she's had lately. Her new book is out, and though she's tickled by the PR and attention it's getting, she's had to rethink her intricate weekly regime. A panel discussion at Princeton, a book reading at night in the city, an interview during the dinner making hour. These are things that require rearranging, booking sitters, and asking favors of neighbors. Her husband has been more than willing to take days at home and rearrange his schedule to support her. But she still seems uneasy.
"It's great that he helps out when he can," she said. "But he's not the back-up. I am. I'm still the back-up."
I want her to take in the rewards of her hard work. To spend a day contemplating her next project uninterrupted. To prepare for an interview without worrying about what needs to thaw in time for dinner. I want her to be able to say, "It's all covered," and then embark on a U.S. book tour. Most of all, I don't want her to always be in a state of leaving when she's at work.
And for me, I don't want to always be in a state of leaving when I'm at home. I feel like I'm learning a new skillset from her--someone who once could never put her work down. It involves thinking linearly--picking up the kids, making dinner, running the bath. It involves fewer phone calls, perhaps not even checking messages in the evenings. It involves waking up early not to catch up on email but to make lunches and help little people pick out their outfits. It involves deriving less identity from one's career and more from somewhere else. My sister's been at it for years, and it hasn't come naturally, but she's become a pro.