Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Quest For Fire

Last night I baked some bread. Nothing to get excited about, really, I just poured the mix out of the box, into the bread machine, and pushed "start". But Trish decided to praise me for not engaging in learned, purposeful, incompetence. Bill Cosby once had a great routine about making breakfast for the kids one day when his wife was feeling sick, and the upshot was that Dads that seemed to be bumblers about the house weren't as dumb as they looked. That's what I meant about purposeful incompetence.

My own Dad liked to pretend he couldn't work the microwave, though when Mom wasn't around he seemed to manage. Trish occasionally does this as well, though in her case I think this can be traced to a traumatic incident involving popcorn almost catching fire (people, if your microwave has a "popcorn" setting, I suggest you try it.).

Most men who make it out of bachelorhood have managed to learn how to cook at least a little bit. I don't mean microwaving the "Hungry Man" dinners, either. I mean taking food from a raw state to a cooked one, generally by the application of controlled amounts of artificially generated heat for periods of time. Even if it means getting really good with Hamburger Helper and the Potato Buds mashed potato mix, its still a kind of cooking.

I know for a lot of guys, especially where I grew up, your contribution to the family meals consisted mainly of occasionally working the charcoal grill.

I also suppose, if you were like me, that once married you were quite happy to turn the cooking chores over to your spouse. I certainly was. I did the dishes, and was quite happy to do so. So we men learned how to cook, after a fashion, but then quite promptly forgot again once hitched.

When I took to staying home, we kept that arrangement of her cooking and me doing the dishes. And it is still the official arrangement. But not as much. Lets face it, when the cook gets home at 6:00pm for a planned meal at 6:30pm, there is a limit to what they can do, even if you play the role of sous chef.

Now, there's always the leftovers route, which we take from time to time. Indeed, we plan to have leftovers, in order to deal with just this sort of situation. But there are limits to making that work.

So I gotta cook. And one thing that has happened since taking up the stay-at-home mantle is I've spent a lot more time looking over recipes and helping create the weekly menu. It complicated by the fact that my wife is a vegetarian. Once upon a time she was a pseudo veggie, in that she would eat chicken. But last year she decided to give that up as well (despite this handicap, she does grill up excellent steaks for me and the little guy) and become a full-fledged vegetarian. Except for occasional backslides under duress. But as noted, Jake and I are not vegetarians, and I mostly try to pick things where the whole meal is contained in one, well, container, to make life simpler and not to have to worry about trying to make everything be ready all at the same time.

And of course, that one container often contains meat of some stripe. So that's a complication. And when it comes to chopping and mixing, Trish is way faster than I am. And she can occasionally do that magic sort of thing of "whipping up" a pretty tasty and healthy little meal with little more than a cast iron skillet, a dash of soy sauce, and some stray molecules of argon (Symbol: Ar. Atomic Number: 18).

But there can be little doubt of one thing, and that is that I have become a lot more comfortable in the kitchen than I ever was during my days as a single male, and in a lot less time. And I don't mean knowing how to work a can opener. Is it because I've had a good example? Is it the time thing? It's a lot easier to prepare a meal when you can start at 4pm instead of 5pm or 5:30pm or 6, after all.

What does all of this mean? I dunno. Am I less a man because I can grill the meat instead of just killing it? Should I be worried that I occasionally find cooking a bit fun? What about shopping? I shop for groceries, of course, since I'm at home and have the time. Do I feel weird being a guy in the store on Tuesday morning? Do I care?

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Walking the Dog

One of the particularly pleasant parts of my day comes after my son has climbed aboard the school bus and begun the punishing 2 mile ride to his school. I head down the small street that runs from the bus stop to the 4-lane surface arterial that cuts through the residential areas, hang a left, and proceed to walk north. Invariably, I am aware of numerous stares and smiles, and more than a few expressions of stunned surprise.

I wish I could say it my Greek god-like form that is drawing the stares, but I know better. People are looking at the dogs.

There are three of them, to be exact. First we have George Washington and Marquis de Lafayette. George is about 11 months old, weighs 80 pounds or so, is reddish brown and displays the characteristics of at least 3 distinct breeds (lab, Dane, and German Shepherd). Marquis is about 8 months old, 50 pounds, the same color, and looks to be Sharpei-something-something. As Trish says, both dogs are "mutts crossed with mongrels". They look enough alike to be brothers, or father and son, but we got them several months apart from different sources. Their names come from our son Jacob's love of a TV series called Liberty's Kids. The show was about the American Revolution, and was running on PBS at the time.

The story of our getting these dogs will have to wait for another post, though.

But as cute as they are, most of the stares are really for the three-year old Hubert. Hubert is a full-blooded Great Dane. Black, about as tall as my waist, and weighing 120 pounds, Hubert is the largest dog many people have ever seen.

And he draws many many admiring stares. I get a big kick out of seeing little kids straining to see over the door frames of cars as they go by, and full-grown adults staring with open mouths. The presence of the other two dragging me along just adds to the spectacle.

Monday, August 23, 2004


When you become a stay at home dad, there are adjustments both you and your spouse have to make. If you've fallen into the stay-at-home gig, like I did, instead of truly choosing it, I suspect the adjustment will take longer and have a few bumps in it. Mine certainly did.

Much of course depends on your spouse and how the two of you shared house duties before. I'm assuming here that said spouse has some sort of standard career, by the way.

At first, we did things where she got our son ready for school three days a week, and I did it two. It was her idea, and it seemed to make sense at the time, since she was getting up very early anyway in order to pull herself together and get to work on time (my wife is not a morning person. Neither is our son, and I managed by having a sort of ritual that got me through the first hour or two, but woe betide anyone who messed with my ritual). This arrangement lasted maybe two weeks.

Trish came to me one day and stated she couldn't do it anymore, and that in fact she was feeling jealous and even angry that I was getting to sleep in so much.

And here I think I should take a second to make a very important point: In my case, having left a job that was beginning to suck the life out of me via benign neglect, any change for me was one for the better. I loved what had happened to me, and why should I want to change what was fun and nice? Let it be known that had circumstances been reversed, it would have been me standing there demanding, not asking, that we do things differently.

And so we changed it around, from two days to three days, and eventually to one day. And it made sense. Okay, Trish was getting up early anyway, but she was trying to get out of the house and go to her job. I was doing my bit around the house, but I didn't have a hour-long commute.

And that is something you have to recognize and get used to. Your spouse may have done a lot of the traditional "Mom" things like getting the kids ready for school while getting herself ready for work, but if you're the one going to be at home, and you aren't having to get ready for work, then you're the one that needs to take on someone else's responsibilities to make things work.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Life and Its Discontents

I had to call the credit card company this morning. Our cards didn't work yesterday. I thought it might have been some tech glitch, that sort of thing has happened before. Well, not this time. It seems that a couple of checks bounced, including the most recent one. Don't know when the first one was, the rep could only look back six months, but from the sound of things, it must have been within the last year.

That's a pain. We've got plenty of money, but its obvious that the checking account needed a fresh infusion before that last one went off. Of course, my wife just noted that we're supposed to have overdraft protection on that account.

It's far from a disaster, but it's all very irritating. At least I can make lots of phone calls from my study to straighten it out and not worry about my cow-orkers eavesdropping.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

The Time Not Crunch

Any family with kids today can tell how hard it is to keep up with everything going on. Parents have jobs, kids have school and day care, and both may have activities. In addition, the groceries need to be bought, yards mowed, the house cleaned up, any pets cared for, and trips made to the Home Depot or Loews in order to get the latest thing to be installed or used to fix what's broken.

It is, in short, damn hard to make all that fit in to your lunch hour, time off after work, and the weekend. Oh, and of course, you'd like to do something fun as a family once in a while as well. If your spouse is a stay-at-home mom, then all that is much easier. She does it. But if you both work, well...

Until you become the stay-at-home spouse.

I tell you, the change in our lives once I had settled in to taking care of some of the housecleaning, the grocery shopping, and getting to do the other errands during the day while my son was at school and my wife at work was amazing.

When Jake got home from school, I was there to be with him. The animals had been taken to and from the vet already, the groceries were in the fridge, the errands done. It was so totally great. The time after school and work and the weekend available for us to be together and enjoying ourselves expanded immensely. It wasn't like stolen moments in between jobs. It was full, relaxed, and more enjoyable.

The dogs even got a walk. And the house was cleaner. And I got to blog. Pretty cool.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

How Did I Get Here?

I suppose it would be appropriate to begin by describing how I became a stay at home Dad. This is actually my second go-round, though the first was much shorter.

Starting almost two years ago, my boss at the company I worked for, a privately owned home health care company in Texas, sort of let it be known that there were some changes in the pipeline that might mean we would be losing our jobs. Management wanted to replace the computer system we had with another one -- and in that case, in-house computer programmers like myself would no longer be needed. Eventually, that turned out to be true, and in January of 2003, with 3 months of severance pay, I was let go. I really expected to get another job in reasonably short order, crappy economy or no crappy economy -- and despite the fact that I had been searching for 4 months before my last day with no luck.

I spent most of the next three months looking for work. I didn't even get an interview. At home I did random houseworky things, but really not much more than I had done already. Then my old boss contacted me. It seems the new system wasn't working too well, they were going back to the old one, and could I come back under contract for 6-7 months to make some changes that would get them through the time period needed to finish up yet another new system? Of course, I said yes.

Six months passed, and while doing my work at the old place in my old office, I continued to hunt for jobs. I got one interview, but no job. Eventually, on January 31 2004, I left for good.

One thing that was obvious the first time and even more obvious the second time, was that I was miserably unhappy at my job. I've had jobs I liked a lot, but this had not been one of them. No one treated me badly (indeed, my boss was quite understanding about needing to leave early some times for my family, getting me raises, listening to my suggestions, etc.), it just wasn't the kind of job that worked for me. It was interfering with my life away from work too, making me grumpier, less able to accomplish tasks, just a bad scene all the way around. It was bad enough that my wife was thrilled when my last day finally came.

After some time, we came to a decision. Because we had been both careful and lucky, I didn't have to get a job at the Starbuck's down the road in order to make the mortgage payment. And we decided I would be a stay at home dad for the rest of the year in order to figure out, well, what to do with my life. And here we are.

First Post

This blog represents my attempt to describe my life as a stay at home Dad. This life may be temporary or it might be permanent, I can't say right now. But I will be talking about the good, the bad, and the ugly of life as Homo Domesticus -- Domestic Man.

As I write this first post (which might get expanded into a sort of FAQ someday) I've been home for about 7 months. Somehow, it seems much longer, almost like I've been living this way my whole life. But it hasn't gotten boring or irritating yet.

One thing I should also say at the outset, and hopefully I won't have to repeat it too many times, is that what I will write about will represent my experiences. Yours may be different. In fact, they will be different. What I feel you may not feel, what works for me and my wife might not work for you or your spouse. What you find here might be helpful as a suggestion, or as an idea of what not to do. So please, if you choose to comment (and I encourage everyone to please do) do keep that in mind.

Now, on with the blog.