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Charlie Stewart
First Person: Mr. Mom, immobilized
When a mishap visits a stay-at-home dad, the family females fill in
Saturday, April 14, 2001

immobilizedMothers don't get sick. It's as simple as that. And, if they do get sick, they trudge on. When you were young, do you remember your mother ever being flat out on her back, sick? I thought not. If a man coughs once, however, he takes to bed. He needs soup and crackers on a tray and a remote with a fresh set of batteries.

But what if Mr. Mom breaks his leg skiing? Call a doctor!
It all started when I got addicted to heli-skiing in British Columbia. It's a unique concept of being transported by helicopter up the mountain in order to be able to ski untracked powder every run, every day, all day long, for a week.

For the above-average recreational skier, it is challenging. For the expert skier, it is the ultimate experience and just a matter of saving up until the next trip. For a Mr. Mom - which I have been for almost six years, tending to our three children - it can be a career-ender.
As it could have been for me the moment I hit a tree stump buried under that beautiful virgin snow. With a broken tibia and fibula, my leg has been immobilized in various devices, and crutches have been my mode of transportation the past three months.

Being Mr. Mom is challenging enough, but doing it without the use of arms and legs is impossible. What I have figured out is that Mothering = Carrying. Whether it's carrying the baby, carrying the "bag" (you know, the one with all the diapers, binky, toys, chubby books, etc.) or carrying the box of outgrown clothes to the car to go to Goodwill, mothering is a job of transporting objects and people from one spot to another. And it absolutely cannot be accomplished while on crutches.

Grocery shopping? No.

Car pool? No.

Cooking? Out of the question. (Frankly it's a puzzler for me anyway, even with two perfectly good legs.)

Straightening the house, picking up UNO cards, corralling stray balls in the back yard . . . A big N-O.

Basically, I was forced to cease and desist all activities except for answering homework questions. On the other hand, if I were a mother, I would have figured out a way to do all of the above while still chairing the Women's Committee of the Carnegie Museum of Art.
Women have an unwritten code of operation. It is similar to the motto of the Pony Express. Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow nor carpal tunnel syndrome will prevent the carpool from getting through.
Hit by the flu she caught from her child? Never mind. Carry a big box of tissues (with aloe) and keep those kids on schedule and get to work. One mother from Mt. Lebanon told me how she had the flu and remembers holding her baby on her right side while throwing up to her left.

So what's a Mr. Mom to do when he breaks his leg? After calling the doctor, call in reinforcements. Who better than my own mother and my wife?

What I'm proudest of is that it required not one, but two, yes, two grown women to fulfill my duties. (Of course, I'm ignoring the fact my wife also works for a living.) She was Mrs. Inside (laundry, cooking, bedtime, etc.) and my mother was Mrs. Outside (Starbucks coffee and newspaper, car pools, shopping trips to the mall and rallying the troops on garbage night).

I was assigned to bed and my TV chair. My wife made delicious meals and brought them up on bed trays. Friends brought over soup, cookies and sometimes made a complete dinner. Flowers were left at the doorstep. Cards kept my spirits up. Get well messages came by phone and e-mail. At this point, I'm living like a king.
When we recently went to the beach for vacation, the reservations department knew of my condition and had booked a ground-floor oceanview room closest to the beach and pool. Doors were held open for me. I experienced the kinder/gentler side of humankind. Restaurant hostesses saw my crutches and immediately gave us preferential seating.
My wife finally turned to me and said, "You're an asset." This was music to my ears. I had arrived. Mr. Mom was back in the game. My career was rekindled. I haven't contributed so much to the family since I brought home a Swiffer.

Now it's the third month, and I know that any day my doctor is going to say I can ditch the crutches. I have mixed emotions. Frankly, I was getting used to the pampered treatment.
But those days are rapidly coming to a close. My wife sees I'm better now and took an overnight business trip to Detroit. On Monday, she heads to China. I must have lost my touch since my accident. We're out of milk, the dishes are mounting, and something else is piling up in the cage of the new dwarf bunny our son got for his birthday. To add to it are the pending spring chores - the screens, hoses, impatiens . . .
Owww . . . my leg is beginning to act up. Would you mind getting me a pillow so I can elevate it? There. That's better now. Have you seen the remote?

Re-printed with permission from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


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