Stop Calling Me The Babysitter, I’m His Father

Cristian running on the Coney Island Boardwalk

It was a Wednesday morning, which meant Cristian and I were off to Coney Island.  We weren’t going to the amusement park although I planned on taking him to Nathan’s for hot dogs.  Once upon a time, I was a Stay at Home Dad who worked part time as a medical biller.  Wednesdays meant delivering documents from a medical clinic in Brooklyn to my company’s office in Queens.

Squeezing Cristian’s stroller through the narrow hallway, we arrived at a small office where three women worked.  The office soon filled with a group of Eastern European women whenever I showed up with the baby.  One of the women turned and said, “How cute, you are babysitting,” in thickly accented English.

Although she was being polite, she didn’t realize she pissed me off.  At least she didn’t think I was Cristian’s grandfather — that happened later when we were playing on the boardwalk.  Yes, it was a memorable Wednesday.

Driving back on the Belt Parkway, I replayed the conversation in my head, again and again.  After the fifth or sixth time I asked myself, “Does she know better?”

The women in the office were similar in age and background to my family members when I was growing up.  The women in my family handled most of the childcare responsibilities, rarely getting help from their husbands.  In those days’ household roles were clearly defined, men were the providers, and women stayed home and cared for the children.  Some women worked, but it was besides their childcare responsibilities.

My male cousins and I were among the first generation sharing parenting responsibilities with their partners.  Times changed and many families need two paychecks to make ends meet.  This shared responsibility confused my aunts and uncles as they watched us feeding and dressing our kids.  The first time they saw my brother giving his daughter a bottle, you would have thought he was explaining nuclear physics.

I was a Stay at Home Dad for the first two years of my son’s life, and it irritated me when people thought I was doing it to help out my wife.  My experience with the woman in the office wasn’t the first time I heard the dreaded B-Word.

Parenting starts when your child is born — it’s what you signed up for.  Couples usually figure this out during pregnancy, those who don’t are in for a rude awakening.  A child needs both parents because raising a child is a team effort.

Cristian is my son — you can’t babysit your child — it’s called parenting.  Someone pays babysitters for their service.  It’s an important service, ask any parent in desperate need of a night out. Whether it‘s the neighbor’s teenaged daughter or an older woman, they are watching your children for a few hours but at some point they go home.

Cristian in Mommy and Me Class

Society has changed since I was growing up, and more parents are sharing parental responsibilities, but a double standard still exists.

A mom taking her kids to soccer practice is doing what’s expected of her, but when a dad does it, he’s babysitting..  With more women establishing themselves in careers and more men as Stay at Home Dads you wouldn’t think the concept was a still a novelty, but it is.

When I was an SAHD, women would offer the clueless dad advice on diaper changes or feedings while standing in the Target checkout aisle.  I almost expected them to ask if my wife knew I was out with the baby.

Although I’m no longer the only dad taking his child to a MyGym class or the playground, we still have a way to go.  My son and I were enrolled in a Mommy and Me class and more than once I’ve had to change his diaper in the back of my SUV because men’s restrooms are not always equipped with changing tables.

Does a double standard still exist?  My brother and discussed it in July at his daughter’s eighteenth birthday party.  To give further insight, my son celebrated his fourth birthday last month.

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My Favorite Posts from I’m Not Grandpa’s Second Year*

Happy Anniversary!   Two years ago I launched I’m Not Grandpa—kinda sorta.  I posted the Introduction, on September 26th 2014 and a second post shortly afterward.  Esther and I were well into a high-risk pregnancy and my mind was elsewhere, so I took a break from blogging until after the baby was born.

Parenthood was overwhelming for this cranky old dad so it took me months to hit my stride as a parent and find my voice as a writer.  Looking back I may have been overthinking it.  The first few weeks of dirty diapers, sleepless nights, and friends stopping by to see the baby provided material, I just needed to sort through it.

Two years ago today, my second first post went live.  A lot’s changed in two years.  Entertaining a toddler requires more attention than a newborn—the sleepless nights and writers block are about the same.

Fatherhood and blogging are two of my favorite things—I’m learning as I go.

Here are some of my favorite posts from the past year.

Seven Things to Know Before Having Kids – This is my most read post.  My public service describing the sacrifices parents make captured the attention of both parents and non-parents.  If you are thinking of starting a family check it out here.

Parenting Against Memories of the Past – Being a parent means you get second guessed—a lot. This post is the result of a lot of subtle, who am I kidding about subtle, second guessing from our family elders.  Parents learn as they go, grandparents and older relatives critique your new skillset.  Oh selective memory is a wonderful thing.  This post is the result of spending too much time with family, check it out here.

Five Signs You Need a Night Out – I wrote this while experiencing Cabin Fever.  Spending the winter in a sensory-deprivation chamber changing diapers, watching Sesame Street, Pepa Pig and CNN’s coverage of the 2016 Presidential Primaries had me screaming for a night out.  If you are parent who isn’t sure whether or not you need a night out, I posted this helpful guide.

Remembering Dad A Year Later – This change of pace post was written a year after my Dad passed away.  I miss my Dad—he was old-school man of honor who spent years paying forward the kindness of an old friend named Viña.  He was a man of simple pleasures, family, a backyard barbeque and a nice glass of wine.  He made parenting look easy and taught me as much by his actions as he did with his words.  Read about him here.

Am I the Only One with Sore Nipples – I write about my experiences in Mommy and Me Class.  I channeled my parents as we explored finger painting, confusing orange goldfish and orange play doh, and debating whether or not a bringing a cooler full of light beer with me was a bad idea.  Read about it here.

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A Guy’s Guide to Picking a Daycare Center

Getting ready to go over the wall when he found out his daycare does not show CNN.

After Mommy and Me Class Esther and I talked about putting Cristian into daycare a few days a week so he could learn socialization skills playing with kids his age.  Working from home meant gathering Intel on the local daycare centers was another item on the Honey-do list.  I was in uncharted territory.

Becoming a dad at 50 and an uncle at 36 didn’t help.  I had no part of raising either or my nieces, a decision they’ll thank me for as they get older.  With no practice kid to make mistakes on, I was starting from scratch.

Since Cristian’s a one and done child we didn’t want to leave him with anyone, we wanted someone good.  Our ideal caretaker possessed compassion and sensitivity but was quick on their feet and able to handle anything he could throw at them, I do mean throw.

Not All Daycare Centers are Created Equal. – Daycare providers vary in size and scope ranging from small setups in someone’s basement to large compounds resembling internment camps.  They run the gamut from 5 children sitting around a TV all day watching the Disney Channel, to elaborate programs preparing toddlers for an Ivy-League education.  At one site I sat next to a pregnant mother reserving a spot for her unborn child, six weeks after her due date.

Logistics and Reconnaissance – Being a parent less than two years required me to draw from my experience as a logistics specialist. I started with a Google search of every daycare provider within a 25- mile radius of home, 50-miles was just too much, checking all possible routes, factoring in inclement weather and traffic patterns.  After numerous phone calls, I developed an understanding of all things a baby needs to perform at maximum efficiency, diapers, wipes, bottles, etc.

Then working with the diligence of a British Intelligence agent preparing Donald Trump’s dossier, I watched and observed Daycare Facilities checking everything from curriculum and reputation to compromising information on parents, neighbors and staff.  I learned a lot, but chose not to post my findings on cleanliness and potty training on BuzzFeed.

Making friends with a mermaid at the Long Island Aquarium.

The Interview – After deciding on a daycare center, we scheduled an interview with the owner.  Staying true to form, my better half looked for safety, cleanliness, and a stimulating curriculum—I asked if the staff had paramilitary training, Cristian’s tantrums get pretty bad.   What sold me was the bouncy house in the backyard play area, perfect for tiring the most energetic toddler.

Ready to go from Day One.

Summertime Blues – For his last days of freedom, Esther and I sent him off with style, taking him to the Beach, Sesame Place and the Aquarium—okay we enjoyed it too.  Cristian ran up and down the Rockaway Beach Boardwalk, saw his favorite Sesame Street characters in a parade, and made friends with a mermaid.  We found out he loves, water, marine life, and photo bombing tourists at the Aquarium.

Worries/Concerns – Esther and I differed on this one.  As a Mom she worried about leaving the baby with someone other than family.  I worried about getting a phone call an hour after dropping him off. “Mr. Priegue, we are refunding your deposit, please pick up your son.”  We were curious how he’d react.  Would he cry or panic?  Not Cristian, as soon as they opened the gate, he went running in and didn’t look back.  Was he asserting a sense of independence or just happy to see new toys to play with?  We’ll leave that to the historians.

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The Last Days of a Stay at Home Dad

Enjoying my days as a SAHD

It’s been awhile since my last post—too long.  A lot’s changed in the four months since I posted about sore nipples—they’re still a little tender by the way.  Cristian turned two, an orange narcissist was elected President, and I’m no longer a Stay at Home Dad.

Shortly after Mommy and Me Class, (my last post), Esther and I discussed putting Cristian into daycare three days a week.  We figured spending time with kids his age is better for learning childlike-behavior, instead of spending days with his old man learning childish behavior.  We signed him up when he started throwing his sippy cup at the TV whenever CNN aired a Trump Rally.

Around the same time, I started receiving job offers.  A steady gig as a school photographer was a bit scary—not because of the workload but photographing elementary school kids was a sneak preview of the next few years of parenting.

Shortly afterwards I scored an interview for an academic advisor position at a college, my alma mater.  Since I was already working steadily as a freelancer with a possible full-time job lined up, we added two more days to Cristian’s schedule.  I had mixed emotions—I was excited at the challenge of a new job but was a little bummed too.

Getting his daily dose of CNN.

I’ve taken care of Cristian since Esther went back to work from maternity leave.  We’ve gone to MyGym classes, shopped at Costco, and he came along with me when I delivered documents for my medical billing job.

I knew I’d miss chasing him around the playground, watching him hit new developmental milestones, and miss the vein popping from my forehead as he tested Daddy’s patience time after time, (usually after the playground and hitting developmental milestones.  Life was changing yet again.

My mornings are different now.  Instead of taking Esther to work and Cristian to the playground, before settling into a few hours of spreadsheets and billing codes, my mornings are now a blur of shave, shower and get dressed.  Once again Esther and I are tag-team parents, one of us watching the baby while the other gets ready for work.  Sure my new job has nice perks like an office, but I still miss watching Cristian goofing on Wolf Blitzer after coming home from the playground

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Am I the Only One with Sore Nipples?

Cristian’s First Piece of Original Artwork. Esther loved it, but I’m going to wait before we think about sending him to art school.

I haven’t spent much time at the keyboard—it’s been a rough summer.  Although I haven’t been writing Cristian’s been growing and developing. I have material for several blog posts—I just need to sit and write them.

At the beginning of the summer Esther and I discussed enrolling Cristian in a Mommy and Me class.  Esther has a background in child development so when she suggested enrolling him in a class, I listened.  We agreed he needed to spend more time playing with kids his age.

Since she works six days a week, Mommy and Me class was another item on my Honey-Do List.  Although the class didn’t intimidate me, I was curious as to how a Mommy and Me Class worked and how I’d fit in.

Ever the artist Cristian explores a new medium, shaving medium.
Ever the artist Cristian explores a new medium, shaving cream.

Here’s what I found:

A Chance to Develop Social Skills – Mommy and Me Class offers a chance to develop social skills while playing with other children.  We wanted something more productive than him watching me yell at the TV during Trump Rallies on CNN.  Our goal was for him to learn childlike behavior not childish behavior.

Dads Go to Mommy and Me Class Too– This was my biggest concern.  Playing nicely with the other children or adapting to the program, were minor details.

I had no idea what was waiting for me.  Would the women go to the ladies room together, like when we go out with friends?  Would I hear the hellish childbirth war stories, about who needed more stitches or had more tearing?  Would it be a group of women in Capri pants sipping wine while the kids played?

Not knowing what to expect I packed a cooler with a six-pack.   I know what some of you are thinking, but it was light beer.  I didn’t want to give the wrong impression on the first day.  Image my surprise when there were two other dads were in class—they passed on the cold one I offered them.

Hey Dad, they have the coolest toys here.
Hey Dad, they have the coolest toys here.

You Will Channel Your Parents – Like every parent, I thought, I’d be more laid-back than my parents were.  That theory went flying out the window midway through the first class.   Cristian playing with orange play doh right after munching on orange goldfish during snack time had me channeling my Dad big time.  I could imagine the smile on his face as I pried the baby’s mouth open five or six times making sure the only thing he was chomping on were goldfish.

New Routines and Kiddie Songs – Mommy and Me class gave Cristian a chance to model other children’s behavior.  He learned sitting still (or as still as twenty-month old could manage) sharing and pretend play with the other kids.  Sure I left class with three or four new kiddie songs stuck in my head for a few days but it was a small price to pay.

Someone Needs a Nap, the Baby Could Use One Too – Cristian loved the class although it usually ran into his nap time.  I could relate, chasing him around class, keeping paint or shaving cream off both of us and making sure he didn’t gobble up another kid’s snack who would have thought he loved veggie straws, was exhausting (See the section on Channeling Your Parents).  Many times we both needed a nap when we got home from class.

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