The Wonder of This Woman (or, I’m No Superman)

(Click here to read my last blog. This one is Part 2, although it can easily stand alone if needed.)

When a banker recently asked my wife, “Do you work?,” I didn’t only cringe because of the regressive and condescending words she used. Although the optics of a “working” woman asking another woman if she also “works” are a bit wince-inducing.

I cringed because for this particular person, Danielle Marie St. John Wingert, to be asked if she works is a unique rhetorical injustice. It would be wrong for anyone to be asked the question in those words, but it’s absurdly wrong in this case.

It’s no secret that parenting, as a generalized human activity, is not for the faint of heart. But when parenting is a shared endeavor between two people on a given day or a given weekend, it is decidedly more manageable. You can divide and conquer. You can play man-to-man or, as needed, zone defense. You can divvy up the emotional and logistical responsibilities based on which parent is better at which parental tasks.

To use an entirely random hypothetical, one parent can, let’s say, put the hyper-creative, hyper-energetic 3-year-old to sleep by reading him books, listing obscure animals in alphabetical order, and singing 9 straight Christmas songs. All while the other parent, again random and hypothetical, lulls the hyper-wriggly, hyper-stubborn 16-month-old to sleep by invoking a kind of maternal magic that would make Harry Houdini roll over in his handcuffs.

But when one parent, all by themselves, is responsible for the safety and well-being and intellectual engagement of a child, especially a small child, and even more especially multiple small children, the task becomes exponentially harder and notably less for the faint of heart.

When I’m home from work on a sick day or a vacation day or a Christmas break, there are a lot of things I feel about my kids. A preponderance of them are glowingly positive. Often quite heart-warming. Sometimes even straight-up euphoric. But the other thing I feel is this:

I absolutely could not do this on my own.

I’m capable of doing it, of course. Because anyone who loves their kids can muster the strength to do anything that their kids need them to do. But I am not naturally wired for the kind of hyper-rigorous tenacity and boundless patience that would be required to be either a single parent or a stay-at-home parent.

Rest assured, this is not a commentary about gender. As I see it, every couple who makes the decision to have kids and live off a single income (as opposed to the myriad couples who each work and then utilize child care, an equally viable way of life) has one person who is more cut out for the rigors of stay-at-home parenting. I know a couple — and if I knew more people or lived in a city I’d know lots of similar couples — who are a trauma surgeon mom and a stay-at-home dad, and they have what appears to be an ideally functioning family. I aspire to be as strong and patient a man as that stay-at home dad. And from what I can tell, that trauma surgeon mom and my stay-at-home-mom wife have a great deal in common as far as tenacity,  maternal or otherwise.

So to be clear: This is not a blog post about gender roles. This is a blog post about the respect and awe that is due to any parent — female or male — who chooses to stay at home with the kids.

But I slightly digress. What I want to talk about is one particular parent — the aforementioned Danielle. The woman who was asked “Do you work?” and because of the constraints of semantics and society had to answer that question “No.” Rarely has a simple yes/no question so simplistically undercut the simple truth about a person.

It’s been said — although not often enough, in my mind — that being a stay-at-home parent is a 24/7 job with no sick days, personal time, vacation days, or (non-soul-based) benefits. Whereas I clock in and clock out at my job, and get 80 minutes a day of “personal time” in the car, Danielle never clocks out. And given that our kids are obstinately sleep-averse, the idea of personal time is pretty foreign to her too.

So she’s on the clock all day long, with my co-parenting efforts only available for 1 hour in the morning and 2-3 hours in the evening. And given the nighttime resistance to sleep that both of our babies have valiantly demonstrated, she’s also been on the clock all night long for the past 3 ½ years. (Or 4+ years if you count the time that our in-utero Greyson was impolitely sitting on her bladder, forcing her to frequently wake up to frequent the water closet.)

That is an epic span of time for a person to be on-call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And what makes it even more epic is that I have almost never seen Danielle complain about it. Even when she’s occasionally gotten sick, or not-so-occasionally endured sleepless nights, my wife is stoic in a way that would put the Hellenistic philosophers to shame.

Hell(enist), those toga-clad dudes are namby-pamby by comparison.

But Danielle is not just stoic. It’s not just that she endures the intensity of being a stay-at-home mom. She savors it. She leans in to it. She full-body embraces it. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone relish any role like my wife relishes motherhood. She basks in it. She treats it like a gift that she never gets over receiving. She honors it like a destiny. You know how in a superhero movie, the protagonist has a steely look in their eyes? Like they know this is exactly what they were born to do?

That’s the unwavering look that my own wonder woman has in her eyes every day. (Albeit with a good bit more levity, like when Greyson improvises some off-the-wall little song or Violet starts doing her goofy duck-waddle walk.)

As I’ve often told Danielle with wide eyes and utter solemnity, her job is exponentially harder than mine. Truly, it’s not even close. And she executes her vocation with both masterful competence and delightful panache. She is superb at attending to the needs of our 2 attention-needing children, one of whom demands to be held for more than half the day (that phase will end soon… right?) and the other of whom fluctuates between the sweetest reveries imaginable and some fairly brief but fairly inconsolable bouts of fussing.

Clearly she has her work cut out for her. But she is clearly cut out for her work.

I could write another volume on this subject, and a voluminous one at that, but I’ll leave you with this question.

Would you ever be inclined to ask the person I’ve described above, “Do you work?”

When I watch Danielle in action, doing the work that she is preeminently good at, and doing it with grace and aplomb, I’m more inclined to ask:

“Do work?”

Danielle Reading to the Kids

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