ME: So you’re cooking the kids breakfast there, huh?
WIFE: Yeah, it’s almost ready. You want an egg?
ME: No, thanks. (Ideas percolate madly in his semi-comatose brain for several seconds) So, uh…you guys are going to sit and eat breakfast then, probably, huh?
WIFE: Yeah, and then I have to go to work. Why?
ME: Can I have 15 minutes?
WIFE: What for?
WIFE: (Calculating) Yes, but I really need to leave in 15 minutes.
ME: Sweet! (runs up stairs, pretends to not hear ‘Why do you need 15 minutes to shower?’)
What is wrong with this picture? I mean, besides the fact that I just asked my wife permission to take a shower? And she had to think about it? Yeah, it’s the time thing.
She knows I take quick showers, so her question was totally valid. I didn’t answer it because the truth was that I wanted to shave my head first, THEN shower. But asking for that was too risky, so I asked for a set amount of time instead, a new maneuver in The Time Wars.
But why do we have to ask at all? Because time is at an all-time premium, trading higher right now than gold or crude oil on our family NASDAQ. And, like gold or crude oil, there is a finite amount available, and no available alternatives. And it needs to be rationed out judiciously to avoid abuse.
I am completely envious of people without kids. The grass is always greener, I know. It’s not that they don’t have to change diapers or be home 92% of the time. It’s just that they have time. So much time, all to themselves. Even if you are in a relationship, you share your time with one (generally flexible) person. You can choose to hang out or not, go out or stay in. As Napoleon Dynamite would say: LUCKYYYYY.
With kids, your choices are limited by the amount of time you have. Time is like a pizza you ordered for your family, but your gluttonous kids ate it all except for one piece. But they cut that one in half and ripped all the cheese off. And it’s cold, and somebody sprinkled oregano all over it. And you hate oregano.
So you have to take that little cold piece of pie, and then share it. Your partner still likes pizza. Even if it is cold, cheeseless (and she really loves cheese) and laden with oregano. It’s all you have to offer. And when she’s had her fill, you have a couple of sad looking bites of crust staring at you. This is what is commonly called “free time.”
There has to be some sense of equality in that little sliver of pizza time, though. My wife works all day. I have the kids all day. Neither load is light, pluses and minuses to each. But when she gets home, I can’t just dump them on her and run out the door screaming “I’M FREE! I’M FREE!” Not that I’ve fantasized about that or anything.
Compromise is a given, but what we talk about when we talk about equality in parental life is a not so much about responsibilities as it is a balance of time. One of the reasons we moved to our new place is for the TIME we are gaining. It takes seven minutes for my wife to walk to work, eight if she misses the traffic light. All that commute time got put right into the community time bank, and we’re both making frequent withdrawals. And taking REALLY long showers.