Today marks the last day of my monthlong stint as a stay-at-home dad (or househusband, as one friend called it). Leslie reminded me that this was a good moment to reflect, so look out, stream of consciousness follows. I was incredibly lucky to have a job that offered enough parental leave that Leslie and I could stitch together four months of leave from our jobs after Anne was born, and lucky again that I got to spend a whole month (the best month, so far) with her at home.
The days with Anne are predictable, sometimes enjoyable, sometimes monotonous. Every now and then, I get a taste of the magic joy that parents talk about: she’s mine! She’s getting older! Look at that smile!
When the month started, Anne was sleeping not-so-well during the day, fully swaddled and with a pacifier. Last night, she slept with her arms free and no pacifier. This kind of progress seems like the definition of banal parenting minutiae, but it still represents the centerpiece of my parenting achievements so far. Taking care of a baby collapses your world down to a very basic, very physical cycle involving sleeping, eating, and taking care of the other end. It’s a kind of meditation–there’s no real trick to it, there’s no automating it, it’s just the same few things happening over and over, changing little by little.
In my professional life, situations like this are, by definition, problematic, targets for optimization. Write new software, create a new process, so that we don’t have to go through the drudgery of repeating this process by hand. Do it at the scale of thousands, millions, or billions of work items; marshall an army of computers to do what humans don’t have the patience or time to do themselves.
But with the baby, it is only me and her, and there’s no way to even change tonight’s diapers this morning to get it out of the way. You just have to change the right-now diaper and be with her, in the moment. I recognize this discipline from dabbling with mindfulness, and even more from raising Sous up from a puppy.
In some ways, it’s a prison of chores. It was this sensation that made it so hard on me to deal with the new responsibilities of getting a dog eight years ago: you mean I have to take her out every day forever? How inconvenient. But of course, once you get used to the rhythm of that responsibility, it becomes a part of you, it forces you to go outside for that walk, to pull your head out of the clouds and check out what the dog is sniffing instead. Already, the same rhythms of Annie’s life are forming their grooves in my brain. Thanks, Sous, for getting all the anxiety out of the way before we had a human baby. You’ll always be our first.
Next week I’ll be back at work, and so will Leslie, and the next “normal” will start. At this very moment, a paid employee of ours is upstairs with Annie reading her a book which means that I can sit down here and type. She’ll watch Annie during the forty-plus hours a week Leslie and I are at our jobs, until we find a day-care and we move on to that. No longer will every one of her cycles belong to Leslie or to me; we’ll be part-time parents like everyone else in the working world.