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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Nine Things I Learned Since Becoming A Parent

With the Birthday Boy at his pre-school.

Recently, Cristian celebrated his fourth birthday. For about a week, Esther and I relived our first days as parents.  There is something nostalgic about birthdays.

We remembered Esther’s aunt brushing his hair into a baby Mohawk in the hospital, friends stopping by to visit, and his first days of preschool. After a few days, I sat down and put a list together of things I didn’t expect. I apologize in advance if it sounds like a greatest hits package.

Cleaning products are a parent’s best friend.

Pee, Poop & Puke — I came into parenthood with my eyes wide open. I knew there would be dirty diapers, and baby-related messes. I just had no idea that something so small could make such a huge mess.  Play dates and MyGym classes have given me a chance to swap stories with other parents.

We’ve spent time comparing notes.  We swapped stories on getting peed on and bleaching the bathtub after the baby dropped a deuce during bath time.  So far, no one has found a sure-fire way to get the puke smell out of toddler bedding. If you are considering starting a family, reread the last two sentences a few times until it sinks in. Remember, you’ve been warned.

Don’t dad-shame Bond.

I’m Not the Babysitter, I’m His Father – I was a Stay at Home Dad for two years, and the quickest way to piss me off was calling me the babysitter. Let me explain the difference — babysitters get paid — parents raise their children. Do I look like a teen-aged kid spending more time with their Snapchat feed than watching the baby?

These days, grandparents and older family members aren’t the only ones who can’t tell the difference. Journalists can be just as clueless. Piers Morgan recently mocked Daniel Craig for carrying his one-month old daughter in a baby carrier. Many outraged dads lashed out via Twitter making Mr. Morgan aware that Dads take an active role in parenting.

Separation Anxiety Can Be Rough – We found this out when Cristian was six weeks old. Driving Esther to work on her first day back from maternity leave, Cristian started crying before I stopped the car. I thought it was a one-time thing — silly me. He soon adapted to our feeble attempts at distracting him with Sesame Street as Mommy tried sneaking off to work, or even to the bathroom.

We thought it would pass, but it’s gotten worse — now he does it to me. Gone are the days when I could leave him in the gym’s nursery with a tablet and get in a quick workout. It’s effected how we plan date nights.  These days, the babysitter meets his school bus when he gets home from preschool, saving us all from a tantrum.

Kids Will Repeat Anything They Hear –  Remember how excited you were when your child said its first word? That joy fades quickly once your child starts repeating things, like a voice-activated recording device.  Esther now has to worry about what both men in her life might say.

A child’s vocabulary grows exponentially, once they start preschool, leaving parents wondering where they learned certain words.  I remember Cristian proudly sharing a new word with me. It had four letters and started with F. Worried, because I’d have to explain the origins of this new word to Mommy, I asked him to repeat it. I was relieved when he repeated the word, adding ribbit ribbit. Since then I’ve picked my words carefully around him.

A Sick Child Will Make You Feel Helpless – There is one thing consistent to all parents regardless of age, gender, or financial status — it sucks when your kid is sick. Cristian was fifteen months old, the first time he experienced a high fever. Crying, uncomfortable, and giving off a furnace-like heat, he looked to Mommy and Daddy to make everything better.  We grew increasingly frustrated when we couldn’t.  I’ve never felt more helpless in my entire life than I did on that night.

Friends Will Disappear From Your Life – Losing touch friends is a sad part of life.  How many friends have you kept in touch with since high school?  The number of friends we’ve lost touch with since becoming parents has been eye-opening. Things changed since the early days when friends stopped by to “see the baby,” These days we hear everything from, “It’s been tool long” to “We were giving you space.”

I understand that spending an afternoon at the zoo isn’t for everyone, Neither is spending an evening with a toddler bouncing off the walls like he’s in a pinball machine. We all have busy schedules, but I learned – some will make an effort, and others will make excuses. I never thought starting a family would make friends disappear like they were in the Witness Protection Program.

If Things Are Too Quiet, Be Very Afraid – Say goodbye to any semblance of quiet time, once your child reaches toddlerhood.  A child playing quietly in the other room is not your friend.  If you think you scored a chance to binge watch Game of Thrones, guess again. When things get too quiet, I immediately grab a broom and a box of hefty bags.

Spontaneity Is Replaced By Structure – Remember the days before parenthood, also known as the good old days.  Being spontaneous was easy, we could go to the movies or away for the weekend at a moment’s notice.  I miss those days.

With parenthood comes responsibility, or the ability to fake it for those who don’t know better.  Once your child starts daycare parents start establishing routines and schedules.  Vacation and time off from work revolves around school.  These days our evenings are about keeping Cristian on a schedule.  Although we mix things up, it’s some variation of playtime, dinnertime, bath time, bedtime.  Deviating from this will have dire consequences.

Despite the Challenges, Parenthood is Rewarding – Since becoming a Dad, I’ve congratulated new parents the same way, Congratulations, your life is about to change, but it will be worth it.  Being a Dad is the toughest job I ever had — and I’ve had many.  The hours suck, you don’t get weekends off, and the boss is extremely demanding.  Looking at Cristian playing happily with his tablet as I write this, fills me with awe.  I still can’t believe I helped create this awesome little being.

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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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Parenting Against the Memories of the Past

My brother showing me how to hold a baby.

A funny thing happened a few weeks ago, Cristian turned 18 months old.  A lot’s changed in a year and a half.  I no longer look like a gorilla dragging a baby around the cage.  My better half doesn’t have to stuff the baby bag and leave three complete outfits for the baby.  She still does—but doesn’t have to.  It’s been over a year since I looked at the extensive list of care instructions posted in the kitchen.

Cristian’s grown into a hyperactive toddler, kind of like the Tazmanian Devil on Red Bull, and I’ve become a functional Stay at Home Dad.  Getting here was twisty road of diaper blowouts (his not mine), empty bottles (mine not his) and unsolicited advice from just about everyone.

Feeding, bathing and dressing the baby is now part of my daily routine.  I no longer hear It looks like Daddy dressed you today.  Okay maybe from Esther—geez you forget to fasten the snaps on his onesie a few times.

A year ago, women at Target sniffed out diaper changes.   People at the post office suggested he may need a nap. Families at Costco gave me stink eye when I put the baby into the same shopping cart with a few gallons of bleach, a case of motor oil and 10 pounds of seafood.  Imagine if I threw the live lobsters into the cart, like I wanted to.

What are you doing with those lobsters Daddy?
What are you doing with those lobsters Daddy?

The family has gotten better too.  They no longer rush to feed or change the baby when he cries, just when I thought I had them trained.  Watching me take care of him eased their anxiety, or maybe they realized they’ve become material for a post or two.

You think that would be the end of it, of course it isn’t.  Haven’t you been reading this blog?

Having graduated from feedings and diaper changes, Parenting 101, I’ve moved onto the advanced course.  It started with a few subtle hints from the family elders, who am I kidding about subtle.

To give you some background on the family elders.  I once overheard them remark about how a new mom still had her baby belly—two days after a grueling 20-hours of labor ending in a C-Section.  To hear them talk they all went straight home from the delivery room and did three loads of laundry.

According to them when they raised us we always ate elaborately-planned home-cooked meals, didn’t fight them at bedtime, and never got dirty.  Oh selective memory is a wonderful thing.  I remember being called a bad child, constantly being scolded for getting dirty.

Parenting guidelines and norms changed over the years.  When I was a child, parents barely childproofed their homes, small children rode in the car’s backseat without a child seat or seatbelt, and moms did the heavy lifting regarding childcare.  So I can only imagine their shock at watching us raise our own children.  I don’t need to, I hear it constantly, but that’s okay.  As Cristian keeps growing and hitting developmental milestones, I’m hitting mine as a parent.  I guess it’s a good thing I keep a blog.

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The Life of a Stay at Home Dad

Cristian with some old guy.
Cristian with some old guy.

Before becoming a Stay at Home Dad, I had no idea of what to expect.  It was so bad I did a Google search to find out what SAHD meant.  Working without a road map the first months were a bumpy ride but its gotten smoother along the way.  Taking care of Cristian is the toughest job I’ve had, multitasking and improvising are only two of the skills needed for the job.

Since little information exists regarding Stay at Home Dads I decided to share a few details on the glamourous lives we lead.

Taking care of him was easier before he started walking
Taking care of him was easier before he started walking

Start Me Up – I’m up at 6:30 every morning.  Jumping or staggering out of bed depends on how the baby slept.  He’s usually up once a night.  He rolls over and goes back to sleep after snatching the bottle from my hand—on a good night.  Teething and ear infections have a way of throwing things out of whack.  I start my day with a cup of coffee and some quiet time with Esther as we straighten up the baby’s toys.  How Cristian slept the night before determines how strong I brew the coffee.

All the tools needed for starting the day off right
All the tools needed for starting the day off right

Daddy’s Wardrobe – This varies from dad to dad but it’s not business casual.  Most parenting books don’t offer wardrobe suggestions.  Since a lot of my day is spent chasing him around the house, the playground, and keeping him out of the bathroom, he loves bathrooms, I wear the same gear I wear on training runs, a tech t-shirt and sweats.   They’re light-weight, comfortable and washes easier than a cashmere sweater, because you will be drooled, spilled and pooped on.

No more CNN Daddy, I want to watch Sesame Street.
No more CNN Daddy, I want to watch Sesame Street.

Is TV the Babysitter? – Everyone thinks Stay at Home Dads binge watch Netflix while the baby plays.  In addition to being a Stay at Home Dad, I’m also a Work from Home Dad.  Working as a consultant and freelance writing gigs keep me busy while Cristian watches Sesame Street or Baby Genius.  That doesn’t mean he spends all day in front of the TV.   I read to him, we play in the park, and he comes along on my daily errands. That said Cristian’s watched more CNN than the average toddler—we both agree HD isn’t doing Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton any favors.

Sleep When They Sleep – I mentioned this before but it bears repeating.  I’m convinced anyone offering this advice never took care of a baby. Maybe they had a nanny or they’ve forgotten how demanding babies are.  A baby’s nap time is like hitting Lotto.  Here’s your chance to do a load of laundry, take a quick shower, or catch up on whatever you’ve fallen behind on.  Use the time wisely.  I’ve written and published blog posts during Cristian’s naps.

Everyone’s An Expert – Stay at Home Dads are still considered an oddity—much like caged animals at the zoo.  On any given day, I’ll hear comments and receive unsolicited advice on all things baby.  Everything from it looks mommy dressed him today, to how cute you’re babysitting, to he looks hungry.  Okay that last one was from Grandma who thinks everyone looks hungry but you get my point.

Multi-Tasking Required – Most job descriptions these days require strong time-management skills and the ability to multitask, they’re also prerequisites for any SAHD.  One any given day I’m chauffeuring Cristian to playdates, My Gym classes, or the park for an hour, while maintaining a full work-load and finding time to write. Am I babysitting or parenting—maybe a little of both depending on the day.

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