Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Auto-Pilot: Pros and Cons of Staying Home With the Kids

Honestly, I can't complain.

I've got it made: an amazing wife and kids, and an old dog that sleeps 23 hours a day. I have high speed Internet. I have a machine in the kitchen, that when I pull a lever, cold clean drinking water comes out. And I have another machine in the bathroom, that magically takes away stuff I don't need, and makes it disappear. I have it better than 99% of the people in the world, seems like.

And as a stay at home parent, my job is not to bring home a paycheck, but to bring up good kids, and that makes me an incredibly lucky person. I hated office politics, ties, smoke break abuses, sticky notes on food items, passive aggressive signs in bathrooms, and forced interactions with the uninteractables. I've been away from that insanity for 5 years, and I haven't missed it for one day.

People who think about staying home with kids, though, must know the cons as well, because these are not things anyone can imagine before making the decision.

Being around kids is inspiring. They are these unbelievably honest creatures, and the cliche about learning from them as much as they learn from you happens to reflect reality. They are untainted by prejudices and unmoved by justifications and false excuses for morally ambiguous decisions. The world is what it is in their eyes, and we are what we are, and every time I take the wrong path, I see things in their eyes, and realize I should do the right thing.

They inspire me, but that inspiration ends there, since most of the day, I don't have time to think. Stay-at-home parents spend most of their days on auto-pilot, since any deviation means not getting through the morning routine on time, which means being late for school. It means lunch will be late, which means nap time will be late, which means either a tired kid who falls down a lot after a short nap, or a 2-hour struggle to put the kid to bed at night.

Stepping away from the auto-pilot to do simple things, like talking on the phone or watching that short segment on the news, or god-forbid, writing a blog post, means our kids see us ignoring them, and they either internalize it quietly or complain loudly. If my kids feel ignored, then I'm failing at my job, and if they complain loudly about it, well, I can't talk on the phone or write anyway.

So we reward ourselves a little with mostly brain-dead activities. Five minutes on Twitter, four on Facebook. We leave a comment on Instagram, and find a funny GIF on Reddit. Like this one.

And then we look back, at a rare moment of reflection, since a longer moment of reflection is something we simply cannot afford, and we think, "What the hell happened to us? We used to be cool, and we used to be edgy. We used to listen loud music." (And we used to be able to reflect on our own lives without resorting to a more distant WE as a lame defense mechanism.)

So let me use an I from now on.

I can't say I'm completely brain-dead, and honestly, my 40th birthday is coming up, so the brain-death might be simply about getting older. Back in the olden days, after all, 40-year-old great-grandparents would be asked to leave the camp, so no wonder our evolution didn't see fit to keep our brains developing past 28.

I end up with tiny slivers of virtual me-time on Twitter and on Facebook, because I don't want to wake up my brains and fool it into thinking I'm going to use it until after the kids are asleep.

Two things happen after the kids are asleep, though: First, you're still on the clock. Kids wake up. My five-year-old only recently stopped doing that, just in time for the 2-year-old girl to start her night-time routine of asking for water, then asking for help in the bathroom because she drank all that water, then one of her dolls falls on the floor, and then she can't find her paci in the dark. Making the switch away from auto-pilot takes a long time, then, but eventually everyone is asleep, so I make the switch, and I'm a human being again! I can think and reflect, and read, and write, and I can do all these things I had been taking for granted before I stayed home, and then, 10 minutes later, I fall asleep too.

I don't dream of a better world, and I don't dream intricate plot twists for a book. My sleep is too messy, too fragmented to think big thoughts, since I can be woken up at any second. I'm on call.

So I close my eyes, and see that dancing dog, over and over again.

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  1. A-friggin-men, Oren. I still try to convince myself that I'll turn the brain back on once the kids are asleep and write the most masterful conglomeration of words ever conceived or discover the missing piece of this or that project or even read a book without pictures. Instead I end up falling asleep in my desk chair (like I did last night). Maybe I'll just blame it on my own impending 40th birthday. Great post, sir.

    1. Thanks, man. And if I manage to stay up late, I'm too tired to think the next day anyway. I'm at my best for about 10 minutes during the weekend.

  2. Fantastic. Really well written. Amen about office life. And about that dog.

    1. Thanks. And if that dog didn't haunt your dreams until you saw that post, it will now!



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