We’re elated when invited to dinner parties or other events — but we’re also terrified. We don’t get out very often and have lost any semblance of social awareness. It’s possible we’ll airplane food into someone’s mouth and if a guest has sauce on their cheek, we’ll compulsively wipe it off without permission — with a saliva soaked thumb. When we laugh, we’re certain the sound resembles the whinnying of a giddy donkey — the loud, rapid staccato of someone who’s forgotten how to laugh in the adult world. Interacting outside the confines of home is like stumbling into blinding sunlight, overwhelmed by the noise of the terrifying, giant people we no longer understand.
No one is more uniquely qualified to write a dissertation on the difference between loving and liking — than a stay at home parent. The overflowing heart basking in the glow of a child’s angelic, sleeping face — can quickly give way to inconsolable weeping under the bed (the parent–the parent is under the bed weeping), as you wonder how your child was born with the innate knowledge of where to find all thirty-one of your buttons.
Weekends aren’t weekends — ever. Imagine your place of employment. As you’re leaving for your days off, the boss informs you they’ll be spent at work — but you’ll have extra help. That’s what our weekends feel like. We’re at the same place, with the same people, doing the same things — with extra assistance. Imagine you can never get away from that needy co-worker — who you care about — but constantly poops himself.
It takes hours to make the house look like we’ve done absolutely nothing all day. If it looks like we haven’t done anything, it’s likely we never sat down. If it appears there was actual progress, one of the children ran away or was left at the grocery store.
The human psyche has a limit to the the crying, bickering, or pestering it can withstand. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Buddhist monk or a cement statue. Eventually, you’re going to crack. You aren’t taking care of children — you’re attempting to corral trained, emotional assassins — intuitively aware of ancient techniques of verbal torture.
To understand what it’s like to move through a day with children, imagine you have forty pound blocks attached to you with rope. The blocks often move in opposite directions — except for when they’re trying to destroy each other. Don’t have noodles for the casserole you’re making that night? There goes three hours of your day. After wrestling the blocks into the appropriate gear, then into the car — an hour’s gone. (Oh, and the blocks are shape shifters with infinite permutations.) Two hours later after finally returning home, you realize you bought a muffin tin, a type of hair gel you don’t even use — and forgot the noodles.
Every movement of the day requires an algorithmic calculation. If you ever see an adult in a grocery store at night giggling and performing a Dora the Explorer interpretive dance — it’s likely a stay at home parent that’s been given thirty minutes of freedom.
We have friends. There’s a recurrent myth we’re all reclusive hermits, who have no friends and rarely venture outside. The part about no friends isn’t true. It’s rumored a stay at home parent in California, between cashiers at the grocery store and a nice bank teller, has eight friends. Eight! (I have four unless you don’t include the ones unaware that asking me “Paper or plastic?” is automatic inclusion into my social circle.)
It’s an endurance sport. There isn’t any one thing we do that’s particularly difficult. It’s doing them for the seven hundredth time that day with the Discordant Symphony in A Minor pummeling our eardrums — that the endurance comes in. Ultra-marathoners like to believe they test the limits of human will. So you ran seventy miles through Death Valley? Did you do it with kids in tow or have to run through poop and legos? Spare us your manufactured stories of triumph and grit.
We cry. It’s not every day and it’s not only when we’re overwhelmed — but we cry. If you weren’t aware of this, it’s because we don’t choose those moments to post selfies to our social media page. We only post pictures when the children’s clothes match, their smiles are angelic, and the living room is in perfect order.
The moments make it all worth it. Every parent gets to experience these — the moments that take your breath away or bring the world into sharp focus. We just experience more of them. There are times the isolation feels unbearable and the self-doubt settles in — but then we get to watch as a new understanding of the world dawns in their eyes, or we get an uninitiated kiss on the cheek, or their adorableness overwhelms us. It’s those moments that make the seven foot stack of dirty dishes waiting on us in the kitchen — only feel about six feet tall.