I’m a mom who works full-time away from home. I’m grateful for my work—I’ve got great benefits, a degree of flexibility and supportive work environment that allows me to respond to family emergencies, a place to interact with other adults on a regular basis and it (mostly) helps me to afford childcare when I can’t be with my son. In my mind, childcare is both a blessing and a curse. It’s so expensive that I know several parents who decided one of them would stay home with the kids because taking a job, simply to afford to pay someone to watch their kid(s) while they worked, didn’t make sense. In our case, neither of us loves that our boy is in the care of others multiple days a week, but it’s a necessary evil. As parents, we both need to work. I work for the benefits and intellectual stimulation and he, because he was born to make music. Were he not teaching young aspirants to play guitar, writing, engineering and performing, he’d shrivel up and float away on a breeze—and not in a good way. Knowing that makes it that much more remarkable that to keep down costs and to have as much face-time with Miles as possible, he’s sacrificed two weekdays of his more-flexible work schedule to care for our son since I went back to work when the baby was 3 months old. And since that first day, back in August of 2011, many hijinks have ensued.
Let me paint you a picture of life on Daddy’s watch:
-Pants are optional, socks encouraged to ward off cold floors. Comfort is the word of the day.
-No loop is ever completely closed. At the end of the day, my apartment usually looks like they were interrupted in the middle of many tasks and asked to vacate the premises, immediately. Or, to give him the benefit of the doubt, maybe they were body-snatched by aliens for a father/son mind probe experiment and hadn't yet been returned by their captors. But he takes out the trash and recycling, no matter what.
-Messes are tolerated, vomit is forbidden. If I’m home, clean up is my job. If I'm not home, I will still get a call for moral support (which is usually an unspoken request to come home, asap). On the flip side, he will stand by and supportively apologize that Miles has spewed his lunch all over me and will verify that yes, this is truly gross and awful. Then, while I tend to the kid, he will spray any affected surface with cleaning enzymes (while swearing and gagging). High comedy. He's much better at poop than I am, though, and is way more respectful of (and patient with) wiener time on the changing table. Fair trade, I'd say.
-Drinks abound. The kid will never go thirsty on his watch. He plies him with a steady stream of liquids the whole day, whether he’s asking for them or not. Maybe he died in a drought in a former life, I don’t know.
-Mama gets all the kisses. He's not totally sold on the idea that it's okay to get kissed on the mouth by his son, but he's always a bit jealous that the buddy kisses me so freely, while considering it a game to avoid giving or receiving them from him.
-No choking. Our boy eats in big mouthfuls and makes gagging faces when he’s bitten off more than he can chew, which drives Daddy crazy. He regularly requests that we brush up on our infant/toddler Heimlich maneuver skills. Heaven forbid, but if it should ever become necessary to use it, I’m not sure if I’d put my money on him doing a bang-up job and saving the day or passing out, cold. We’ll pray that I never get that question answered.
-Sitters must be qualified. When considering outside child care, his concerns have nothing to do with early childhood certification. He wants to know if they remember to take the buddy's shoes and jeans off for nap time. It makes sense, I guess. One should be comfy while sleeping.
-No “babying.” When the boy is trying a new skill, he doesn't hover or help, like it's my tendency to do. He stands by and encourages him to keep trying. The kid always rises to the occasion.
-Good food is king. He won’t cook if he can avoid it, especially for a picky and ungrateful toddler who will reject it anyway. Also, he rarely keeps to any kind of eating schedule for himself, let alone the kid, but he has tasted every food he's ever given him, including baby food, because he wants to know what is good and why the kid likes it. He always offers a veggie, cares that the water is clean with good minerals and will go to three stores to buy organic. I do not have the patience (or stomach) to do this.
-No energy will be spent unnecessarily. He'll take a bath with Miles, forsaking any chance of peace and relaxation and risking unauthorized peeing, to save time and effort. He also still encourages two naps a day, though Miles can go with just one.
-Stop and smell the flowers. He values a meandering walk in the sunshine, daily roughhousing, and would rather hunker down on the floor making cool car sounds than to plop the kid in front of the TV (not that this doesn't happen in an emergency).
-Material things aren’t what matters. Miles plays with and climbs all over his expensive music equipment, because he wants him to learn how to use the real stuff. So I have a one year old who knows his way around a guitar, a drum kit, a Bluetooth speaker and more. I don't know how to work any of these things.
-Certain details are important—others aren’t. He won't notice if the outfit he puts on the buddy no longer fits, especially if it is one he loves. However, my taste will be challenged if the outfit I choose isn't up to his standard of cool. *sigh* There is no justice.
The daily drudgery of caring for a toddler isn’t his #1 choice of how to spend a day, but he does it like he does everything else—to the beat of his own drum, getting all the joy from the experience that he can. I’m sure he will breathe a sigh of relief when it’s no longer necessary, but secretly miss the good times. When it’s my shift, I often do things differently, but Miles never lacks anything important either way. In fact, he thrives. And let's face it, pants-optional isn’t a bad way to live.