Recess

February 17, 2016

Photo Credit: A Photographer

 
If you’re one of the seven people who read my blog regularly, you know that I quit my job — no my career — almost a year ago to pursue happiness. I spent about six incredible months as a stay-at-home dad, and have been working as a substitute teacher since school started. I love being a sub and working with kids. It’s challenging, rewarding, and sometimes I’m lucky enough to work in the same school as my kids, which is pretty cool for all of us.

Back when I worked for “the man,” there was a trendy deli in a quaint neighborhood that I went to often for lunch. Okay, it was actually a Subway, but this particular location truly had some of the freshest ingredients, and it was in a cool part of town. It backed up to a park bordered on the far side by a school. On nice days I would get lunch to go and eat in my car with the windows rolled down. While enjoying some fresh air and a mediocre sandwich, I was always able to hear the school kids playing during recess. I couldn’t see them because a little hill was in the way, but I didn’t need to. What I could hear was pure joy. Jubilant laughing and playful screaming was perfect background noise on a warm, sunny day. The students were obviously elated, without another care in the world at that moment. It was a great — albeit very temporary — escape from the conflict resolution meetings, particularly particular clients, and general negativity and stress of the daily grind.

I’ve been a long-term substitute at the same school for nearly two months, and I now get to experience recess up close on a daily basis. Being able to physically see recess gives me a newfound appreciation — no awe, really — of the early coordination skills of our youth, which I formerly perceived to be somewhere in the range of fairly awkward to dangerously clumsy. Every day I expect to witness broken bones, lacerations requiring urgent medical care, concussions, or worse.

Let me attempt to paint a picture for you: at each recess there are about 125 kids playing on a chunk of rock-hard concrete that’s approximately the size of a football field. Sound scary? Wait. Now imagine these 125 kids playing seven separate games of tag, two games of basketball, a game of four square, and pretending to have a gymnastics meet. All while a soccer match is taking place. Oh, and a handful of the students like to just sit on the ground and talk. When I worked a recess for the first time, I asked one of the seasoned, full-time teachers where the ambulance was kept on standby. I was only sort of kidding. Amazingly, I have never witnessed more than a scraped knee (knock on wood), and even that is rare. It’s similar to what I would expect if several flocks of birds were put in a giant cage. The kids just magically follow their group around at high rates of speed, never running into the ever-present trouble surrounding them. It is truly something to behold.

The school I’ve been at recently happens to be designated as one of the district’s “English Language Learners” elementary schools. This means that students who are new to the country or unfamiliar with English are brought in from outside of the school’s normal boundaries in an effort to help get them up to speed before middle school. This results in a wonderfully diverse student population. I get to not only hear the youthful fun, but I see children from many different races, nationalities, and religions playing together (mostly) in harmony. Sure, there are disagreements and even occasional scuffles, but at this age there are really no cliques or clubs, just kids having fun together. It’s firsthand proof that love — or at least acceptance — is natural, and hatred is learned. This is a great thing to be able to witness.

Remember when we were kids? Most of us didn’t worry, judge others, or overthink our existence. Life was pretty simple, and most of the time was simply great. Despite that, we couldn’t wait to get older. Now many of us make things more difficult than necessary, as our remaining time on this earth races by at an ever-increasing rate of speed. Someone more clever than me said that “these are the good old days.” Trust me, you can do better than briefly escaping over your lunch break, over the weekend, or even over a vacation. Live your life like the kids on the playground — with exuberant energy, with kindness, and by making the most of the moments we have left. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, regardless of age, everyone says they feel like a kid at heart. After all, we are just kids who grew up. Find time for recess.

Advertisements

  
It was about 8:30 last night when I realized I hadn’t yet showered.  I don’t know why it continues to surprise me, as this has happened many times since I became a staddy (stay at home daddy, for the lay person) a couple months ago.  I have high standards regarding personal hygiene, and I don’t consider myself lazy, so why would I forget to shower?  Oh, maybe because I’m working about 12+ hours a day, and it isn’t usually a priority.  Let’s get something straight – I’m not complaining at all.  This has has been a very positive and rewarding experience, and I knew going in that it would be challenging.  I just want to make sure people in the working world understand that taking care of children and managing the household is actual work.

I have known a number of guys (I’m sure women do this too, but depending on the source, moms makeup over 90% of the stay at home parent population) over the years who complain about their stommy (you see what I did there, right?) wives.  “How the hell isn’t the house clean?  Why isn’t my dinner ready when I get home from work – where I make all the money, by the way?  She has it so easy!”  Every man over the age of 30 is aware of the stereotype about women watching soap operas and eating bonbons while their kids play and nap all day.  I admit there were times when my wife was off work on maternity leave that I would come home from work and wonder, “Is this it?”  That was when she was home with a helpless, hungry, pooping, crying baby – what an idiot I was!  I totally get it now.  Being a stay at home parent ain’t easy.

Each day is a little different, but a typical day goes something like this (not necessarily in this order):

6:45 – 9:00:  Make coffee, go for a run, make a simple breakfast for the family, make a sack lunch for my son, get my son up and ready for school, clean up the kitchen, take my son to school

9:00 – 9:20:  Relax (coffee me)

9:20 – 11:00:  Start a load of laundry and fold the load that I left sitting in the dryer (LISTEN UP MEN – laundry sucks and never ends, you can only try to keep up.  Two loads a day keep the piles away, but don’t expect to see the bottom of the hamper very often, if ever.  And don’t get me started on the tedious, annoying task of folding/hanging clothes!), art or a game with my daughter, bathe and dress my daughter, shower (sometimes) and dress myself

11:00 – 1:00:  Quality time of some sort outside of the house with my daughter, lunch

1:00 – 2:00:  Grocery shopping, errands, etc.

2:00 – 3:00:  Read books to my daughter and get her to sleep (I will take a short nap myself sometimes – you got something to say about it?)

3:00 – 4:15:  Some kind of household chore (cleaning, vacuuming, etc.), MORE LAUNDRY

4:15 – 4:30:  Pick my son up from school

4:30 – 5:00:  Dinner prep

5:00 – 5:20:  Relax (beer me)

5:20 – 6:15:  Practice sports or some kind of quality time with my son

6:15 – 7:30:  Make dinner, eat, clean up the kitchen (I’ve been slacking on the night-time kitchen cleaning and doing some the next morning, but dishes need to be rinsed, food is put away, counters are wiped down, and so on)

Throw in yard work, home maintenance, unexpected errands, paying bills, kids’ school/sporting events, etc., and it’s a damn full day.  Not to mention that I’m keeping my daughter entertained the entire time. 

I don’t want to imply that my wife doesn’t help, because she does plenty when she gets home and on weekends.  The truth is, though, that I don’t want her to have to do much in the evening after she has been at work all day (she is more than welcome to help on weekends).  This is my job that I want to do right now, and I feel responsible to make sure the things on my list are completed each day – just like I did when I worked a “real” job.  I’m not comparing what I do to the working world, however, because at the end of the day my “clients” are going to love me no matter what.  That takes some pressure off, and also makes it that much more rewarding.

You can go online and find a number of studies that show what a starent (you should get this now) would earn if they were getting paid for the work they do.  I’ve read anywhere from $15,000 (absurdly low) to $150,000 (too high).  Sure, you can estimate and add up what a childcare provider, cook, maid, handyman, etc. would earn, but can you really place a value on what it means to your children to be home with a parent?

Again, I’m not complaining, I’m also not saying what I’m doing is more difficult than working a traditional job or being in a situation where both parents work.  I’m just giving my perspective as a former working dad.  It’s not just fun and games all day.  So to all the breadwinners out there, I commend and thank you.  But guys (and gals), the next time you come home and your starent spouse didn’t get your dry cleaning picked up, please remember that there’s probably a very valid excuse.

A week ago, after working for the same company for two months shy of 19 years, I quit.  This was an action that was about 18 years in the making, but I’m not one who is overly motivated or particularly fond of change…  I have a wife and two young children, a mortgage, various other debt, no college degree, and I walked away from a lucrative career and the only real job I have ever had.

It sounds insane, I know, but after so many years of trudging through mental anguish, I decided that the cliche about life being too short to hate what you’re doing is actually good advice.  I have lived with fear and anxiety my entire adult life, and decided I had to make a change.  So, with the support of my wonderful wife, I have left the business world and will be spending the next few months as a stay at home dad (or “house husband,” as my wife now refers to me). This is very scary, but it’s also a priceless opportunity to spend a summer with my four year old daughter and eleven year old son. The final summer before my daughter starts elementary school, and possibly the last summer that my son will consider allowing me to hang out with him.  We will be living frugally and making sacrifices, but fortunately my wife has a good job and we have decided we can make it work.  I have a background in construction, so I may work a few odd jobs to bring in some extra income as needed.  My construction experience is a blessing and a curse, as I have already been assigned a daunting honey do list, but I look forward to crossing tasks off.  Like an old ballplayer who still thinks he has it (or needs the money, as the case will be with me), I will come out of retirement once school starts.  Until then I will make the most of this experience.  I will do everything I can to be productive and genuinely happy.

I know there are tens of thousands of people out there who fantasize about quitting their job, so I have decided to blog about my experiences, and will try to post something at least a couple times a week.  I expect my time off to be very challenging, but also fun and rewarding.  I know a change like this would not be a fit for everyone, and I certainly don’t recommend making any kind of major life decision without careful evaluation and consideration – oh, and probably better planning than I have done.  Maybe my blog will be an eye-opener for someone considering a career change?  Maybe it will amuse someone occasionally?  Maybe no one will read it, but it will allow me to document what’s going on in my family’s life at this given time, which could be good for my kids to read later in life?

For today, I will leave you with a quote from Karen Lamb, who said “A year from now you will wish you had started today.”  I first saw this quote about six months ago, but have thought about it literally every day since.  Finally I decided it was my “today,” and I made my leap of faith.

Here’s to all of us finding that elusive thing called happiness.  Cheers.