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FEATURE | summer 2003

Roles of Attraction

Ms. Summer 2003

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I stare at the clothes my wife Roni lays out for the triplets, who just turned six.

I know the red shirt won't fit over Jared's head, Barak never wears the tan drawstring pants and Hannah only wears the blue jean dress on weekends. This is my job, tracking the minutiae of the kids' day-to-day lives. Roni is our big-picture person, but parental detente is a delicate balance. "Wow, here's a cool shirt," I say, moving Sponge Bob onto Jared's pile with my patented Dopey Dad smile. Roni gives me that sideways look. This could go either way.

Fatherhood is easy. Marriage is the hard part.

Our marriage is upside down and backwards. I am the stay-at-home Dad. Between the four kids including our nine-year-old, Asher-- I've changed 14,000 diapers. I do the laundry, the cleaning and most of the cooking. I worry over every cough and bloody nose.

Roni is a corporate attorney. She loves power tools, hardware stores, steakhouses and playing the stock market. She warns me not to jump up every time someone skins a knee so we don't end up with a houseful of crybabies. She organizes, plans, strategizes. But even though she is Generalissimo Momma, we struggle over who's in control.

Family illustration

Image by Linda Helton

When Roni first became pregnant, we couldn't have been further apart without exchanging gunfire. Roni earned triple my income and worked brutal, 100-hour weeks, leaving me to champion the home front. Mornings, nights, Asher and I became an island, Roni a ship passing in the night. By the time the triplets were born, I was a father obsessed. We tried closing the door to the nursery so that each cry and whimper didn't catapult me out of bed.

"What if someone gets strangled in the bunting?" I sobbed. Roni fell back asleep. So I hoisted crying babies from their cribs and paced the hallways until dawn.

Married couples are like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, their strengths and weaknesses fitting together, if awkwardly. But our contours didn't always match up. We both paid bills late, forgot to return calls, left the packages on the counter. The first year was chaos, a prison riot round the clock. I gained 40 pounds and Roni developed an uncontrollable folding compulsion; you could bounce a quarter off her stacks of diapers.

With four kids, the bickering grew exponentially. I handed out treats every day, but Roni maxed at twice a week. She wanted bedtime at 8:30 sharp, but I let them jump on the bed until late. I cooked four separate dinners, Roni served a take-it-or-leave-it buffet. Naturally, Roni hated playing the bad cop and wondered what would happen if she let the kids eat ice cream and donuts for breakfast. Would I compensate and become scroogier?

That I played the softy and Roni the tough was not always based on typecasting. Roni was more understanding of my rocky career as a comedy writer than I was about her quirky skills as a Mom, which was hypocritical on my part, since Roni's eccentricity was what first attracted me. We both were hard and soft, lenient and strict, anxious and lax, always confounding our own boundaries.

And, admittedly, Roni's tough vision yielded results. Roni and the kids jogged two miles at the high school track, while their alarmingly chubby friends, raised in candy-anytime homes, dropped like flies. Roni and the kids planted flowers, pulled weeds, washed the car. Our kids understood chores and privileges while their friends relied on the extortionist power of whining.

For years, Roni and I fought like warring Afghan factions, sniping at each other over who slept less or cleaned more. We still have nothing in common.

But now, when I serve ice cream, Roni watches with a dry smile. I see her measuring my scoops with her eyes.

And then we laugh.