It sounded like a great deal: throttle back on freelance work for a few months after my wife’s maternity leave ended, take care of our new arrival until we were comfortable enough sending him to daycare, and find time to write when he was taking a nap. She gets to go back to work with the little guy still in the house. He gets a few more months of full-time care at home. We save a few thousand bucks. I get to take it easy and play Cool Dad, hanging out at Starbucks with him strapped to my chest in a carrier, just like they show in the commercials.
That was the ideal. The reality? Still plenty of giggles, still tons of quality time, still the right move. But I was never Cool Dad. Instead, I became Advil Dad.
The plan was for me to serve as Mr. Mom for a little over five months, which on the calendar didn’t look like too much of a challenge. Hey, 220, 221, whatever it takes, right? Six weeks in, I realized what we called my “paternity leave” was going to be a much longer and more painful haul than I’d anticipated. I’ve always battled back issues, and had to be very careful picking up and putting down our older daughter. But I rarely cared for her all day, every day, and with one child we had much more flexibility in how we handled things. Now with a second kiddo, and with both of them being under 2 years old, that luxury was gone.
Ultimately, I was completely unprepared for the physical challenge of full-time baby-raising. My low back hurts, my left hip hurts, my right shoulder hurts, my wrists hurt. I’ve had days when my fingers were so numb and clumsy from gripping little ones that I fumbled shirt buttons. There were mornings when my calves ached from hours of bouncing upset babies up and down. My ribcage is always sore. I was probably doing it wrong; indeed, I know I was doing it wrong. My regular workout schedule evaporated, my posture went to pot from all the bending over, I tossed down NSAIDs by the handful. I was reduced to a hunched-over shell of my former self by this giggly and adorable baby boy.
And work? What a ridiculous concept. On my first day of daddy duty, he took a one-hour nap in the morning and a two-hour nap in the afternoon. “Perfect!” I thought as I happily clicked away on my freelance copy, envisioning five months of productive work during his nap times. That fantasy was shattered on day two, when he slept for 10 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon, and by the end of the day was so tired and angry I felt like I was shushing a baby wolverine.
So yeah, the work schedule became highly unpredictable, leading us to enlist a few hours’ help each morning, when a friend’s daughter would sit with him so I wouldn’t fall too terribly behind on assignments. Those television commercials, often by for-profit colleges, that show parents clicking ably away on a keyboard while cuddling a small child at the same time? Don’t believe them.
And that’s all before the almost-two-year-old we call the Blonde Hurricane gets home from daycare, and the baby craziness is cranked up to 11. The day we brought her little brother home from the hospital, she showed off her newest skill — climbing to the top of the sofa. More recently, she’s learned how to tell me “Go away!” and demand the “Baby Shark” song every waking moment. It’s precious, let me tell you. Weekends with a relatively immobile baby and a highly mobile sledgehammer of a toddler put your quick-twitch reflexes to the test, like a Honduran goalkeeper fending off an onslaught of Brazilians in the World Cup.
It’s relentless. Monday, Thursday, Sunday, Thanksgiving, Boxing Day, Talk Like a Pirate Day, the Feast of San Fermin — there’s no difference. Every day is essentially the same, beginning at roughly 6 a.m. with Reveille sounded from the kids’ rooms . (There’s a reason this blog hasn’t been updated in so long.) My wife and I sometimes look at each other and wonder, what on earth did we do with all the free time before we had kids? How was not every home improvement project undertaken and completed, the yard not always perfect, the house not always freshly painted, every free moment not always a bonanza of fun, food, and drink? Why did we sit around and watch so much “Southern Charm”? Damn you, Craig!
And yet — it’s great, it’s wonderful, it’s incredible, and it’s all been completely worth it. The last five months have given me such a newfound respect for stay-at-home moms, of which my own mother was one, who do this all day every day without a finish line like the one I always had in sight. Our little guy will benefit from the socialization and discovery of daycare just as his sister has. I will benefit by going back to work. But goodness, will I miss all that free time with him, much of it spent just lying on the floor laughing at one another, him grasping at my hair and glasses. I’ll remember it every time my low back begins to throb, and I reach for the Advil bottle once again.