“Really, dog? Really?” I questioned my rat terrier as she busted through the bathroom door to sit at my feet and beg for attention. I figured it would happen. I can’t remember the last time I shit without an audience. It’s literally a crap-shoot that results in any combination of wife, kid, or dog, and sometimes all three, interrupting what I would prefer to be a super exclusive party of one. I imagine my wife feels the same way, but as far as the dog and the kid are concerned, when Mom is at work it’s an event worth crashing time and again. I’m not sure why I even entertained the idea of this time being any different.
I thought I was in the clear. Jack was walking around with my sweaty running shoes on his hands and heading into the relatively safe zone of our living room. The dog was nowhere to be seen. I gave the toddler and his immediate surroundings a final once over before sneaking around the corner into our main floor bathroom. I even managed to shut the door a bit, making sure to leave it open a crack to allow me to monitor the sounds of the front of the house while still providing me with a false sense of privacy. I had barely settled in when the door burst open and the dog claimed her usual spot on the brown, circular bathroom rug in front of my feet.
For a dog that can usually care less about me or my affection, my bathroom time is apparently her favorite bonding time. It’s quite odd, but like many things as of late, it has become a now predictable and nearly comfortable part of my life. I pretty much expect it to happen, even though I thought I might get away with some solitary seconds on this occasion. She looked up at me and whined, and in my vulnerable state, I quickly resigned myself to her presence. At least it was only the dog. I scratched her on her butt while trying to decipher the noises coming from the wandering one year old in the living room. He was still keeping himself occupied, relatively quietly from what I could tell, so I attempted to dive into a magazine article I had been trying to read for what seemed like a month.
Then the alarm went off. At first, I had no idea what it was. The high pitched loop of a siren would have had me pissing in my pants from the shock and surprise if they weren’t currently around my ankles. Sometimes things just go your way, I suppose. Before I could collect my thoughts or my pants, Jack started screaming. Although I couldn’t see his face, I knew he was in full on, dead-red, eyes closed, gasping for breath wailing mode.
It soon registered that Jack had merely gotten a hold of my keys and had triggered the panic button on my Hyundai, but it was already Def Con-1 outside of the bathroom. I jumped to my feet, a reflex honed over the past year forcing me to get up and sprint for the front room. There was no time to wipe, let alone pull my pants back up. I stepped out of them, almost stepping on the dog in the process, as we both raced to the hysterical wreck that was somewhere behind the couch.
I snatched my keys from the clutches of the crying kid and remedied the alarm situation with one finger as I scooped Jack up simultaneously and held him to me. I proceeded to try to console him over the next couple of minutes as the dog, still barking from the excitement, tried to jump in my arms as well, scratching up my bare legs in the process. There I stood, exactly one year from the start of my “stay at home” parenting experiment, naked from the waist down in the middle of the living room, fending off a terrier with one hand, wiping away toddler tears with the other, all the while doing my best to convince a freaked out fourteen month old that everything is going to be alright. Then we all went back to the bathroom.
The panic button on my key chain isn’t the only button, literal or figurative, my son has learned to push over my past year as a Stay at Home Dad. He knows how to make me smile. He knows how to make me frustrated. He knows how to make me cry. He’s also learning very quickly how to get what he wants from me. I, however, am not learning quite as quickly how to get what I want from him or figure out exactly what it is that he wants. Sure, I’ve got the basics down. But, I still have a long way to go. I’ve learned how to keep my kid alive and well. I’ve learned how to care for him on my own for hours, days, and weeks. I’ve learned how to make him stop crying. But honestly, I feel like that’s the easy part.
The other day I was talking to a new dad that I know and he admitted that he hasn’t changed a diaper yet. It had been eight weeks, and he hadn’t touched one single diaper! I didn’t even try to stifle my laughter, and I erupted right in front of him.
“I didn’t even know dads like you still existed,” I said, then I questioned him again. “Not one fucking diaper change in two months?” I asked.
“I’m good with being the guy that hands her the baby, or hands her the wipes, or throws away the sealed up old diaper,” he responded, taking a sip from his drink. “I’m like the sidekick or something,” he added.
“Well…good for you!” I said sarcastically, “remind me not to let you knock me up.” I took a bite of a slice of pizza in disbelief. I wasn’t sure what was worse, his acceptance and even pride in being a hands-off, second class parent or the fact that the mother of his child actually let him get away with it? Apparently I hadn’t just traveled back to Chicago for a visit, I had gone back in time. It’s hard to relate to the sidekicks when you’re vying for Rookie of the Year.
Later that night, as I waited for sleep listening to the Pixies’ lullabies streaming out of the baby monitor for the billionth time, I thought about the conversation I just had. If that guy had never changed a diaper on his own, there was no way he had ever been left alone with his child. There was no way he had ever attempted to go for a run in a park with a dog and a cranky three month old on his first week in a new city. There’s no way he has ever been handed a crying and stinking four month old first thing in the morning and left to figure it all out. There was no way he’s had to decide whether or not to hide from mommy the witnessing of a first roll, first tumble, first crawl, first step, or first word so she wouldn’t feel left out. There was no way he’s felt the anguish of a sabotaged nap when there was shit to do in the house. There was no way he’s spent a week home alone 24/7 with a teething nine month old.
There was no way he’s been caught up in a never ending loop of picking up and cleaning up and picking up again. There was no way he’s had to ask his wife for poker or beer money for a rare few hours away from childcare. There was no way he’s had to clean baby shit out of the bathtub before his wife got home. There was absolutely no way he’s had to drive his son to the doctor on a Friday afternoon to get his personal diagnosis of jock itch confirmed by a doctor and then spent almost two weeks rubbing anti-fungal cream and zinc oxide on his son’s balls three times a day. And there was no fucking way he’s ever stood mid-dump, naked from the waist down, in his living room with a crying kid in his arms trying to shut off a screaming car alarm.
But, there was also no way he’s reaped the confidence of taking his child on an amazing and enlightening 800 mile road trip alone. There was no way he’s spent multiple hours in the middle of the day staring at lights on the ceiling with a starry eyed five month old. There’s probably no way he’s gotten to be the first to see his son drink from a bottle all by himself with no one else around. There was probably no way he’s had slow mornings sipping countless cups of coffee on the front porch swing absorbing the sight of a baby in a bouncer.
There’s no way he’s taken his baby out to lunch while Mom’s at work. There was no way he’s given himself a mohawk due to cabin fever and a desire to entertain a cooped up kid. There was no way he’s spent dozens of weekday afternoons watching his son crawl up and down the empty aisles of a minor league baseball stadium when he wasn’t watching for stray foul balls. There was no way he’s felt the elation of a private dance party for two to old punk rock records at full volume with no one else around. There was no chance he’s fallen in love with his son while listening to Lullaby Led Zeppelin and changing his diaper.
Sure, changing diapers isn’t everything. It’s really only the beginning, but you have to make sure you don’t miss your chance to get started. I mean, if you can’t handle the shit, you should have kept your pants on in the first place. I know Mr. Sidekick will have his moments, and I wish him and his family many amazing ones. I wish for him the greatest variety of parental experiences. I wish him luck. I hope he decides to become more involved and not less. I hope he changes a diaper soon, at least for the sake of his wife. I hope he finds a way to be all the dad he can be. But I wouldn’t trade the last year of my life — the good, the bad, and the thousands of dirty diapers for all the beer in the world.