"All I know is that I got fired from the laundry," says Amy Swanson.
Swanson, or Mommy Amy as her youngest daughter calls her, laughs between sips of white wine. Sitting next to her on a leather couch in the living room of their 1911 Craftsman is Heather Block, or Mama Heather, who shoots Swanson a look of mock disgust.
“Well, that’s only because I was fired from the cooking. Everything I make is apparently ‘too healthy’ for everyone,” Block says. “So she’s in charge of cooking now. That’s why you got a cooking class for Mother’s Day, right, honey?”
Swanson fills her wineglass, pats their daughter Janna on the head, and settles back into the couch. The pixie-ish 4-year-old, to whom Swanson gave birth via artificial insemination with the help of a friend who offered to be the sperm donor, is sitting quietly on a little car shaped like a rocket ship. Periodically a digitized voice emerges from the ship: “Ready for blastoff!” Another child, 11-year-old Emily, Block’s younger daughter from her marriage to her ex-husband, reclines in a chair opposite the couch. She’s friendly, but performs the part of a disinterested preadolescent well, twirling her long, flaxen hair around her finger and occasionally rolling her eyes.
Block is the more serious of the two moms. Her demeanor is sweet, but stern—you might call it momlike&8212;as she talks about her frustrations when “things don’t get done around here” and her overall lack of patience with “everyone’s crazy schedules.” Not unordinary concerns coming from a modern family of five.
“But the nice thing is that I can say to Amy, ‘You’re not listening to me.’ And she’ll say, ‘Oh, I’m not? I’m sorry. What do you need?’” says Block. “Just that ability to be on the same page, in that I want to stop and hear what you have to say kind of way—it’s amazing.” Block says her relationship with Swanson is pleasantly free from the power struggles she sometimes experienced during her marriage to her ex-husband.
Swanson is breezy and lighthearted when she admits her shortcomings on the domestic front. She had to learn to pick up the pace a bit in terms of staying on top of chores, which comes with living in a home where each partner expects the other to pull her weight equally—an aspect of their relationship that Swanson says she doesn’t always see in some of the male-female households she knows. “That said, I know I’ll never be up to Heather’s standards in terms of keeping the house clean,” Swanson says, smiling. “I tend to camp out with the kids on that one."
After the pork chops on the grill are done, we move to the patio for dinner. While we eat, the family talks about their church, the New Thought Center for Spiritual Living; the moms’ jobs (Swanson works as an internal communications manager at the Standard, an insurance company, and Block in preventive care at Kaiser Permanente), and what time they need to pick up their oldest daughter, 15-year-old Mekyla, who’s at a sleep-away church camp in Vernonia until Saturday. The moms also gush about how excited they are for their upcoming nine-day trip to Cape Cod in August. It will be only their second vacation without the kids in the 10 years they’ve been together.
Once Emily clears the dishes (she wants it to be known that she did this without being asked) and stacks them on the kitchen counter, the family retires to the living room. Emily curls up next to Block on the couch. Janna sits on Swanson’s lap and places a tinfoil crown on her mother’s head. “Mommy, you look bee-oo-tiful,” she proclaims.
About 10 minutes later, Block asks Emily if she could please put the dishes in the dishwasher. Emily frowns. She tells me she can’t wait for school to start in September so she won’t have to do as many chores.
“OK, how about a new plan?” Block offers, clearly too tired at 8:30 on a Tuesday night to push the matter. “How about everybody gets in their jammies and you can watch a TiVo’d episode of So You Think You Can Dance before bed. Sound good?”
The kids meet the offer with just enough enthusiasm to indicate approval. “See? Don’t we make parenting look like so much fun?” Swanson says, smiling. “We really are a normal, regular family. There just happens to not be a man living here.”