My family’s kajillionth listen of Idina Menzel’s “Let It Go” was suddenly interrupted by the ringing of my cell phone on the car’s Bluetooth. This did not faze the Twins, who just kept on singing, reminding their audience that the cold never bothered them anyway. My wife and I had just picked them up from school, and like most school days, they’d gotten a fresh jolt of energy during the drive home, proceeding to uncontrollably kick the front seats and belt out lyrics with absolutely no regard for the melody or their mother’s migraine.
Without even looking at the caller ID, I answered. Typically my mother calls us on our drive home to see how the Twins’ day at school was. They’ve been attending semi-sporadically since the summer of last year, but as my PhD work has gotten increasingly demanding with each passing semester, we’ve slowly been increasing their weekly amount of school days. (And yes, I’m calling it “school” for a reason. This place has a big-kid curriculum, individualized learning goals for each kid, and even parent-teacher conferences. It is decidedly not a “daycare.”)
As you may remember, for most of the time I’ve spent on campus to do my doctoral work, my mother has very graciously taken care of the Dynamic Duo. However, due to some other important family commitments (which are beyond the scope of this Twincident), she’s been in and out of town, prompting us to seek other (tragically not-for-free) care options for the kids. The transition hasn’t always been easy, with several month-long plagues of sickness throwing off any weekly routine we hoped to establish, sometimes resulting in tearful toddlers at the morning drop-off, but lately, we’ve finally, finally, FINALLY found a groove.
And so whether she’s here in town, hunting Chupacabras in the Mexican wilderness, or scaling Mt. Everest to destroy the Eighth Horcrux, my mom calls us nearly every school day on our way home to see how the Twins’ day was, partly because she really and truly wants them to do well and partly (I’m guessing) because she misses them and wishes she could see them more often.
But when I answered the phone, I found that it wasn’t my mom after all.
“Hello?” I barked casually.
“Hi, I’m looking for John?” said an unfamiliar female voice, cranked to 11 on the car stereo while the kids were still screaming Frozen lyrics.
“Yes,” I called, clawing for my phone in my pocket to turn off the Bluetooth. “This is John.”
“Hi John, I’m calling about the position you interviewed for yesterday.” She hesitated for a moment, assumedly due to the stereophonic pixie voices booming, “I don’t caaaaare what they’re goooing to saaaaay!” Then, she continued. “Is this a good time to talk?”
I had the Bluetooth toggled off just in time to say, “Yes, sure. I can talk.”
As my PhD work has been drawing to a close (all I have left is the ceremonial writing and daily cussing out of the dissertation), I went into this semester fully aware that it would be my last as a full-time student. That didn’t necessarily mean a May 2014 graduation. It just meant that having looked at our finances and the considerable student loan IOUs I’ve accrued, my wife and I decided that whether I graduated this semester or not, it was about time for me to start bringing home some bacon in addition to the bacon she was bringing home so that we could have a festival of intertwining bacon that could be exchanged for goods, services and even tastier, crispier, mouth-wateringly deliciouser bacon. You know, because everyone loves bacon.
BaconFestQuest 2014 found me applying for a plethora of professional opportunities that were now open to me given my kinda-sorta-almost-complete-but-not-really doctorate. I’ll admit I applied and even interviewed for positions I was less than thrilled about, but the previous day’s interview had actually excited me. This was not only a job I felt I could do well, but would also actually enjoy. And as an added bonus, it was quite a step up salary-wise from the teacher salary I left behind three years ago.
With this in mind, I was a little flustered by the unexpected Bluetooth broadcast and screaming back-seat pixies because I actually gave a sh!t about the impression I was making. And that is why I less-than-professionally asked my caller, “What’s up?…”
“…I mean, how can I help you?”
“Well,” she replied. “We’ve all talked it over and we were all very impressed with you yesterday. We’ve already spoken with your references and we were wondering if you would like to come work with us.”
I was dumbstruck. For so long I’d been knee-deep in my studies and research assistantship-ship that the possibility of actually earning a living had not become real to me until that moment. I guess somehow in the back of my mind I thought I’d have more time to finish out more of the research projects I was working on and make more progress on my dissertation before rejoining the full-time workforce. But now here I was, suddenly being offered plates and plates full of bacon I had not even ordered. Having been so focused on and driven by the student life for years, the idea of stepping away from it suddenly felt odd.
And then another thing hit me like a ton of Lego bricks. This would be the end of an era–the end of my tenure as a stay-at-home dad. Admittedly, the number of days I was home with the munchkins had been in steady decline for the last few months, but now, taking a full time job would officially mark the end of my weekday twinherding career, considerably reducing my time with them.
But despite my hesitation, there was only one way to respond to my caller’s offer: “Absolutely. I’d love to work with you.”
Because it’s time.
I originally embarked upon this SAHD/PhD journey when–as a brand new father–I found that my teacher salary would equal the cost of full-time care for twins (I realized I essentially couldn’t afford my own family). So it made complete sense to quit my job, provide twincare myself, and simultaneously create better career opportunities with more education. But now, with quality, affordable childcare in place and nothing but (a ridiculous amount of) dissertation writing left on my degree, I was in no position to turn down an opportunity that would instantly and significantly improve my family’s financial stability–even if that meant working full time by day and moonlighting on my thesis by night.
I was still on the phone with my new employer when we arrived at my in-laws’ house, where we’d planned to eat dinner that evening. My wife took the kids into the house while I ducked into the backyard. Phone in hand, I paced in the grass as I learned details about my new position and discussed a start date, all the while carefully maneuvering around scattered dog poo. (I feel like there’s a metaphor in there somewhere, but I’m going to leave that alone.)
Moments later I joined my family inside, triumphantly announcing, “I GOT A JOB!”
This news was quickly and suddenly punctuated by a particularly musical frog, snail and grasshopper who appeared to have followed me inside.
After explaining the details to the grown-ups, I plopped onto the couch, soon joined by my son and daughter, who scrambled up onto the cushions while excitedly repeating, “Daddy dot a job! Daddy dot a job!” I’m not sure if they understood what this actually meant, but I appreciated their enthusiasm.
As we sat and played with the various Marvel superheroes and Disney Princesses they tossed into my lap, the past few years flashed before my eyes…the “rough waters” of my first day home with them, the early pursuit of Nap Overlap, the day my son first called me (or Chuck Norris) “Dada,” the morning walks in our neighborhood and serene sprints away from suburban coyotes, the learning of new words, the bedtime snuggles, and the never-ending battle for Daddy’s attention. To say that this whole stay-at-home dad bidness has been amazing is a ridiculous understatement, and I’m deeply grateful to have shared so much of my time with my kids, which I’m acutely aware is an opportunity many parents don’t have. Although I’ve done it for just under three years, I’m not going to claim to have any “words of wisdom” to impart because I’m just another parent doing my best and figuring it all out as I go. But to anyone who’s new to the stay-at-home gig, I’ll offer a few thoughts I found myself coming back to almost every day:
Your kids are growing faster than you realize, and every day is an opportunity to improve your relationship with them, to build them up, to help them learn, and to laugh your asses off together. It’s a given that some days you’ll be tired or preoccupied and less than thrilled with not being able to hear yourself think, but if you make an effort every day to invest in that relationship, both you and your kids will be much happier. And be present. Put down the cell phone. Skip the people posting pictures of their food and Ryan Gosling memes on Facebook for a minute and build a blanket fort, because the robot tigers are coming and you’d better get your magic pillow bombs ready, or else the whole entire world will explode. And get out of the house. Take your kids to the park, the mall, the library, the grocery store, the coffee shop. The change of scenery will be good for everyone. And take lots of pictures. Shoot lots of video. Save your kids’ drawings. Write down funny and endearing things they do and say. You’ll thank yourself in a year, which will be here in what will feel like only a few months. Remember that it’s temporary, this opportunity you have. Your kids will grow up, go to school, graduate, move out, or in my case, you’ll get a job. If you earnestly try to appreciate every day you have with your kids, you’ll be able to draw on those memories and that amplified relationship you’ve established with them when you do eventually have to leave your post.
. . .
As I sat there on the couch, imagining myself riding gloriously off into the sunset while absent-mindedly helping my son line up his Spider-Man Fighter Pods figures, my wife spoke up.
“Hey, what are you going to call your blog now?”
“How about Twinfamy? You know, we do still have twins.”
“No, no,” she laughed. “I mean the subtitle–‘the epic blog of a stay-at-home dad and father of twins.’”
“Oh, right, right. Well, what about just ‘the epic blog of a father of twins’? I actually like that better anyway.”
In that same unceremonious spirit, for those of you who have been having severe anxiety attacks while reading this Twincident, be not afraid. I am not going anywhere. I may be retiring from stay-at-home fatherhood, but I’m not retiring from fatherhood. Since I’ve already been buried in PhD-ness lately and not home with the Twins as often, a good chunk of my ideas for this fine publication have been coming from evenings and weekends anyway. So even though I’m starting a new job, you can take comfort in knowing you can still expect more of whatever the hell it is that you expect from Twinfamy.
I’ll admit that I’m not entirely sure what to expect myself, but at least where I’m going, there will be bacon.
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If not, no bacon for you.