Everyone who’s ever stayed home with a baby will relate to this story from a man who swapped spread sheets for spreading Vegemite on toast…
“I can totally do this,” I thought to myself.
It was 6am on the morning of my wife’s first day back to work after three months of maternity leave. She was getting ready to jump in the shower and take the train to the city. I was preparing to take care of our little bundle of joy all by myself. “I can do this,” I said again, but slightly less sure of myself as his wake-up screams pierced the silence of the house
I was heading into stay-at-home daddydom willingly. For the past few years I had been working from home as a writer and an actor. It was a late-in-life career switch, after 16 years of climbing the exhausting corporate ladder. I had mild success in my creative life. I appeared in a few TV shows here in the States and optioned a few screenplays, but I was definitely still a work in progress. Now the idea was to keep working while raising my new young son.
During his first three months, my wife and I made a pretty good team. He had some sleeping issues that were difficult and a milk allergy that took us a while to sort out, so it was a bumpy road, but we handled it together. Now that she was going back to work it was just me, “mano a mano” against a testy 10-pounder.
What I remember most about those early days was how long they felt. I worked in a lot of miserable jobs over the years, but I’ve never stared at a clock as much as I did while caring for my little guy. My wife was working in New York City, so with the one-hour train ride from our suburban home she was gone from 7am to 6pm every day. I’m embarrassed at how many days I would sit there praying for 6pm to come. Plus, it was the dead of winter which meant it got dark early every day, adding to the feeling of imprisonment that was sweeping over me.
It’s not like my son was some great burden. He was just a typical baby. He slept when he wanted, he pooped a lot and he would cry for no reason. Actually, I’m sure he had a reason, but damned if I could ever figure out what it was. I tried feeding him, changing him, tickling him, but I just never quite had the right answer. It was a psychological chess match and he was kicking my butt. The physical burdens of minding a baby are real - the sleep deprivation, the non-stop care, the exhaustion, but it’s the psychological toll that really got me.
The worst part was that I wasn’t expecting it. I knew it was going to be tough, but I thought I would take care of him all day and whenever he took his little naps, I would use that time to sit and write or chase auditions just like I used to do. But the reality was that while the hours he was awake during the day seemed to slog on forever, the time that he actually napped went by in a flash. Once he was finally asleep, I would clean up bottles and toys, choke down a sandwich and barely get a few sentences typed into my computer before he was up wailing again and demanding my attention.