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A Day in the Life of a Stay-at-Home Dad

6 am

My alarm goes off—quietly. Akiko gets up at seven no matter what, like she's punching a clock, so I need to get up early to do things I otherwise don’t have time for: writing, running, submitting poems, or whatever freelance work I have. Today I’m writing, so I open up my computer.

7 am

Aki begins rustling and making her crib squeak. My wife Karen gets up, and I stop working to make coffee and help with breakfast. Aki gets out all the Tupperware out from the one cabinet we've more or less yielded to her, and spreads it around.

9 am

Karen leaves for work. I put Aki's shoes on and we head to the playground at a nearby park. It's unseasonably cool and overcast, so when we get there the playground is empty except for a little boy, V, and his mother, near the swings. I put Aki down and say, "Look who's here! Go say hi!" but she wanders instead to the slide. Another person arrives who I haven't met before. He appears to be an older father, or perhaps a grandfather, with a baby in a bassinet stroller. It's nice to see another guy here, but he keeps to himself, and leaves before I can say hello. V's mom walks over to tell me to keep an eye out if he comes back. Apparently he shows up nearly every morning and urinates in a corner of the playground. "It drives the other parents and the park employees crazy."

This is one of the things about being a stay-at-home dad. My gender tends to do the pervy stuff. Men—men who hang around playgrounds—must be watched in case they’re pedophiles, public urinators, or creeps. I feel like I need to make extra clear I don’t fit in that group. It’s not like mothers grab their children and hug them close when I show up, but I can sense the possibility, in the back of their minds, that I might be a danger. Especially at first. This isn’t something I would normally worry about, but we just moved to the neighborhood and at the moment, the mothers are friendly, if a bit distant. I want Aki to socialize and have play dates, and I want other mothers to feel as comfortable leaving their kids with me as they would with each other. {C}9:30 am

Another mom arrives, one I know from music class. She has a little girl Aki's age who I like quite a bit. They begin to play together, and Aki starts sharing her snack with H—feeding dried cereal right into H’s mouth. H says Aki's name over and over as they eat the cereal. It's super cute and my heart swells. I love how happy my daughter is, and how generous she can be. She has her difficult moments, but overall I feel like I have an extremely gracious and thoughtful child.

10:30 am

Aki begins to yawn, so we head back for a small snack before her 11 am nap. I'm lucky today, and she sleeps for a couple hours. I manage to do a bit more writing, and even wash up the breakfast dishes before making lunch.

We recently got a television after ten years without one. It isn’t hooked up to cable or antenna (we watch movies and Netflix on it) but it's never on when Aki is awake. She’ll be at least three or four before we intentionally let her watch TV, possibly older. Our reasons for this are many and complicated, but since we don’t watch much anyway, it hasn’t been a big deal. The biggest effect on my day is that, since I don’t plop her down for an episode or two of Blues Clues, the only time I have for work is in the morning and during her nap. She can (and often does) play by herself, but I still need to keep an eye on Aki when she's awake. The last time I tried writing while she was playing, I later found six toy train cars in the cat’s litter box.

1 pm

Aki wakes and I make some lunch. We read and play inside for a little bit, then get ready for our afternoon music class.

2:30 pm

Music class is great. It's at a local coffee shop where they clear the tables and put down rugs. There are 8 to 10 other children, mostly girls, mostly around Aki's age, and we rattle and drum and sing songs about riding on the subway, and being a kid in the city. The whole thing is led by a talented and bouncy musician with tons of energy. Aki spends half the time staring at his antics in a daze, but she soaks it in. She often imitates the songs’ movements at home. In the middle of a lullaby, she runs off and sits in another mom’s lap. The mom cuddles her, and other parents coo. A bit later, a little girl about ten months old crawls over, and puts her hand on my knee. After some hesitation, I pick her up, cuddle her, then let her crawl away. The other parents coo.

As class winds down, the mother of an affectionate and gentle boy named D jokes that her son is turning into a little Lothario, as he's the only boy in the class. Everyone laughs, and then the musician, a great and not at all creepy guy, jokes that he was hoping to have his own harem until I showed up and created competition. Most of the mothers laugh, but I cringe, just a little, inside. Other neighborhoods have a higher stay-at-home dad quotient, but I haven’t met many here. It would be easier to be part of this community if everyone could forget that I’m a guy.


4 pm

We bounce to the grocery store and I pick up things for dinner. On our way back, I decide that our afternoon snack should be pork buns. We live in Chinatown and there's a ton of delicious, if junky snacks. It's a rare treat but Aki's been good. As soon as we enter the bakery, she starts crying because she wants one. Ah, toddlers. She cries, and then cries harder when I don't give it to her right away. Crap. Now she won’t walk, so I have to carry her, the pork buns, and the groceries home, while she’s wailing and fighting to get down. We make it, and I give her part of a bun for her snack, but what a mess.

Many mothers, when they’re frustrated, cry. I don’t. It’s stereotypical, I know, but my reaction to frustration is to get angry. I want to slam stuff, punch a wall. It’s clearly behavior Aki can’t see, so to blow off steam and keep my general state of being calmer, I’ve been running. If I really hit my boiling point during the day, I take myself out of the situation: put Aki in her crib for a few minutes and go vent, or (the better option) wait until Karen gets home, hand Aki off, and go for a late-night run. But that’s rare. Today’s tantrum is no big deal, and we settle into an afternoon of playing and preparing dinner.

7 pm

Karen gets home and we eat dinner. Then I hide for a bit while Karen gives Aki a bath and puts her to bed. Sometimes I help, but mostly I leave it to my wife. I'm tired of being on duty all day, and this allows Karen gets some mommy/daughter time.

8:30 pm

Aki’s in bed. This is one of my favorite moments, getting some alone time with my wife. We chat and then settle down with a bag of chips and watch a couple episodes of Parks and Recreation.

10:30 - 11 pm

Tomorrow is a running day, so I set my alarm for 6:00, read for a few minutes, and go to sleep.

 
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