At-Home Dad As Empty Nester

It’s as if my life is flashing forward 15 years, when our second-born will head off to college: there are no children in the house.

My parents graciously agreed to keep our two kids for a few days between Christmas and New Year’s. It gives the kids some time at Grandparent Camp, and it gives me a few days to work on a freelance assignment with practically no interruptions at all. In fact, I wish there were some –- it’s too quiet for too long.

This must be what it’s like to be an empty nester. I’m not used to focusing for hours on end on anything at all. The constant changing demands on my attention that come with being an at-home dad (meal prep, time to go to school, finding shoes, folding laundry, more meal prep, “he hit me!” or “Who was president during the War of 1812?” and so on) are so different from the focusing for long periods that come with professional journalism. Sure, the phone rings and editors and colleagues ask about this or that in an office, but thinking and writing for hours on end is tiring in an entirely different kind of way.

By 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon, I had had it. My lovely bride was home sick, so we went to the movies! We didn’t book a babysitter! We didn’t admonish the children to behave before we left, or lay out pajamas and figure out what leftovers the sitter could give the kids for supper. And when we got back around 7:30, we fixed supper in peace and actually got to eat while the food was hot! No supper getting cold while I holler “For the third time, I said, wash your hands! Put down your art project, or I’m coming to throw it in the trash!”

I’m not a big fan of baked potatoes. Fried, scalloped or mashed –- maybe. But my wife never lets me forget that I once called them “starch bombs” because they’re so boring and bland unless you slather them with butter, sour cream, salt and bacon bits -– all delicious, but completely negating any nutritional value. So I only fix baked potatoes about twice a year, under duress. But last night, we warmed up some leftover “twice-baked potatoes” (one of my wife’s favorite recipes, which she made for Christmas dinner) and ate them while they were hot. Before I looked down, I had eaten all she put on my plate. Getting people to the table while the food is hot – an impossibility with a first-grader and a preschooler – made everything taste better.

As we dined by candlelight, we actually discussed the movie –- uninterrupted. After washing the dishes, there was no rush to put children to bed. We played the TV at whatever volume we wanted. And when my wife was upstairs and I was down, I just called up to her in a loud voice with my question –- knowing there were no kiddos I would wake.

But I miss having the children around. Getting to read to them. To kiss their bellies and extort hugs out of our son (our daughter hugs with abandon). Having a reason to get out of the house, other than to walk the dog. Having a reason to interact with other grownups, usually prompted by the kids. And with more time, I have less energy to do the housework that I usually scramble to cram in before preschool pickup or elementary school lets out -– unload the dishwasher, clean the bathroom, vacuum the living room, and on and on. What’s the rush? I’ll do it later.

Tonight, my wife is going to the gym after work, then having drinks with a coworker, then we actually get to go out to dinner. At whatever time we want! With no Working Mommy Guilt for ditching the kids after not seeing them all day. We can stay out as long as we want, but we’ll probably be back by 8:30 or 9, feeling drowsy as soon as we get home.

And for a moment, we’ll wonder where the children are.

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