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Who Put Me in Charge?

Photograph by Getty Images

"How many ounces should I give her?" shouts my husband from the other room.

This is after I have just left Emily with him and locked myself into my home office so I can work for an hour or so uninterrupted.

"I don't know," I shout back because what am I? The Baby Guru? His guess is as good as mine. "Six ounces? She was just on the boob a little bit ago, but I obviously can't tell how much she got."

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"OK!" he says, and I hear things clattering in the kitchen. I roll my eyes and try desperately to concentrate on the words on my laptop screen. It's hard enough to string together coherent thoughts without trying to walk Michael through basic parenting.

A minute or so later: "Where's her bib and her burp cloth?"

I rest my face in my hands. I lightly massage my temples. I try not to scream that he should actually look around for them before asking me.

"I think I left them on the kitchen table."

Maybe a half hour later, there is shouting from upstairs. "Augh! Argh! Oh my god! Steph! Steph! I need your help!"

I sigh, push back from my desk, open my door and plod slowly up the stairs. I lean in the doorway of Em's nursery and observe my husband standing in front of the changing table, hands held out in front of him, eyes like a deer's in headlights. Em is laying back on her changing pad, diaper open, legs bicycling in the air, looking proud of herself and delighted to be alive.

"Poop. She pooped. It's everywhere. She got it on her clothes."

I think of all the poop-splosions I have dealt with singlehandedly, seeing the poop stain blooming across the inside of her onesie, rushing her upstairs, wiping her down with approximately a thousand wipes, tossing the mess into the diaper genie, rolling up her clothing carefully so as to get her onesie off without smearing poop all over her, putting her in her crib, running the dirty laundry downstairs to soak in cold water, washing my hands, running back upstairs to put her into a new outfit. And why is my husband incapable of doing this?

One day, without thinking, I drank an entire pot's worth of coffee and neglected to switch over to the bottle. Em was wired. Also, after opening up her poopy diaper, more poop flowed out of her and, just when I thought she was done, she actually shot poop across the length of the changing table, getting it on everything, including me. I was so startled I screamed, at which point Em started screaming, too.

But I managed.

I'm not saying my husband doesn't know how to take care of his daughter. And I'm not saying he doesn't help. Because he does.

What annoys me more is that I am considered the default, primary caregiver, even when he's around. As if the work I'm trying to get done is not as important. As if other people aren't also counting on me. As if I didn't go through the entirety of my first two trimesters worried that I would somehow break my unborn baby, and then the third trimester in a state of constant panic over how I would figure out how to care for another human being and then, upon popping her out, feel terror at the thought that my husband's two-week paternity leave would eventually end.

When he is taking care of her, why can't I fully press pause on the mommy thing so I can take care of other things?

It's a lot of responsibility to have, on top of managing the housework and continuing to perform brilliantly for my various clients. I mean, why are we assuming I'm the expert on raising our daughter? How can he so cavalierly assume that these are all things I can handle? And when he is taking care of her, why can't I fully press pause on the mommy thing so I can take care of other things? Why does he feel he can't rely on his own fatherly intuition?

But then again...

Last night, after a rousing installment of pre-bedtime-feeding tubby time (Michael handles all of this, and Em loves her tubby time more than anything else in the world ... probably even more than she loves me), Michael tried to give her the usual evening bottle and she started screaming. Poor Em was inconsolable. We witnessed her First Tear Ever. And Michael was at a complete loss.

Finally, I took her, held her facing out, and began dancing around the kitchen with her. Immediately, the screams stopped. Eventually, trying a few other tactics I like to use during the day, I had her laughing. And soon enough, I was successfully feeding her, and her eyelids drooped.

I had just finished cooking dinner. My dish — filled with London broil, potatoes, and broccoli rabe — was sitting on the kitchen table, getting cold. But as I sat there pulled up to the kitchen table, Em in my arms, finally drifting toward sleep, I felt satisfied.

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Nay, I felt smug.

Most days, I don't purport to know a damn thing about motherhood.

But maybe, despite the neuroses and the anxiety and occasional sense of being overwhelmed, Mommy still knows a thing or two.

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