I expect people (and other blokes especially) to greet me with a little scepticism. If I’m with my wife and we tell people we relocated for work, they usually turn to me to ask what I do. So I tell them: ‘I do the kid thing.’
I rarely use the term ‘stay-at-home dad’, mostly because it’s a mouthful. And now that I know its acronym is SAHD, I’m actively opposed. Depending how you pronounce it, it makes us sound either clinically depressed or like some kind of washing soap.
So, I think I’ll stick with ‘the kid thing’ for now. It’s awkward and probably a little dismissive of what I do, but everyone seems to understand that when it comes to the day-to-day care of a four-year-old boy and his two-year-old sister: I’m your man.
Until the end of last year, I was anything but. To that point, the kid thing meant the odd evenings, or sometimes a whole day. Imagine that! Pre-kid-thing, I was a project manager and bleary-eyed writer. I was up early with the kids and I would often bath them and put them to bed at night.
Now I’m still up early and ploughing right in organising activities, snacks, lunch, and dinner, reading books full of large type and primary colours, mediating disputes, and regurgitating a complete repertoire of inane TV themes and catchphrases (I do a good Spotty Wot, according to my four-year-old).
That little girl from the beginning of the year may be already gone, but at least I’ve had a ringside seat for the whole ride.
As a snapshot of a typical conversation, I offer this unedited transcript:
Xavier: I’m grumpy because Genevieve got a crab and I didn’t.
Genevieve: Daddy! Daddy! Here’s your phone!
Me: What were you doing with my phone? Xavier, I drew a spider on your hand and Genevieve got a crab, so you each have one.
Genevieve: [Dancing] Woo woo woo woo!
Xavier: But I want two!
Me: I don’t want you looking like you’ve been to a tattoo parlour.
Xavier: Can I have a biscuit?
Me: No mate. Genevieve, why is the picture on my phone different?
Genevieve: Can I have sultanas?
Me: Later. How about we go for a bike ride?
It’s the kind of conversation that might have once left me exhausted and hankering for a beer and a nice quiet corner. I would have once called that a rough day. Now I call it Monday.
But I don’t want to give the wrong impression. There’s an unexpected sense of freedom associated with this kid thing caper. The sense of closeness with the kids is something I never expected to know. Like any relationship, there’s an intimacy in the day-to-day grind. I know (and occasionally guide) their favourite songs and stories. I know what the interest of the day is. I share the frustration of toilet training disasters. I feel that occasional fall from a couch arm, I hear the thud and brace myself for the scream.
And, in turn, Xavier knows the signs of a frazzled Dad and (the gentleman he is) gently suggests to his sister they take their yelling game outside. I know all Genevieve’s dance moves and Xavier’s karate moves. I might have known all this had I been working, but it would have been second hand knowledge. This is different.
Before I started, I asked a colleague who had completed his own tour of duty what staying at home was like. He paused to think about it, but not for long: ‘You know,’ he said, ‘it was the hardest job I’ve ever done, but it had the greatest sense of accomplishment.’
His words ring pretty true. It’s no walk in the park. But it’s not the kind of job you could complain about for long. When I started, my daughter was using a few words consistently. She was prone to running away. She wore nappies and she was yet to get her first haircut. Now, she’s moved up a size, dropped the nappies (almost), and her hair is styled into a bob. And she won’t stop yakking.
That little girl from the beginning of the year may be already gone, but at least I’ve had a ringside seat for the whole ride. Things may change next year, or maybe I’ll get to stay on the ride for a bit longer. Either way, I feel privileged to be one of the fortunate few dads ensconced in the kid thing.