Stay-at-Home-Dad-Sets-the-Record-Straight-About-Full-Time-Parenting

Ross Ritchell

Ah, the eight-hour workday. You wake before the sun and run to your train, festering in filmy sweat-stank slacks, only to arrive at work and endure pointless meetings, invasive cubicles and crowded deli counters until 5 o’clock rolls around. And, all that while, the sweat-stank slacks crystallize to such a degree that your pleated trousers form dangerous crusts capable of drawing blood. Damn, capitalism! I mean, that’s real work, right? Beautiful and horrible and the only thing that builds countries, sustains families and earns Monday a hearty how-long-until-retirement shiver, right? That’s Work. With a capital dubyah, thank you very much. But raising babies isn’t like, real work, right? I mean, let’s be honest. Raising babies isn’t Work. It’s “work.”

As a first-time father working in the city, I came home tired, unfulfilled and resentful that my pretty wife had a full day rocking yoga pants and scoring excess applesauce off the lips of my cute little cuddlebubble all day, while I sliced my fingers on my crusty Jos A. Banks. Chasing ankle-biters all day couldn’t be worse than endless strategy meetings in tight pants and collars, right? Well, after publishing a novel, I got to stay at home and find out for myself. And holy s*** was I wrong! Here’s a little reality check.

The Morning Wakeup

Working Parent’s Perception:

Dear God, I wake up at 6:30 a.m. every day. How can eight hours of sleep go so fast? Aw, look at my sleeping wife with her cute little sleepmask snoozing away while I rise for my shift at the working-wheel on the corporate slaveship. Does she ever wake up? What a cute little lucky freeloading duck. Half of me wants to get out quietly, be a good parent and spouse, and the other half wants to slam the door so her and Johnny Jr. know what its like to work for a living. I hope Bill brought some donuts for the train.

Stay-at-Home Reality:

How can a child scream for four hours straight, and how does Johnny Sr. never hear a peep? He sleeps like a corpse. Johnny Jr. blew guacamole out of his diaper THREE times last night. Three! And he only gets breastmilk! How is that even possible? Where’d he find the avocados? I know Johnny Sr. thinks I’m sleeping right now, but he’s wrong. I don’t wake because I don’t sleep. I live in perpetual darkness. My sleepmask covers my tears.

Diaper Changes

Working Parent’s Perception:

It’s a cloth sausage hammock with two straps, for God’s sake! How hard can it be? Ew, gross. Is that dirt under my fingernails? The train is disgusting. I’ll wash my hands after I finish watching these cat videos on YouTube. Hey, Bill! Have you seen the one where the cat bites the dude in his sugar peas? 

Stay-at-Home Reality:

I was petrified of snakes before I had kids, now I’m a herpetologist. I birthed no child; I birthed a spineless boa constrictor. I have the forearms of an Olympic weightlifter after dealing with Johnny Jr.’s crocodile death rolls on the changing table. Is that dirt or doodoo under my fingernails? Whatever. I just won’t bite my nails.

Lunch

Working Parent’s Perception:

Holy cow was that meeting boring! Hey Bill, what should we do for lunch? The Italian deli or sushi? Oh, really? They got a sanitation violation? Gross. Sushi it is. My treat, I’ve got the Amex. Nah, I work hard enough. The wife and kid dine on my dime every day. They’re probably eating lobster and breaking out the good scotch.

Stay-at-Home Reality:

I breastfeed my gluten-intolerant child in a dark room. If he sees the sun at lunch, he doesn’t nap. If he doesn’t nap, I cry more than usual. I haven’t seen the sun at noon or eaten anything but almonds in 43 days. Holy crap, is that an old Dorito under the couch? I can knock it over with my foot. Score! The parenting gods are smiling on me this day.

Back to Work After Lunch

Working Parent’s Perception:

Man, Bill, that dragon roll is lodged in my intestines. No, no, no. The big one. Or maybe the small one. I don’t know. Whatever, Bill. Maybe we should go for a walk outside before our next meeting. No, yeah, I already saw that cat hit the guy in his almond pouch this morning, let’s go. Maybe I’ll call the wife and see how the day is going. 

Stay-at-Home Reality:

Holy meatballs, was that Dorito delicious?! It only had two hairs on it and the half that wasn’t under the couch wasn’t too stale. Sure, Johnny Jr. flinched when I chewed, but at least the phone hasn’t rung, and I only needed to eat half anyway. Oh my God, what’s that smell? He’s asleep! Wait, is wheat a Doritos ingredient?! NO!

Afternoon Coffee Break

Working Parent’s Perception:

That was a nice walk, Bill, wasn’t it? And the meeting wasn’t too bad either. Hey, that sure was a blast dancing with that flash mob in Millennium Park, wasn’t it? I think I might’ve tweaked my patella. Let’s grab some coffee so I can walk it off. No, I’ll have my secretary hold my calls. You know what, I don’t even know if she can have coffee yet. She’s still breastfeeding, and seems pretty well rested to me. I’m the one with the sore patella, Bill. 

Stay-at-Home Reality:

Wake up! Wait, did I just fall asleep standing up – is that even possible? Is Johnny Jr. okay? Phew. He only napped a few minutes, but at least I could eat that chip. Aw, look, he’s just bouncing in his bouncer and laughing at me. Mocking my existence. SNAFU. Oh my God, what’s that smell? Is Mrs. Pleasant next-door making coffee? I haven’t had a cup since I got pregnant. Would it kill me if I had a sip? Would that be a bad thing? Could Johnny Jr. laugh loud enough to hail Mrs. Pleasant for help?

Clocking Out 

Working Parent’s Perception:

Bill! Closing time, amigo. Can I grab a beer? Sure, I’ve got a few minutes. If I miss my train there’s another in 45 minutes. No, she won’t mind. Does she cook dinner? Ha! I wish, Bill. She’s so zenned out from all her yoga, she won’t even know if I’m a few minutes late. 

Stay-at-Home Reality:

It is exactly 5:34 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015. Johnny Sr. should be three blocks from his train by now, unless a strong wind’s blowing from the northwest, in which case he’s four or five out. Either way, he’s got time for the train and once it leaves he’ll be here in 30 minutes. Then it’s a seven-minute walk to our door. If he’s not through that door by 6:17 p.m., I’m calling the police to report spousal abuse. At least, I’d call them if my fingers weren’t soaked in Johnny Jr.’s lunch. Stop moving, baby, please! Can I voice-dial the cops? A pizza?

Reunited, at Last

Working Parent’s Perception:

Hey, honey! Little man, gimme a five! How’d the day go? I see you’re in your yoga top, looks comfortable. Is that sweat? You never had smelly sweat. Hope you got a good workout in! Bill and I just grabbed a beer, sorry I’m late.

Stay-at-Home Reality:

He can’t give you a five without pulling out all of my hair. I wear my yoga top so whenever he wants to feed, I can just pull ‘em out. It’s not sweat. It’s leaking breast milk, Johnny Jr.’s spit-up and my tears. I haven’t burnt a single calorie that wasn’t shed crying or feeding our son since he was born.

Working Parent’s Perception:

Honey, why the long face? And why are the cops here?

 

Ross Ritchell is a father of two and graduate of New Trier High School. He was an Army Ranger and wrote “The Knife,” a novel about Special Operators at war in the Middle East, published by an imprint of Penguin Randomhouse in 2015.


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