My jaw dropped recently when a guy at church asked me, “So what do you do when the kids are at school?”
In 2010 modern America?
You’re asking me this?
It was at a church band rehearsal, where musicians included a drummer with a newborn and a singer and at-home mom with a 2-year-old and a 5-month-old baby. The band members are a jovial bunch, good-naturedly ribbing each other. But I couldn’t tell if the guy asking me – he works at the church and is younger than I am, with a toddler, I think – was teasing or really wondered what I do when I’m not lying on the couch eating bonbons.
The at-home mom’s eyes widened as she turned to look at me.
“Well, I can have a beer at 4 o’clock whenever I want to…” I said.
He wasn’t laughing it off. I think he was serious.
“But really, I clean the house, buy the groceries, take the kids to the dentist, scrub the toilet, do the laundry, organize the basement, scrub the bathroom, cut the grass,” I said. “That keeps me pretty busy.”
I suspect the guy was trying to ask what I do professionally – or did before I became an at-home dad – but that’s not what he said. I eventually told him I’m a journalist by trade. He had wandered away by the time I mentioned that I had a paid gig earlier this year. I actually made money!
What I forgot to tell the guy – I’m not the quickest with unplanned witty responses – was when I’m not doing those things, I fix breakfast (my waffles from scratch are awesome). I pack lunches and try not to do lots of prepackaged, processed stuff. I fix a hot supper five nights a week. I clean it all up three times a day, and I boss the cleanup of bedrooms and playrooms. I walk the dog twice a day.
I find the right soccer league for my firstborn and choose the right ballet class for my second child.
I drop my wife’s dry cleaning and pick it up. I buy the birthday presents for my kids’ friends. I find a reputable carpet cleaning operation and jam the living room rug into my car to haul it there and back. I paint the bathroom and replace the front-door light fixture. I potty train two children in a house with no first-floor bathroom (I’m long done with that one – whew!).
And then I volunteer at my son’s school. I dig worms from my compost bin for his first-grade class’s science experiments. I pay the bills. I get the car inspected at the place way the heck across town. I hunt down overdue library books by the dozen and try to schmooze my way out of paying the fines.
Individually, none of these tasks are especially difficult. But focusing on any one thing for more than five minutes without interruption – now that’s the hard part.
Oh, and when I’m not doing all that, I’m busy actually rearing my children. I mediate endless ridiculous disputes. I determine whether an offense requires a timeout or is merely worthy of an admonition. I make them get dressed and brush their teeth. I hold them still long enough to comb their hair – well, my daughter, at least. I take them to a weekly gathering of at-home dads and kids, which they’ve come to think as so normal that our son asked one time, “How old do mommies have to be to go to law school?”
I teach them manners (read: pound into their thick little skulls) and get them not to talk like rotten little potty-mouthed kids. I try to train them not to want lots of TV or computer time and instead think up their own things to play, preferably outside. (Now we’re getting to the more abstract stuff that’s a lot harder to figure out.) I try to instill enough (but not too much) of a sense of danger when my 7-year-old plays outside out of my view that he won’t get hit by a car or abducted.
Yep, I do that, too.
When I’m not eating bonbons.