Where to begin…
I’ve been a stay at home dad now since since mid-March. I have a routine in mind that I like to stick to. A schedule I like to keep.
It’s usually abandoned around 9am.
I like to sleep in a few days a week. My kids don’t care what time I like to get up in the morning. I like to take a few minutes to gather myself after I wake up, sit at the edge of the bed, check ESPN on my phone, maybe even take a shower, and try to gather some energy before I start my day. My daughter Mara likes to start her morning earlier than expected, shit all outside her diaper, running it all down her thigh and leg, and tell me ‘I pooped it’ as I pick her up out of her crib…a cunning, cruel, sly smile on her face…avoiding direct eye contact. She knows how to piss me off and keep me smiling. It took 38 years on earth, and having a daughter, to find a person in my life that could do that for me at the same time.
My wife works from home. She likes to work in her office uninterrupted. I do my absolute best to keep any sort of kid responsibility and activity away from her desk…She gets kid-bombed at least five times a day. And that’s just the younger kids. Our two oldest hit her up probably three times as much, often times camping out in her office, with not nearly the amount of relevant urgency. At least the little ones need something, or at least think they do. The big kids, whether they know it or not, pester her out of boredom. I’d describe watching my wife, a busy working-from-home mom, reacting to a teenager loitering around her office, bothering her multiple times a day for no reason, as delayed humor…Creeper comedy if you will. It doesn’t hit you as being funny at first, but looking back on it later, cracks me up.
Taking the kids outside multiple times a day is a big emphasis throughout the week. Sometimes a wrinkle gets thrown into those plans if it’s raining, too hot, or too cold out. Then I have to make the necessary adjustments. A few days ago it was overcast, and raining hard off and on. I brought Harrison and Mara out to play in the backyard during a gap between downpours. After we all got out there I realized Travis forgot to scoop up all the dog shit from the day before. Calmly, I told the two little ones to stand still, while I went to grab my little spade shovel, leaning against the fence maybe 6-8 feet away, to disperse of it. In the two seconds it took me to grab that shovel, Harrison had managed to get about 30 feet away and cake both of his croc’d-wearing feet into a fresh pile of shit. I started cussing. Didn’t care at all about ‘kid language’ at that moment. I was so pissed. After 30 seconds or so I hear… ‘Dad you don’t want that?…You don’t want me to step in the dog poop?’…in a whispered, timid voice. No. Harrison. No. I didn’t. Important clarification. Thanks for asking. Now I gotta stay outside longer than expected just getting him to run around like crazy to get that shit off his shoes. Which I guess wouldn’t be so bad if it was just him and I, but Mara is still around. She hates rain. And this little angel can sense a drop, or any sort of mist, from miles away. So her yelling in the background, when it starts to slightly sprinkle, as I’m still getting her brother to ‘run it off’, was the icing on the cake…Relentlessly screaming and whaling, while jump-running in place. For no reason.
Lunchtime yet? Eh, still about an hour to go. Not my lunchtime by the way. My time to serve lunch. Big difference. If I can eat either breakfast or lunch on any given day that’s a big win for me. Most days I’ll try to grab a late lunch after Mara goes down for her nap. Every once in awhile I get lucky and grandma takes Harrison around the same time. That’s when I really treat myself…take my time with it while eating something at home, go get some take-out tacos, or, on a special occasion, maybe take a drive over to the Inn-N-Out burger. It’s funny, that was pretty much my lunch everyday when I had no kids. Now it’s a special occasion.
After lunch, nap time for Mara, downtime for Harrison. Surprisingly, Mara taking a nap: You can set your clock to it. She’s 100% from the field. Never misses it. Not surprisingly, Harrison: Not always a big fan of down time. Maybe 60%. Which overall is a good thing. I want a son who wants to be active and have fun all day. But I’d also like one who gives me a break every once in awhile. Upon command if possible.
The Afternoon brings out the snacks, (oranges, granola bars, milk, apple juice, etc) tablet time, more outside play, and then dinner. That’s when Harrison struts around boldly claiming he’s not eating dinner. No matter what’s on the menu. He puffs his chest out and announces he doesn’t like pizza, chicken, macaroni, or whatever else. Everything he likes and always eats, he happens to hate at the specific time of our dinner announcement. Once that little five minute segment is nipped in the bud, his mother graciously feeds him, Mara, and herself all at the same time. Both kids perfectly capable of feeding themselves, but most of the time craving too much attention to actual do it. During dinner the older kids are constantly piping up in the background. Topics include a lot of nonsense about government conspiracy theories, most of which neither qualify as government or conspiracies. My oldest daughter is full of them. I usually just ignore them because they’re harmless. Stuff like how the name ‘Berenstain’ in the ‘Berenstain Bears’ book series used to be pronounced differently than it is now. I humored her once, asked what she thought about the JFK assassination, and she had no clue that there were any conspiracy theories surrounding it. That’s all I needed to hear. I buried future inquires for life at that point. Our oldest son sits at the table asking us questions he already knows the answers to, and talks just to hear himself talk most of the time. And this is happening all at once.
After dinner my wife needs to remind the older kids to do chores 4-8 times before they actually start doing them, often times while she is still working late herself. 20% of the time the chores will be done completely, properly, and correctly. I do my best to keep Harrison from bouncing off the walls during this time and I also put Mara to bed. She hardly ever wants to go to sleep, but she loves her ‘babies’ (all her stuffed animals) and if we say they are tired she feels obligated to go sleep with them. Once my wife discovered this a few months ago, I’ve just been running with it. Never fails.
After Mara goes down, and Harrison is couch tired, the rest of the family will play a game or watch a movie. My older kids got me a nice set of poker chips for my birthday in April. Lately when we choose game over movie it’s been let’s play poker. They say they like it, they want to learn, and still say its fun. I taught them the rules and what beats what. That’s it. They can figure the rest out on their own. I don’t cut them any slack. When the game starts, they don’t stand a chance, and frankly neither does my wife, unless she somehow manages to avoid me all night and picks on the kids…and even then it’s only a 50/50 shot. On the nights we watch movies we pick a name out of the hat. That person gets to pick the movie. If my name is drawn I make a safe, conscientious, diplomatic pick. Considering everybody. No complaints. The rest of the time everyone else hates the pick that Mom, Chloe, or Travis made…to the point where they argue and don’t even watch the movie sometimes. Can you imagine that? After a person’s name has been picked it can’t go back in the hat until everyone else has been drawn and had a chance to watch the movie of their choice. It’s a formula that sometimes makes you have to suffer through a movie you might not want to watch, but it’ll soon be your turn, you’ll get your chance. Wait your turn. It’s that simple. (The same principle as teaching your kids they can’t always get what they want all the time.) So shutting up and watching the movie someone else selected would be the ideal coping method right? Otherwise don’t participate. It’s the “I never wanted to play anyway,” response the grade-school kid always gave after he lost at a game. I have a good friend that lived across the street from me when we were kids that used to always say that when we were 6 years old…he got over it around the age of 9. But here we are–family time–and it’s the same principle. Ironically, the sooner everyone realizes 90% of movies and shows are crap, and exist just as an excuse to bond or spend time together, the better off we all are. We watched a movie last night that Chloe didn’t choose, or want to watch, and she was on her phone every time I looked over at her. I’m good with it, because my attitude on the situation is never gonna change…I’ll be up for anyones movie anytime they pick it…I’ll just keep leading by example, like I did with my buddy across the street back in the day. And if the attitude on movie night never changes…who cares!!! Right!?! If the small ones are asleep, I’m good no matter what.
After the hotly-contested movie watching is over, it’s my bed time. But knowing that I don’t have to ‘work’ tomorrow, does that mean I usually go right to bed? No, no, no. In fact I often think of this as my time. Doesn’t really work out well in the morning, but at that moment it always seems ideal, especially if my wife says she’s tired and just wants to go to sleep. What can I do with this added free time? I usually dish up some vanilla ice cream, maybe put a few M&M’s in it and/or mix myself a cocktail. Then I’ll scroll through Netflix. Not smart…See paragraph 4 of this post and you’ll know why.
But I think every father should have to be a stay home dad at some point in his life when his kids are younger. Overall it’s an unbelievably amazing experience. At the same time, it will change the mindset of any father who has ever come home from work expecting the house to be clean, dinner to be ready, and everything else to be in order. It’s a privilege when that happens, not a right. And frankly I think it’s a miracle. Rarely do I have the house clean, or anything in order. And I certainly never have dinner ready.
I spend most of my time just trying to keep the kids alive.