September 2017

Off to school.
Back to work

by Ken Williams

 

It came out of nowhere.

A giant green tree-like creature leapt out of the mashed potatoes and in to the grasp of my horrified son.
“Whadda?” enquired 18-month-old Max.
“Why, that’s broccoli,” I answered.
“Whadda?” he enquired again.
“I don’t know how it got to be hiding under your favourite mashed potatoes, Max,” I said.

He stared suspiciously at me, and then at the broccoli, and then back at me, and then he threw the broccoli as far as his little arm could propel it. 

Ah yes, just one of the many memories I’ll have to draw on as I’m sitting at my dull desk, back in my drone 9 to 5 world wondering where the last few years went.

Four years ago, I left my mundane working life behind for the exciting, often surprising, and never a dull moment life of a stay-at-home dad. And, after a shaky beginning, I can honestly say it’s been the most rewarding experience of my life. However, my son is turning five this year and, as he so excitedly tells me, he’ll be off to school next year; to take on the big world, meet new friends, conquer new playgrounds, and discover new worlds.

And I’m excited for him, I really am, especially when I see him throwing his backpack over his shoulder pretending to go off to school, but I can’t stop wondering: where will this leave me? 

I’ve come such a long way in my role as a stay-at-home dad that I’m not ready for it to end just yet. Heck, I’m only just getting the hang of it. And to be honest, I’ve never had a job that I’ve enjoyed so much. Max and I get along so well and enjoy each other’s company that I feel I’m going to miss out on so much when he starts school. This sounds crazy I know, because I’m still Dad, and I’ll still be needed, but it won’t be the same.

Like every stage in Max’s life, each time I think I’ve got a grasp on it, it changes – a new stage begins and I have to re-adjust. 

In the beginning, I had to learn new skills, and quickly, there were nappies to change and bottles to heat up, equipment to sterilize, and all while my ears rang from his piercing screams and my eyes drooped from lack of sleep.

Then I moved on to preparing healthy lunches while learning how to get healthy lunches out of carpets and off walls. And, trickiest of all, I had to learn the art of taking my son, and almost everything we owned, in and out of the station-wagon each time we went to the shops.

Afternoon naptimes and Wiggles DVDs were my saviours early on. Both allowed me time for a breather and kept me sane while I got things done. But once I found my feet, I really embraced the role. I learned to balance naptimes between shopping and cooking, and soon I had our weeks planned out: the park on Mondays, Playgroup on Tuesdays, visit nanna on Wednesdays, the market on Thursdays, and so on. And as Max got to walking and talking we’d fill our mornings running around outside laughing and being silly, and filled many an afternoon laidback at the local library – I’ve never read so many books. And I’ve never found my days more fulfilled.

But then, I somehow must’ve blinked and missed it, and the little devil has gone and grown up on me. Right under my very nose – the nerve!

I guess I should have seen it coming when he started out-running me to get to the swings first, or telling me not to be so silly all the time, and to stop blowing bubbles in my lemonade (pff, where’s the fun in that?), not to mention the amount of times he hit me for six in the backyard cricket games last summer.

And I should have noticed it when he started kindergarten, and I saw how excited he was to bring home a painting for me to stick on the fridge. These are all signs of him growing up; I see it now, and I feel privileged to have watched him grow and even grow with him, however, while Max looks excitedly to the next step on his journey, my upcoming steps don’t excite me at all. I don’t know if I’m ready to go back to my old work and my old life. Besides, I don’t think I’m ready to be released back into mainstream society just yet.

Recently I was sitting in my car, stationed at the traffic lights, singing along loud and proudly to a blaring Wiggles CD (hand actions and all), happily acknowledging the staring occupants in the car next to me, when I suddenly realised that I’d dropped Max off at kinder 15 minutes earlier and was now alone in the car. Darn those skivvy wearing freaks and their catchy tunes. I’m so not ready for re-release.

But of course, when it comes down to it, I won’t get a choice. I can’t stop my son from growing up, and I wouldn’t if I could.

I know I will learn to embrace the next stage of Max’s life and growth as I have all the others, and no doubt, just as I get the grasp of that next stage, other new wonders and challenges will open up.
And when I see his joyous little face light up whenever he talks about starting school, and about new adventures, I know I definitely want all of that for him, and more.

And of course, I’ll learn to adjust back into the 9 to 5 grind, and I’ll learn to love the cold, dark, and rainy morning walks to the train station, the crowded morning trains, the taking orders from a boss, and the schedule adherence, the clock watching, the afternoon hunger pains, the crowded afternoon trains, the walk home in the dark, and the early nights so that I’m fresh enough to do it all over again …

Hmm, on the other hand, I hear there are some wonderful advantages to home schooling these days.

 

© Ken Williams
(First published in The Child magazines, Australia, August 2009)

“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*

I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.

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* Gloria Steinem