Illustration by James Callahan
On a chilly, overcast day in 2007, I traded my holey jeans and nursing tops for a pantsuit, filled my travel mug with coffee and headed off for my first day of work since The Boy was born. Tad kissed me goodbye, and as soon as the car pulled away from the curb, he began his new gig as a stay-at-home dad. It's hard to believe that it's been five years, but then at the same time, I almost don't remember what life was like before. No, wait, it's coming back to me. Let me recall!
When I was a stay-at-home mom, I was slowly losing my mind. Or maybe not so slowly. As an infant, The Boy did not provide much in the way of scintillating conversation, adorable though he was. And, because going anywhere with a baby required preparation and packing to rival Rommel's drive for Egypt, a lot of the jaunty gallivanting around to "mommy and baby" type things that I had imagined doing before he was born did not happen. I spent a lot of time hanging around the house, changing diapers and doing laundry.
At the time, Tad was working as a bouncer at a nightclub. This meant that when he got home in the wee hours, he'd eat something, wind down with a little TV, and then go to sleep. Right as The Boy and I were waking up. Technically, we were together a lot, but you couldn't really call it quality time.
As an added bonus to an already miserable setup, we were starting to realize that the equation of Extra Family Member – My Income = Oh Crap. We had known it would be tight, but some unexpected expenses and an extra-cold winter put our budget in the red. I clipped coupons and sold things on Craigslist. In the mornings, when Tad was asleep, The Boy and I would troll grocery stores for closeouts and check thrift stores for overlooked treasures that we could sell at a markup. It was thrilling, in a desperate, Depression-era kind of way. Then it occurred to me that we were overlooking something a lot bigger than a chipped Roseville vase. There was a cheat code that we weren't using.
We talked it over and decided to give it a shot. Tad quit the club and I went to work. The beauty of the plan was that Tad doesn't have the same need to talk to grown-ups during the day that I do. He and The Boy were perfectly happy to grunt and squeal back and forth in their own private language. They spent hours hiking the James River with The Boy strapped to Tad's back. They ate when they were hungry and slept when they were tired. Like cavemen. It worked.
As The Boy has gotten older, Tad's job description has changed. He totes him by car, not backpack, to classes and music lessons and Tae Kwon Do. They still eat like cavemen while I am out, but there is a vegetarian-friendly dinner waiting for me. And, in between all of The Boy's various commitments, Tad does the laundry, the dishes and the cleaning, as well as the bulk of the home-school instruction.
Did we find a perfect solution? No, I don't think there is such a thing. I still feel twinges of guilt when I can't stay home to cuddle a sniffly, clingy Boy who wants his mama and only his mama. And Tad has his insecure days where the caveman in him tells him that he should be the one dragging the kill back to the cave. But we work through it, because that's what you do.
We were out with friends recently, and when Tad mentioned that he would need to check with me about a proposed expenditure, the husband joked, "Oh, right, it's tough being a kept man, huh?" A lot of responses crossed my mind, none of them really conducive to a pleasant rest of the evening. Having been both the breadwinning parent and the home-based parent, I can attest that Tad's job is harder than mine. No one is being kept in our family except The Boy — and we're pretty happy with who's keeping him when.