Thunder Bay, Ont. writer Susan Goldberg is a transplanted Torontonian and one of two mothers to two boys. Follow along as she shares her family’s experiences.
On a quiet evening last week, I sat more or less happily at the dining room table with Isaac as he painstakingly addressed his school valentines.
Upstairs, in the meantime, Rachel was cleaning up vomit.
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Rowan had arrived home from school complaining of a stomachache and had promptly climbed into my bed, where he remained until the vomiting happened. (An aside: What is it about kids and their need to puke all over their parents’ bed instead of their own?) As Isaac and I went through his class list and stuffed valentines into envelopes, Rachel emptied the puke bucket, got Rowan into the bath, then into clean pajamas, then into his own bed. Then, she stripped our bed and remade it.
And all the while, I stayed far away.
This is not because I’m a jerk. This is because I cannot deal with vomit. The sight of someone hurling, and dealing with the aftermath, sets off my own gag reflex so that instead of having to clean up after one person’s queasy stomach, we have to clean up after two people’s. Rachel knows this, and accepts it. As she put it, “You’re the birth mom, and I’m the barf mom.”
Fortunately, I have redeeming qualities. For example, because Rachel has a needle phobia, I am the one who routinely accompanies the kids to their vaccinations, which don’t faze me in the least. I am the crafty mom, the one much more likely to be found figuring out Rainbow Loom patterns or decorating birthday cakes or doing sewing projects with Isaac. I am the filler-out of school forms (although Rachel is much more likely to research and sign the kids up for lessons and activities). She is the mitten mom; I am the muffin mom.
Rachel is the shoe mom: She knows what sizes the kids take while I’m clueless. She is also the mom who deals with sorting through the boys’ clothes each season and throwing everything that’s too small into the Goodwill pile. But I am the mom who actually takes all the stuff to Goodwill. I’m also the one who prints photographs, goes to the post office and returns bottles to the beer store. Rachel is the roller coaster mom, because roller coasters also make me throw up. But if you’re looking for someone to organize your Pokémon cards by type and print labels out for the card containers, well, I’m the mom you want.
And really, isn’t that what it means to be a spouse and a parent? You figure out what it is you’re good at and what you like and what you simply can’t bear, and hopefully all of those align more or less with your partner’s skill set. And then you do what you do well, and they do what they do well, and you get a little more done with a little less strife.
And, most the time, you remember to say, “Thank you. Thank you for being there to clean up the barf.”
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