Well, the kids went back to school this morning and I’m already a little lonely. Somewhere in that building on the other side of the woods my children are experiencing a rite of passage, another first day back to school. New teachers, some new classmates, new things to learn and new work to do. Star Wars Mom went back to work at her own school two weeks ago and she already had a class full of students this past Wednesday. This year’s class seems to be more challenging than most but some hope lies in the fact that her traditional class of 36 kids has shrunk this year to a slightly more manageable 30. Regardless, mom’s got her hands full now and my minions are back at the brain factory so dad is no longer a part-time ‘cast member.’ Tradition may be that Labor Day is the official end to summer but for parents and students, it’s really today.
Maybe it’s because this morning came at 7 not 10 but even the air feels more like fall… well, like ‘Florida fall.’ This summer was one of our busiest even though we didn’t leave Central Florida. However, for the kids, last month may as well have been four years ago because the fun is over for a while now and the lazy days of summer 2016 are gone forever. This summer included not one but 3 Disney stays, a few theatrical movies, cooking recipes from Freddie Prinze Jr’s new cookbook with the kids, new computers, a new Harry Potter book, a handful of birthdays and a few other assorted “firsts” (and a couple Disney “lasts.”)
We did a lot up until mid July, but then the mercifully, unseasonably late Florida summer heat wave (that we all knew had to come eventually) crept in and is only just now starting to loosen its grip on the area. So the latter half of the summer found us mostly ‘Florida Hibernating.’ That is to say that for the most part we stayed indoors during the peak daylight sun. We got a lot of projects done, including rearranging the kitchen, living room & office and redecorating our daughter’s room. Mostly though we did a lot of binge watching Netflix, staying up late, playing games, sleeping in, and eating what we wanted, when we wanted. Hands-down though, the most significant contributor to the brutal neglect of many hot, yet beautiful, outdoor days were the kids’ new computers. In mid July the kids got laptops (mostly funded by birthday gift cards from Grandma & Grandpa J – thanks again!).
–Plan on seeing several more stories about the learning curve of grade school kids with their own full-blown notebook computers.
We set up the new notebooks, loaded programs and connected email & other accounts like Microsoft & Steam. (The Steam logo was actually Karl’s birthday cake choice this year). We even took the kids to a 4-day coding class at Microsoft. Also I tried to get the kids set up with google accounts and apple accounts so that we could communicate “Jetsons’ style” via hangouts or FaceTime but apparently they need to be 13. (I’ll have to get back to that one.) But now it’s school schedules and homework, early mornings and regular breakfasts. No more 11am brunch, no more 8pm cooking class with my daughter for dinner & a home theater movie. Now it will be planned meals and bagged lunches, reinstitution of reasonable bed times and early morning scrambles to remember all of that day’s gear. Our life once again is dictated not by weather or mood but by schedules, fees and mandatory projects & events.
So now I sit here alone on the bench-swing in my back yard, listening to the school PE teacher give instructions on the PA system outside the building beyond the trees. I’m not bored, just the opposite, there are several projects as yet unfinished (and I wisely left Sunday’s Walking Dead preview for today). I am lonely though. I grew up in & around Chicago and most of my high school friends, like myself, moved away for good after graduating. I made all new friends when I moved to Ft Myers for the decade of my 20’s but that is where most of them still live. Of course I’ve met other parents and neighbors in my 40’s but it never manifests into the kind of closeness that comes from going out on the town with twenty-something ‘drinking buddies.’ Regardless, when you’re a stay at home dad most friends you do have are still at work and can’t come over to play anyway.
There was no term for ‘stay at home dad’ when my son was born, I got ‘Mr. mom’ or ‘househusband’. Eleven years later 1 in 3 stay-at-home parents is a man, though middle aged men don’t normally go out and make new friends overtly. And although stay-at-home dad is more acceptable than when I started, socially we aren’t completely accepted. Even all the years that I was ‘room parent’ or the year that I was president of the PTO I have never once been invited by the “other moms” to a ‘back to school coffee’ at Panera (or wine at Starbucks.) it’s a special kind of lonely when you are in a crowd of fellow parents & neighbors who you’ve known for 6-10 years, talking each day about the things they’ve done together, never inviting you to the things they’re going to be doin next.
The rest of my family likely believes that they would gladly change places with me but I wonder if given the chance, how long they really would. Sure, they are out there working hard and following orders & schedules while I’m at home alternating between computer in the office, iPad in the living room or iPhone outside. I can go out to a store or elsewhere if I want. I can eat when I want. I could go back to bed if I want, though after my requisite 3 cups of Starbucks Gold Coast blend I rarely do. And a little luxury not afforded to teachers or students, I can go to the bathroom whenever and for however long I want. (That’s nice) But with all that they each HAVE to do, they overlook and under appreciate all that they each GET to do. Yes, they are working but they’re also socializing with peers, they’re having new experiences and interactions, they’re being intilectually and socially stimulated and challenged. No mater how busy or difficult the day or how little opportunity for chit chat, they all get human interaction with literally dozens, if not hundreds, of other people. They each get several changes of scenery and a wide variety of activity throughout the day. They have conversations, hear stories, get to brag about our summer fun to friends old and new. They get to share a laugh or a smile with a classmate, coworker or stranger. For the most part, I just have this. I can write, and I can hope that someone will read it. Maybe, just maybe, once in a while a reader will share or comment. For the most part though, I only get to interact with a few other humans each week in person. I might bump into a familiar face at Publix or chat at pickup while waiting for the kids, but that and small talk with the cashier at the register is about the extent of my school days social life. Most depressing though is that I know from the cycle of experience that once my wife & kids each come home, they’re done. They’re spent. They’ve had a days worth of toil and trouble and now they want to relax and be left alone. I often feel like the faithful dog that waits all day for the family to come home, only to find that they have spent all their interaction energy and are only interested in rest, alone time, and “what’s for dinner.” On a good day, I might get to hear a few stories of the best (or more often worst) moments of their day. Then it’s dinner, a tv show or two and they go off to bed to rest up for another day of the same. Mrs J leaves for work before my morning alarm so I usually spend another hour or three at night alone on my devices or watching a non-family friendly show (like The Walking Dead) with headphones. For the next 9 months or 180 school days, I’ll go to sleep Sunday through Thursday looking forward to the hour or so I get to spend with my beloved children in the morning before turning them over with forced ‘blind faith’ to the care of the under funded, largely political, Florida public education system.
So don’t feel bad, it’s a great life and it’s one that I confidently chose, long before it was cool. I do it by conscious intent and wouldn’t want it any other way. But maybe ladies, the next time you see that ‘wierd stay at home dad’ (that must have lost his job) drop his kids off at school – say hi. Invite him to the next Panera or Starbucks thing, he probably has more in common with you than the ‘working mom’ you talk to every day.
Well, I’ve got lots of footage and photos from this summer that need words before they can become stories, not to mention a lot of other updates for this website. I’ve been writing/rewriting for a bit so it’s now about time to pick up those wonderful kids I was talking about, so I guess I’m going back to work now too!
As always, thanks for listening,