Life would get simpler in twelve days. That’s when I’d be a stay-at-home dad again. I repeated this in my head while comforting my five-year-old daughter.
“DADDY!!! I don’t want to go to school!!!”
She cried as she watched blood drip from her right nostril to the bathroom floor. I held two tissues and squeezed below the bridge of her tiny nose.
“Honey, you have to go to school. Daddy has to go to work. The bleeding will stop. It always does.”
It was February 8, another day of below-zero wind chills. We had dealt with nosebleeds the previous winter, and I knew the drill. Vaporizer at night, gentle pressure when it’s happening, and wait it out. Our pediatrician had assured us it was the dry winter air and not a symptom of anything worse.
“I don’t want to get a bloody nose at school again!”
“I know.” I checked the clock. “Everything will be OK.”
I kept reassuring her, aware that I was also reassuring myself. Life would get simpler in twelve days. Not because the temperatures would rise (let’s not kid ourselves), but because I’d be back where I belong.
A Stay-at-Home Dad Is Born
Ten years ago, when my son was born, I left my full-time job as a copyeditor to launch my own freelance business. Really, I did it so I could stay home with my son. With the looming cost of daycare exceeding that of a second mortgage, and my wife not in a position to leave her job, we decided it made the most sense for me to become a work-from-home/stay-at-home dad.
For nine years, that was life. I changed diapers, planned meals, clipped coupons, cooked, cleaned, the whole shebang. I did my freelance work while my son—and later my daughter—slept. I worked a part-time job on the weekends. There was financial strain, and there were sideways looks from neighbors, but we always felt we were doing the right thing.
Fast-forward to 2018. With both kids in school, it was time for their old man to get back to the grind. An in-house position opened with one of my local clients, and before I knew it, I was at a desk again, Monday through Friday, 8:30–5:00 or later.
Juggling and Struggling
It was a big change for everyone, but my wife and I figured things out, as families do. I continued doing the laundry, but she took over cooking dinner. I packed lunches, and she handled bedtime. We took turns grocery shopping.
Millions of full-time working parents juggle these tasks every day, many of them without a partner to share the load. I don’t expect sympathy, and I don’t fail to recognize for a second how lucky I was to be a stay-at-home dad for those years, casually strolling around Target at 10:00 on a Tuesday morning. I was fully aware that our new reality was the same reality most of our friends had always dealt with.
Still, this was hard. And bloody-nose mornings were extra hard. Because you know what? It’s hard for everyone. It could always be worse—much worse—and there’s a lot to learn from looking at other families’ circumstances. But this isn’t a competition.
It’s. Hard. For. Everyone.
A Stay-at-Home Dad Comes Home
On the one-year anniversary of my full-time employment, I gave my two weeks’ notice. I was done folding laundry at midnight. I was done scrambling to find childcare on snow days. I was done wishing my daughter would hurry up and finish her bloody nose already so I could make it to work on time. So I quit. I’d go back to freelancing and go back home again.
As I sat at my desk with twelve days left, I fully expected to get a call from the school nurse. When my phone did ring, it was my wife. She was racing from work to the kids’ school. The nurse was out that afternoon, and when the school secretary couldn’t stop my daughter’s bleeding and crying, she called who school secretaries almost always call: Mom.
I sat there, unable to help. My wife took care of it, and everything was OK after all. But all four of us breathed a sigh of relief twelve days later, when Dad came home and things became a little simpler again.
Still hard—because it’s always hard—but a little simpler nonetheless.