Guest blog by Peter Leikind
For 7 of the past 12 years I have been an elementary school teacher.
For the other 5 years I did many things. I wrote standardized test questions. I was a substitute. I was a manager (read: salesman) at a for-profit tutoring program. I even worked at apple seeds – where I had too many responsibilities to name here. But, the most dizzying and yet, mind-numbing thing that I did during that time was stay at home with my infant daughter for the first 2 years of her life.
Whenever somebody hears that I was a stay-at-home-dad, it always leads to a conversation not much different from the one I had just 1 week ago.
“Did you teach up in New Jersey?” I am asked.
“For the last 2 years that we were there I stayed home with my daughter.” I reply.
“You DID? That’s awesome! Did you just love it???” I am asked, excitedly.
“Yeah.” I answer, doing my best to hold my smile while every inch of me screams silently, “Hell, No!!!!!”
That’s right. I hated it.
But, do I dare say that out loud?
And why not?
Because of the thought that you are having right now – that I am a horrible person, that I don’t love my daughter, that I am selfish. Cold. Uncaring. Totally devoid of all human emotions.
And so, for you, for me, for my daughter I say, “Yeah.” and then change the subject.
Of course I love my daughter. We have a great relationship, enjoy each other’s company, read books, dance, color, joke, do puzzles, dance, play fairies (ok, I HATE playing fairies), ride bikes, swing, slide, dance (that’s a big one in our house). I could write for days defending my affection for her. But love has nothing to do with it.
Staying at home was, for me, the most stressful and, at the exact same time, the most boring job that I have ever had and will ever have.
You see, for her first 2 years my daughter threw up multiple times a day, never took a nap in her own bed and couldn’t move a bowel without our help.
There wasn’t a meal that stayed down. My wife and I got pretty good at reading the signs and knew when to remove the bottle, stop shoveling the sweet potatoes or take away the Cheerios.
Other people, like my mother, on the other hand, learned to leave a spare set of clothes at our house.
Bedtime was always the worst. She hated to get put down and quickly learned that throwing up would get us back into the room. At first, it came from her screaming so loudly and for so long that the throw up just happened. However, it didn’t take long for her to gain the ability to puke on command (her own command) and we couldn’t get her bedroom door closed before she, her bed and her carpet were all covered in it.
Man, that smell. It just came back to me.
Naptime was the same as bedtime, only I was alone in the house. So, after about 2 months of changing her, changing the sheets, changing the crib bumper, mopping up the carpet (and later that evening steam cleaning it) I just stopped trying. Instead, I would walk the stroller around the neighborhood (even in winter), get in the car and drive nowhere or hold her on me while I watched reruns of West Wing on Bravo.
My sister, who felt for us in our misery, even suggested, recommended and paid for a sleep therapist. My daughter broke her. Seriously, after three weeks of nightly hour-long scream-a-thons (my wife crying in bed next to me), the therapist threw her arms up and conceded.
My two-year-old -1, sleep expert Ph.D – 0.
That was the source of all the stress.
At most other times I was bored - especially the first year. But, by the second year I was mentally done. So, even as she learned to walk, gained some words, could climb and slide at the playground, I still wasn’t enjoying it. After all, it was like 9 hours straight because she wasn’t napping. Really, how long can you push a 20 month-old with a penchant for puking on a swing?
Sure, we went to gym and music class (I lived over 2 hours away from apple seeds), but those were 45 minutes, once a week, each. I still had 43 and half more hours to fill. It got to the point that I counted the days to the monthly story time at the library.
There weren’t any playdates since my wife and I were relatively new to the area, having moved there only 2 years before our daughter was born. We didn’t know anyone around us. Honestly, that was the worst part about it. I had no one during the day with whom I could talk, laugh or even commiserate. My wife would come home from a long day at a hard job and I would feel guilty telling her how much I disliked doing the one and only thing she wanted to do with the rest of her life – be with our daughter.
My time at home was borne out of practicality. At the time of my daughter’s birth, I was working at apple seeds (remember, I lived over 2 hours away – a blog for another time) and my wife was working less than 30 miles from our home. I was a teacher in a town not looking for teachers, surrounded by towns not looking for teachers.
We looked into daycare. We visited some sites. To say we were unimpressed is to paint it in the best possible light. At one center, we were barely 6 steps inside the door when a woman (teacher? manager? owner? we weren’t there long enough to find out) came to greet us. As she came within 4 feet of my daughter, she (my daughter) screamed, turned and ran – as fast as I’ve ever seen her – for the door. My wife and I were close behind, screaming just as loudly, internally.
So, I stayed home with her.
2 years later I moved the family 4 states and 500 miles south just to get out of the house.
Sure, if you ask I’ll tell you that it’s because North Carolina is warmer, prettier, filled with nicer people and affords my daughter countless opportunities for inexpensive colleges in 14 years. But, I suppose you will now know the truth behind my canned response.
Just don’t tell my family.