I’ve been a stay-at-home dad for almost five years now. Sometimes I find it hard to believe that I’ve been doing this for so long. It’s been fun, aggravating, teeth-gnashing, illuminating, and above all, interesting. I’ve learned a lot these past few years. Here are ten things I’ve learned, sometimes easily, sometimes painfully.
10) You can never repeat yourself enough times. Children, in the immortal words of Bill Cosby, have brain damage. That’s why you have to repeat the same directions/commands over and over and over and over. In the time spent repeating yourself, the child could have done the required action a dozen times. Even explaining this irony will not make the child listen on the first, second, or thirteenth time you repeat the command on the next occasion action by them is required.
9) The Electric Company airing on the local PBS station at 5:30pm is perfect timing. This makes it possible for me to make dinner every night. The kids sit on the couch in the living room and are perfectly happy watching PBS. I can work in the kitchen to get dinner ready by 6pm.
To all you TV Puritans who say that I’m turning my kids’ brains to Jell-O: TV makes it possible for me to get housework done. Have you ever tried to fold laundry, balance the checkbook, wash dishes, clean the litter box, or sweep the kitchen floor with a child demanding to play Chutes & Ladders, draw with crayons, refill their sippy cup, or eat a snack, not to mention refereeing a dispute between two children? I rest my case. TV soothes the antic child.
8 ) To Cook. I’ve gone from using Rachel Ray’s 30-Minute Meals to baking whole chickens and trying recipes by Rick Bayless and Raghavan Iyer (Mexican Everyday and 660 Curries, respectively, have fantastic recipes if you like Mexican or Indian food). Now I can even bake fruit pies from scratch, making my own crust…Yeah, I like to bake. What’s it to yuh?
7) It is possible to grocery shop while a toddler is having a melt-down. Why is the toddler having a melt-down? It’s irrelevant. A toddler can have a melt-down over forgetting their favorite toy in the car, being out of juice or milk, or you refusing to buy them X, where X is some cheap toy or grossly unhealthy snack like Skittles. (For the record, I personally love those beautiful, teeth-rotting, rainbow-colored hits of sugar known as Skittles. I just don’t eat them very often. I downed a bag of them with a Pepsi before taking the ACT in high school. I’m sure they helped my score.) I ignore the shouting and screaming and calmly push the cart down the aisle as I gather things and check them off my grocery list. Only once in five years of grocery shopping with small children have I had to abandon my half-filled cart and physically carry a kicking and screaming child (my son) out of the store.
6) Patience. By nature I’m an impatient bastard. Children need to be herded, cajoled, nurtured, disciplined, calmed, complimented, scolded, fed, bathed, and so much much more, all the things that are necessary when loving them. None can be done without a healthy dose of patience on my part. My patience has grown with each passing year of fatherhood.
5) Where there are children there are no such things as “peace,” “quiet,” and “cleanliness.” I am told that some day, when the kids have grown and are gone, that my wife and I will miss all this ruckus. I don’t believe them.
4) Laundry is never destroyed. It is only created. A central law of Physics is that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. Laundry breaks this law. There is ALWAYS laundry. Empty hampers do not, nor will they ever, exist as long as there are children around.
3) It usually takes three or four good scrubbings to get the smell of shit out of your hands. How do I know this? The first couple of times I rinsed out my potty-training son’s underwear after he did NOT do Number Two in the toilet, I washed my hands. Moments later I went to itch my nose and received a whiff of shit. I returned to the bathroom to wash my hands again. I smelled my fingers. The smell of shit was still on them. So I washed again and again until the smell was no longer there, replaced by the disinfectant scent of the anti-bacterial soap. This repetitive washing has continued with potty-training our daughter, who pees without problems in the toilet but still only does Number Two in the toilet about a quarter of the time.
2) Dry Erase Markers and children do not mix. Dry erase markers are evil. They are not useful when it comes to small children. Any art-supply type item that can not be washed out of clothes, carpet, and furniture should not be allowed within 50 yards of children under 10. That is all.
1) Joy is contagious, children’s joy that is. It’s cliché, I know. But there are few things that fill the heart with happiness as watching your own child have a good time, like watching seahorses in a tank at an aquarium, chasing bubbles in the driveway or backyard, playing with water at a children’s museum, laughing with their grandparents, or painting with watercolors. It’s this joy that (cliché alert) does make it all worth it.