There's a difference between fathers and mothers, and it isn't just in the hardware. A difference, a critical difference, hard-wired into our DNA, I am sure. It isn't my fault, and I'd do without it if I could, but today I am stumbling through the hours in a vague and muddle-headed, itchy-eyed fog of exhaustion because of it.
Youngest step-daughter (15) was out last night. Supposed to be home by midnight, or call by then if she's going to be later. (Note the child involved: STEP-daughter. Not even any direct biology involved here.)
I am sound asleep by 10:30. At fifteen minutes past midnight, I wake up. Why? I still have blankets over me, no door has opened or closed, the cat is sleeping in another room. No, it's the Momma Clock, telling me that midnight has passed and I need to make sure of the child. The Momma Clock, that persistent internal alarm that simply cannot be ignored. I sigh and slide out of bed.
A quick check reveals the girl is not yet home. Damn.
Okay, I say, so she's delayed a little. No biggie. I fall into an uneasy sleep, only to pop wide awake at 12:45 a.m. Another wander to the front hall to check for shoes. She's still not home, unless she came home barefoot. Back to bed. Do I wake husband, sleeping the sleep of the Father?
The Father. See, that's just it. He's the bio-parent, but I'm the female. He's the loving dad, the one who takes them for walks, who goes to their school events, who reads stories (well, not so much any more), doctors their bicycles, cooks their meals, takes them shopping for clothes. (Yes, really. He's one of the Good Ones.) But when they're late? I'm the one who wakes up. Because of the Momma Clock.
I decide, oh, she's just decided to make it a sleepover, and has forgotten to call. Completely and totally within normal communication patterns for this girl. Makes it hard to know when to worry -- or, in my case, easy to worry unnecessarily. I bury my unease and try to sleep. At 1:40, I am jolted awake by an alarming realization: She wasn't at a friend's! Well, yes she was, but earlier in the evening. Then she was going to a dance.
Where the hell is she? I wander downstairs and consider calling the friend's cell phone. Did the friend go to the dance with her? Or is the friend sleeping sound in her own bed? If I call, will I commiserate with another mother driven to distraction by the Momma Clock, or will I disturb a family for nothing? I churn with anxiety for another half hour.
At 2:15 I can stand it no longer. I poke the husband. "She still isn't home yet."
He stirs and his voice comes muffled from under the covers. "She's having a sleepover at the friend's house."
Oh. Right. I'd been told that. (Memory! Why have I no memory??) (Never mind that! Why didn't I poke him hours ago? Foolish woman, putting myself through this for nothing.)
But you know? Even if he had been expecting her home at midnight, he wouldn't have woken at fifteen minutes past. Because he, lucky man, does not have that momma clock that screams the alarm: "WHY ARE YOU SLEEPING?? ONE OF THE BABIES ISN'T IN THE NEST YET!!!"
And so he, the father, is rested, and I the step-mama, am two-thirds asleep and one-third dead.
Stupid Momma Clock.