I have never for a moment bought into the idea that stay-at-home mothers lived the life of luxury that I think something people do. I actually wonder how many people really believe that it’s an endless life of bon-bon eating and television watching. I suppose you could also throw in the occasional lunch out or coffee klatch. All in all, while I think people like to make the jokes in much the same way they would joke that jobs are nothing but paper shuffling and business lunches, I doubt many people truly think that way.
I just finished a week during which, save for about twelve hours in the middle, I was on my own with all four of my children. Amy, blessedly still gainfully employed, had back-to-back conferences that had her away from one Saturday afternoon until the following late Sunday night. It was a week that featured trips to “church school”, the grocery store, soccer games, the mall, and any number of other sojourns out in the real world. It also featured, in all honesty, all four kids getting sent to school during the week. I think I might be dead any other way.
This was a week I approached with dread, for I knew about it months in advance. I knew “that week” was out there somewhere in the future and, once in October, I thought it was the following week and I may or may not have had heart palpitations. It’s not that I think I can’t do it; I know I can. It’s simply that it isn’t my idea of fun.
There have been a couple times that the idea of my being a stay-at-home dad has surfaced. Even when employed, it must be said, I was not the primary breadwinner in this partnership. In fact, for the whole of our relationship, except for maybe one month, Amy has always made more than me. Truth be told, during that one month, it didn’t even feel right. As such, there exists the possibility that for whatever reason, I could end up at home, much like I am now. To this point, we have left the kids all where they are. Point of fact, Maggie and Henry do not even realize that I no longer go into the office every day.
Another reason we have left them where they are is the fact that we remain optimistic, perhaps foolishly so, that I will be back to work at some point before the severance runs out. I still feel that way, for the record.
Finally, as I have been alluding to, we’ve continued with the status quo because frankly, I’m not SAHD material. I just don’t think I’ve got it in me. This week probably confirmed that for me.
And it’s no one thing that wears me down as much as it is the never-ending aspect of it. Maggie, at seven-and-a-half is the oldest and seems downright mature in the group. You know when you’re relying on a second grader to babysit, even for only a few minutes at a time, that things aren’t necessarily at their best.
Henry is a dichotomy. He was, at times, extremely helpful and nice. He fed one of the twins yogurt and often shared his own with them both. On the other hand, he is known for bouts of truculence that make him a bit of a frustration from time to time.
Add to this that, surprisingly, a seven-year-old and a five-year-old can find an amazing array of issues to disagree on and, subsequently, discuss with fervor. For instance, who gets to stand on the “Theo” footstool in the bathroom is worthy of energetic debate. So too are any of the following: who gets to give which bottle to which baby, who gets to hand me an empty box, and even what color cup Henry drank out of yesterday. In a vacuum, this disunion would be little more than annoying but when coupled with, as I termed it before, herding twins, it can become quite vexing.
That’s the thing about twin toddlers – they rarely seem to want to toddle in the same direction. Plus, despite being small enough to walk between my legs without ducking, they move at a surprisingly rapid pace. How about that amazing childlike curiosity about which so many rave? Wonderful except when it manifests itself in a kitchen cabinet on that side of the house and desk drawer on the other.
Preparing meals was equal parts challenge and relief. On the one hand, there is no telling what a child will eat what on any given night. With the older two, I learned that as long as I came up with ever more creative ways to cut a sandwich, I could get them to eat one. Only twice (yes, I know, out of only nine days) did I resort to plopping “lunchables” down on the table in front of them and wishing them well. The younger ones are even more confusing. While yogurt was always a winner, other staples (fruit bars, cereal, pizza, grilled cheese, crackers) were hit-and-miss. On the other hand, the one good thing about meal time was that the babies were locked into their seats and the older kids pretty much stayed put too.
I’ll readily acknowledge that some people may get worked up over my above menu. I’ll also readily guess that they haven’t spent the better part of nine days in the sole caretakerage (I may or may not have just made up that word. Microsoft has angrily underlined it in red on my screen) of four children seven and under. Try to get an 18-month-old to eat a salad and couscous on a pita, why dontcha?
Finally, the most difficult and, of course, dreaded part of any day was leaving the house. As I have outlined in the past, our morning routine relies heavily on parental partnership. Our orchestrations include my running Maggie to school while Amy stays behind with the boys and their continued preparations for another day at battle. This doesn’t work without that other adult in the house. While I may be comfortable leaving Maggie in charge for five minutes while I take what passes for a shower at times like this, I hardly think child services would think it appropriate for me to leave Henry in charge while I run Maggie to school. If nothing else, given that, at one point during the week, I walked into the living room to find him standing atop an aging glass top corner table, I think he may send mixed messages to his younger siblings.
This obviously meant that a trip out for one meant a trip out for all. Monday through Friday was the routine challenge of having everyone awake, changed, dressed, and fed such that we could walk out into the cold no later than 8AM so Maggie could run into school seconds before the 8:10 late bell rang. I would like to say we made it every day. I would like to.
Aside from our 60% success rate at avoiding Maggie’s getting a tardy, we also had Friday night soccer, Saturday morning soccer, Sunday morning CCD classes, and, at least, two trips to the grocery store. Granted, it was certainly easier by the second CCD class (representative of our last trip out) than the first (our first.) But never was it easy. Again we have the mercurial Henry who can, when it doesn’t really matter, completely dress himself from head to socks-and-shoes but, when the clock’s a-tickin’ suddenly needs help doing everything.
The worst part of the week was actually Thursday night. Somewhere around thirty minutes after we climbed our stairs and fell into the house, I hit the wall. That was one of the “lunchables” nights and an evening, I will admit, that the babies had little more than a couple handfuls of cereal and yogurt fed to them by their older siblings. In between each time that I would have to actually get up to get one of these healthy and nutritious treats, I would return to collapse on to the living room couch. It was the second most tired I recall being without virtue of actually being sick. (The first involved me sleeping, fully clothed in a suit and overcoat, beneath a stairwell at Cleveland’s Jacobs Field. It’s a story for another time, I suppose.)
I managed, just, to get them (kind of) fed and into bed. Knowing that it would only be worse if I waited, I still cobbled together their lunches for the next day and was in bed and fully asleep before 9PM. Even in my many years of working morning drive radio, I don’t think I often went to bed quite that early.
I managed to get a second wind and, honestly, by yesterday, I had managed to not only arrive at CCD ten minutes early, but tacked on a trip to the mall and Target. When we got home, we also managed to tidy up a few rooms of the house. By the time Amy walked into the house just before midnight, I had my second load of laundry going in the basement, the dishwasher running in the kitchen, and a couple bags garbage from a cleaned out fridge in the trash outside.
I’m not fooling myself too much though. Knowing that I was at the end of the experience is what probably gave me that adrenaline-like boost to the finish line. I think that if Amy were to be gone another week, I’d still be knee-deep in empty yogurt cups and dirty laundry.
So, no, I am not about to embrace stay-at-home-fatherhood. I have great admiration for those men and women who can do the job. I also think a nod toward their supporting partners is worthwhile. I can imagine that one of those most trying times is when the employed parent walks into the house and the end of the day ready to relax while her or his partner is ready to do the same now that the cavalry has arrived. If I were a cartoonist, I would draw up a little panel in which the two parents play hot potato with a baby neither wants at that particular moment. I am not a cartoonist so I’ll instead ask you to imagine it. (Give the baby just one little curl coming out of the top of his head. It makes it funnier, trust me.)
Also I think it bears repeating — my “work week” (ha!) consisted of six or seven hours in the middle in which I was only responsible for the care and feeding of myself. Admittedly, I am a bit of a challenge.
I don’t know if you know anyone who believes in the “bon-bon” fantasy of stay-at-home parenthood (I don’t think there are many left at this point) but if you do, give him a quick but firm kick in the shins. Go ahead and dump a bowl of cereal in her lap. Maybe ask him, in rapid-fire succession, a series of inane questions. Or just scream, until your face turns bright red and you eventually go silent for lack of breath, right in her face. If you can manage, do all these things at once and come up with more. Follow the person around for eight straight hours and then see if and when they take that moment to put their feet up, turn on their stories, and take that nap that all those SAHP’s must enjoy every day.
(typographical note: I have just learned in the past week that the standard double space after a period is no longer the preferred model. Apparently it’s actually been this way for quite awhile. Did you know this? I, for one, had no idea. After thirty some odd years of typing with the double space, I don’t know that I can learn it any other way. Anyway, this is my first post without it, though to be honest, I had to do it after the fact by using the “search and replace” function provided me by Word. I guess it looks okay.)