Believe it or not, the most common reaction I get when explaining to childless friends that I stay home with my kids is something akin to envy. They tell others, "He's got the easiest job in the world." But they're wrong.
Sometimes they replace 'easiest' with 'best', and I suppose a valid argument could be made to support that claim, but anyone who believes spending all day with little children to be the easiest job in the world is either 1) suffering from a wretched illness that impairs rational thought or 2) simply hasn't tried it.
Their belief, I'm sure, arises from a fanciful dream in which they imagine children playing happily (and silently) in a corner while they, wearing boxer shorts and robes, recline on the sofa, feet kicked up, beers in hand, watching ten consecutive hours of ESPN news (and the episode of CSI they Tivo'd the night before while out drinking with buddies). Maybe the description is a bit stereotypical, perhaps even cliche, but the expectation of 'spending the day doing whatever I want' is a very real one.
I had it. Perhaps my vision lacked the beer and TV, but I fully expected to spend most days writing while my kids played elsewhere. Maybe it's because when we think of staying home with the kids, we think back to when we were children. All we did was play. For me, it was Star Wars and Transformers and Legos. For you, it might have been BB guns and firecrackers. Regardless, we don't remember too much before ages 4 or 5. So when we imagine being home with the kids, we picture 5 or 7 or 10 year olds going to school, playing in their rooms, disappearing for hours outside in the dirt or a sandbox. How very naïve.
So, to be fair and accurate, what should we imagine? How about baby formula, dirty diapers, spitting up, or magically appearing teeth that can wreak havoc on an entire household? How about attempting to dress a child who would rather be naked, or washing a kid's hair when she finds it much more entertaining to splash dirty water on your clothes? How about sharp little baby claws that pull at your beard and scratch your eyes? How about vomit at 3am, leaky diapers at 5am, creamed spinach sneezed back into your goofy face, and unjustified bouts of screaming and crying (your child might do this, too)? And, last but not least, we must see the humor in a child's delight as she plays with your television's power button immediately before a pitch is thrown or a ball is snapped. Really, you've gotta see it. IT'S HYSTERICAL. Thank God you have that Tivo.
Or perhaps our single/childless friends needn't imagine it. They could visit for a week. They'll learn how easy our job is. They'll learn about repetition and frustration. They'll learn how quickly ESPN gets replaced by Nickelodeon or Noggin or the Disney Channel simply to maintain emotional stability.
In the end, they'll learn why children and babies are so darn cute. The answer: so we don't 'accidentally' misplace them at the race track, because that would be unfortunate.
This post was originally shared on my at-home parenting blog, The Daily Writer, which has long since vanished. I've migrated many of the posts to this site for sentimental reasons.