About two months ago, due to all the crazy stuff happening in both of our families, Jamie and I decided he’d take a few weeks of paternity leave.
I have to admit, I was excited—but also apprehensive—about him being home. Jamie talked constantly about all his grand plans while on paternity leave. He’d go flying a couple times a week, take the kids on daily field trips to local pumpkin patches and the aquarium, and force the dog to accompany him on long hikes that would magically cause ten pounds to melt from her stocky frame.
But I know my husband, and I know how type A he is. While he’s great with the kids at bedtime and for fun weekend excursions, I wasn’t sure how he’d deal with the daily grind of schlepping everyone to preschool and activities.
The first week of his leave, Jamie went up to Montreal to visit his father who was in the hospital recovering from major spinal surgery. But when he came home that weekend, he was ready to be Mr. Mom. I’d made him a schedule mapping out who went where when and outlining what responsibilities he’d have that day.
The first morning he was home and on Dad duty—a Tuesday morning—he accidentally overslept, so, being the passive aggressive person I am, I opened our bedroom door very wide so he could hear Teddy screaming for a diaper change and Jo Jo singing at the top of her lungs on her pink princess potty “Tinkle, Tinkle Little Star.”
I heard some groans from our bedroom, then saw my husband staggering out, bleary eyed, in his pajamas. He came back a moment later with an outfit for Jo Jo: a pink sweatshirt and blue jeans. “Here,” he mumbled, dropping them at her feet. “I’ll get her dressed for school.”
I stared at the outfit. “No,” I said vehemently, shaking my head. “No, No, No, No, No. I prepared her outfit last night.”
Jamie rolled his eyes.
“I’m serious,” I said in my self righteous mom voice. “This morning is purple day at the Stillmeadow preschool, and blue day at First United Methodist preschool in the afternoon. So she’s going to wear a purple top and a blue jean skirt topped with blue leggings and her purple Mary Janes.” I was trying to sound controlled but my voice was rising up in sheer hysteria. Suddenly my husband was in the picture, undermining my best dressed plans in an effort to be helpful. “This way she doesn’t have to run around getting changed.”
My husband stared at me, open mouthed. I watched him as he absent mindedly scratched his butt, obviously in an effort to soak this all in. Then he shook his head.
“You’re kidding,” he mumbled, holding out her pink sneakers as if they were a peace offering.
“No I’m not,” I said, indignant. “I’m completely serious. Maybe you should start reading the newsletters when they come home each week and then I won’t have to give you a dressing tutorial each morning.”
My husband looked at me in horror and fled into our office, where he spent the next hour checking his work email and reviewing our financial statements.
Before Jamie took paternity leave, he’d often ask me what I did all day while he was at work. It wasn’t a hostile question, more just curious bewilderment. I had decided to take six months off after Geoffrey was born, given the fact that we have three kids under the age of four, and, as it turns out, two with unique and special needs. Jamie thought I’d be bored in my new role as stay at home mom, since we already have Ingrid, our amazing nanny. But I wasn’t. I spent a lot of time schlepping Jo Jo to her two preschools and her ballet class and her twice weekly private speech therapy and Teddy to his preschool program and his soccer class, and the baby to music class. The amount of scheduling and planning and time management devoted to organizing a single day rivals the intensity of any M&A deal Jamie does at work.
“I feel like I’m always in the car,” Jamie complained to me after a few days of chauffeuring everyone around, and then, in a plaintive whimper, “Why is it so hard to get anything done?”
He learned, though. He really did. He went with me to Jo Jo’s IEP meetings and was there for Geoffrey’s Birth to Three occupational therapy sessions and took Teddy to soccer class. He patiently micro waved chicken nuggets and changed diapers without a single complaint (okay, he whined about it every once in a while, especially when one of the older kids did a number two). He even accompanied me to the Mom’s Club Halloween party, where I insisted he dress up in costume (although mid way through the party he did flee, mortified, to a bench outside where he made a big point of reading the Wall Street Journal).
The kids loved that he was home. Whenever he picked up Jo Jo from preschool he was greeted with a megawatt smile that I never get. Teddy mastered climbing up and down stairs on his own, as he was so intent on visiting Da Da in his office. And Geoffrey farted and squealed with joy whenever Jamie entered his line of vision.
Most importantly, he was there to offer me support during a time when I truly felt like I Was Losing It. When I worried that my father was dying, I was able to leave all three of my babies with him and not worry that they were starving or accidentally drowning in the bathtub. Jamie had the drill down pat. He knew where Geoffrey’s bottles were and Jo Jo’s potty routine and, most importantly, where all the spare copies of Teddy’s Big Red Barn were hidden.
So when Jamie asked me if I was okay with him going back to work after only taking five weeks of paternity leave (he had originally planned to take eight) I said sure. I’d figured he’d had his fill of stay-at-home Dad-dom. The night before, we’d gone to Supper and Song at our local Jewish Community Center. It’s a big hit among the toddler set, as they get to stuff themselves with pizza and animal crackers and dance to really bad music while the moms get to mingle and catch up on gossip. I had watched as my husband tried to pacify Teddy, who had refused to nap and was completely melting down over a spilt juice box, while a woman sang the Wheels on the Bus off key, and I recognized the look in his eyes.
It was that wild look of desperation moms get after spending all day with shrieking, pooping, vomiting, hair pulling, temper tantrum throwing kids.
Something told me Jamie would never give me a hard time about me requesting some break time away from the kids again.
Now Jamie’s back at his office, and, now, after almost seven months of being purely stay at home, I am too. I think we’d both agree it’s good to be working again, to spend days having conversations that don’t center around whether Jo Jo has the appropriate items for Show and Tell in her backpack or negotiating with Teddy about why he can’t watch ten episodes of Yo Gabba Gabba.
We both don’t regret the fact that Jamie took paternity leave—we think it’s one of the best decisions he ever made.
But we’re now in agreement about one thing: being a stay at home parent is hands down the hardest job in the world.