Man of the House
Desperately Seeking an "Eski-mom"
As a male primary caregiver, our columnist discovers that finding a mom to be his “bro” is an epic quest.
By the time our daughter Georgia had turned 4 and our son Waller had turned 2, my wife’s career as a costume designer was exploding thanks to her work on Jill Soloway’s Sundance-winner "Afternoon Delight." She became the primary breadwinner, and I became the primary caregiver. Prior to this switch, the most impressive line on my parenting curriculum vitae was organizing the annual Dad's Night Out for our local elementary school.
Instead of dipping an occasional toe into the pool of child-rearing, I found myself tossed into the coldest depths of the ocean. Truth be told: I was drowning. I needed help and not the kind of parenting advice that gets doled out over red meat and cold gin once a year. I needed real and constant guidance from someone who knew the ropes – a confidant, a mentor, a partner in crime. In addiction recovery programs, they have a term for this: “the Eskimo.” He or she is the person who leads you out of the cold, and this is what I longed for in parenting. I needed to find my “Eski-mom.”
Part of me expected this shaman to present herself through a swift initiation into the sisterhood of mothers with an invitation to their sacred colloquium: Moms’ Night Out. There I’d be paired with a suitable mom-rade who would show me The Way. But that invitation never materialized. To find my Eski-mom I would have to look somewhere else.
My quest took me to new worlds before I eventually landed on a planet that felt like home. I started at my local park in the Hollywood Hills. There I found an eclectic group of neo-hippies struggling to integrate parenthood into their once carefree lives. They were dancers and directors, writers and yoga instructors. There was even another parentally involved man like myself – a whippet-thin redhead who was the spitting image of Eric Stoltz. (Spoiler alert: It was Eric Stoltz.) We talked about the best nut cheeses and seitan, and how beeswax is a more versatile entertainment medium than television. And despite the fact that I had to pretend that my wife and I had not mercilessly sleep-trained both children, it did for a moment feel like a place where I belonged.
"Instead of dipping an occasional toe into the pool of child-rearing, I found myself tossed into the coldest depths of the ocean. Truth be told: I was drowning."
But when I went back to work as a film producer and had to enlist a nanny for a few hours a day, I discovered that my parenting style was at odds with these peace-loving creative types with eons of time on their hands. I realized it was not the right group for me when juggling breakfast and a conference call one morning, a parent kept trying to buzz into my call. After rejecting her several times, I eventually figured there must be an emergency and finally clicked over only to hear a quavering 5-year-old voice, “Is Georgia home?”
When her mom chimed in, “Hiiii, Nick!” I snapped.
“Guys, please! I’m trying to pay my mortgage!” There may have been an F-bomb slipped in there, too, and my daughter later informed me they were both expecting apologies. That never materialized as I realized my chances of finding my Eski-mom with this group had dwindled to zero once everyone discovered that due to work obligations, I could no longer take my turn hosting the daily 2 p.m. playdate.
I course corrected and sought out a mom peer group that shared my struggle to balance their roles as primary caregivers with their roles as working parents. I joined the school’s fundraising committee. At the first meeting, there were six working moms at the conference table, but they were hardly “peers.” I mean, they were moms for Chrissakes. But moms in that way that makes you feel like an inept, overgrown child wiping boogers on your corduroys. They were Fortune-500 badasses who took no prisoners and adjourned the meeting while I was still trying to decide which breakfast pastry to devour.
Next, I tried swiping left and right through the roster of moms that parented my kids’ closest friends. Weirdly, the only moms who tend to share my approach to parenting turned out to be impossibly rich. This is mostly a good thing, as the birthday party catering skews toward adult fare. (Hello, jambon ficelle!)
The houses with their space and staff are bastions of calm compared to the cramped hoarder’s nest that is our home. But inevitably, days come along during which the task of childcare feels soul-crushingly lonely, and you reach out to one of your rich mothers-in-arms hoping they’ll swing by for a playdate and some company. It feels like a cruel bait and switch when they text back, “Yes!” and then their kid arrives in the company of two impossibly attractive, unemployed actresses-cum-nannies. Don’t get me wrong, I’m shallow enough to love the company of beautiful people, but sometimes you just want to sit around in your sweats and bro-out with another mom.
I figured I’d finally meet my Eski-mom at the school’s annual family camping trip. As the weak and humorless would be crumbling when forced to hang tarps in the rain, I’d look across a muddy meadow and spy a fellow traveler also laughing at the elements. But it turns out we are not camping; we are “glamping.” We’re not even staying in tents, but rather cozy cabins with full kitchens and baths. And there is nothing at all fatalistic about this weekend. Every moment is planned to the last nanosecond, crammed full of family hikes and volunteer sessions at the rainbow loom.
As the sun sets and all the moms prepare multi-course meals replete with cheese platters and wine pairings, my kids wilt in despair at my can of three-bean chili. I quickly tuck it away, and we opt instead to hover around the picnic tables like wild dogs furtively scrounging for scraps. While the other moms could not be more welcoming, their entreaties to "make myself at home" just remind me how far from my element I have strayed. I have tried so hard here but have only managed to deliver a dad’s triumph where a mom’s was required. I recede into the darkness of my empty cabin to stare at the rafters and wonder why I didn’t think to bring lobster tails and a wheel of brie. Why didn’t anyone warn me?
My reverie of self-immolation is interrupted when the whole cabin lurches suddenly, and I hear two sets of ecstatic skips and hops that tell me my kids are home. “Whew,” Waller says as he steps in the door. “Flashlight tag’s gone loco out there.” And it’s true. I can hear the shrieks of terror echoing down the canyon like an elementary school version of “The Purge.”
“Yeah,” my Georgia echoes. “I’m staying in, tonight.” Then the two coolest kids in my entire parent-verse snuggle under the covers and stare up at the moon with me, and I am reminded that what I may lack in an Eski-mom, I more than make up for in my trusty musher and her intrepid lead dog.
Nick Morton is a film and TV producer living in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @mortonopoulis.