It had all the makings for a perfect Monday night; the Green Bay Packers were playing a nationally televised football game, Robin wasn’t traveling, and I hadn’t had a plate full of “carbs” in awhile. It was time to sit back and indulge. While the Sandman called Haze before kickoff, Mae stayed up past her bedtime (on a school night), ate snacks on the couch, and cuddled with her dad while watching the first quarter of the game.Then, Mae went to bed, the worst call in all of sports history was made (so says I the Packer fan), and sleep did not come easy. After blinking my eyes and seeing the sun, I was greeted by a chipper Mae bedside asking, “Did they win?”
“They lost.” Leaked out of my mouth while getting up and heading to the breakfast table. Her question opened the tap, the flood of emotions I had the night before were back. I wanted to, needed to, say more than “they lost”, but what would make sense to her? I couldn’t explain why there are replacement refs, it’s too much to detail all the “blown” calls, and although my emotions were still high, I couldn’t say we didn’t lose. As I raced around my, now overly active, mind, searching for the next thing to say, Robin, my wife, stepped in.
The exchange went like this:
“Mae, a Packer caught the ball and they said someone on the other team caught it. It was a big play at the end of the game and the Packers lost.” Robin said looking my way to ensure I would stay out of the discussion.
Mae naturally reacted. “That’s weird. Why would they say that?”
“They didn’t see it the way we did, and, well, you remember those guys that dress like zebras?” Robin was getting playful and I wanted to jump in with my grumbles.
“Well, they enforce the rules and said we didn’t catch it. They said the other team did. So, that’s the way it went.” I thought about how nonchalant she was about the situation while I waited for my chance to pounce and discuss the injustice.
“Well, Dad.” Mae started with a grin. “You remember that time they won when I stayed up later to watch the game?”
“Yes, I do.” I knew what she was getting at, smiled at Robin, and left the table.
As a stay at home parent, with a wife that travels for work, a significant amount of time in my day is spent answering the what’s, why’s, and how’s of the world to our girls. This being the case, I can get stuck on automatic pilot jumping to answer every inquiry they have, even when Robin is around. I forget that I can “take a break” and switch roles, and that they need to hear from someone other than me.
We are all busy and can get caught up in the roles that define us during certain parts of our day. It may be coming home from the office and using “business-speak” with our family, leaving dog obedience class and barking orders at our friends, or finish watching the worst bit of officiating in pro-sports ever and thinking that you need to explain every “what” and “why” of the situation to your 5 and 3 year-old daughters.
There are few answers and many opinions. If I’m force fielding all of their inquests then I’m negating Robin’s, and others, voices in their lives. Obviously, Robin has moments with the girls without me and I’m not always chiming in, but I absolutely feel compelled to react when they ask a question, it’s instinctual, a flinch, and something that I need to be mindful of.
Being more aware of “switching hats” may add greater dimension to my relationship with the girls, and it’ll give me a break from being “stay-at-home” parent all the time. I can then meld into being dad on the couch griping about “the game” without having to explain it or myself from time-to-time.
Andrew Meyer is a Special Education teacher from Madison, Wisconsin, whose wife’s job relocation changed their family roles and physical location. He's now a stay-at-home dad in Madison, Alabama, to two awesomely creative, sometimes challenging, and mostly sweet five and two-year-old girls who fill his days, nights, and in-between spaces. When with or without them, he writes, works-out, wonders, wishes he wouldn’t worry, wrestles with his wife’s commitment to her job, and listens to music. You can also find him at www.papasense.wordpress.com, on Twitter @papasense, and Facebook.