As I sit down to write this, I imagine a dramatically lit hourglass perched on the desk in front of me, the slipping sand warning me that shortly they will awaken — ravenous, pulling books off shelves, turning electronic devices on and off at random, climbing everything in sight, and tearing open any package of food they can get their hands on.
Nap time, after all, only lasts so long.
I should be cleaning. There’s fried rice all over (and under) the kitchen table and chairs. The sink is piling up with dishes; the floor I just mopped two nights ago is developing an unwholesome texture I’d rather not describe; and it’s a quarter after two in the afternoon, and I’ve not even begun any preparations for dinner.
Welcome to another day at my new job: stay-at-home dad.
How it happened is a bit of a mystery. One minute, I had a nine-to-five in Washington, D.C., that almost paid the bills and let my lovely wife be at home with the kids; and the next, I was squinting into the Arizona sun, trying to figure out how long it would take to remove melted gummy bear vitamins from an outdoor carpet with only the aid of a standard, leaky garden hose. The journey was a bit fuzzy, but at the end of the day, a seemingly sensible plan to move cross-country to take care of an ailing family member and start our own business went rather . . . awry. In the midst of the tornado disguised as the past year, I realized I’d have to start over, having left any semblance of a career path back East. I decided I’d turn my burgeoning photography hobby into a business, but when my wife got a great job offer before I even had a prospect, I found myself instead dealing with oatmeal-splattered walls, loaded diapers, Dora the Explorer, and sugary bribes for good behavior.
Not the new start I expected. I worried I’d be chastised by my fellow Catholic men, who’d say I should be out in the world, bringing home the bucks for my lovely bride, barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. I’m the head of my household by vocation and God’s design, after all, and as one friend joked when he heard I was home making dinner, “If my woman made money, I’d steal all her shoes and hide them so she’d stop.”
The fact is, my wife is a far better breadwinner than I am. Shrewd, intelligent, and wildly attractive, she was born to do business, and runs circles around most men, myself included. She’s a get-stuff-done, kick-butt-and-take-names kind of girl, and to be honest, that’s one of the things that attracted me to her.
Me, on the other hand, I’m a dreamer. I’ve always got my head in the clouds (or somewhere else) and am about as practical as a tuxedo t-shirt (and not nearly as cool.) I’ve got the artist’s curse: I believe I need to make my living doing what I love or I’ll never be successful or happy. To her credit, my wife has always supported me in this quest despite many setbacks. But when the bacon needs bringing home, she’s out grabbing a meaty handful before I’ve even gotten a hickory-smoked whiff.
Luckily, I have some domestic skills. You won’t see me on Iron Chef, but my parents called me “Chef Boyar-Steve.” My gastronomic aptitude has not only considerably expanded my waistline, it’s keeping my family well-fed and happy. This morning, I was flipping three kinds of pancakes (regular, strawberry, and chocolate chip) without even breaking a sweat. Tonight, I’ll be knocking out an ahi tuna sashimi appetizer followed by eggplant parmesan.
I’ve also got a handy knack for singing babies to sleep. Laundry? You put it in the machine, you add soap. When it’s done, it goes in the dryer. Bam! (Things get a little dicey when it comes to folding. There are a few baskets of clean, unfolded clothes stacked up in the living room. I’ll get to them. It’s only July. )
Baths are down to a science. I can have three toddlers shampooed, scrubbed, and running naked and screaming, trailing water from their discarded towels to whatever furniture they’re jumping on, in five minutes flat. Stories? Nailed. You want character voices? I have dozens. And at bedtime, my kids get visits from the “sleepy-time fairy.” That’s right: Fall asleep fast enough, and she leaves a little cold, hard chocolate under the pillow.
Of course, I have a lot to learn — patience being foremost. (If I go a day without yelling, I get a gold star on my chart.) I’m about as organized as a Kansas trailer park after tornado season, so the fact that I’ll be tackling homeschool this year for the first time is a little intimidating. And I still space out sometimes, checking e-mail without noticing the wee ones are running amok with sharp knives. Thank God, no blood yet.
However you slice it, I’m spending the kind of time with my munchkins most dads miss out on. In the past, I’d see them for maybe an hour after work before I was tucking them into bed to get ready for another day. Now I’m there for every hilarious remark, incomprehensible drawing, or unexpected question. The other day, one of them started crying for me when I left on an errand, something they only used to do for Mommy. It was both sad and satisfying.
I don’t know how long I’ll be doing this. Is it what God’s calling me to? I’d love to see the day when my wife and I can switch places again, because I believe there’s no mother like a mother. And yet, for the moment, things are working out just fine. Whatever happens, one thing’s certain: This chance to be with my kids while they’re still little is something I’ll never regret.