Bay Reflections

 Vol. 11, No. 3

January 16-22, 2003

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The Trouble with Stay-at-Home Parents
by Annette Najjar

I was 40, and for 11 years I’d worked at the company my husband founded — fulltime for three years, and, in the start-up years, in the evenings after I had come home from my real job. When I became pregnant, I dreamed about staying home with the baby and greeting my husband at the door at the end of his working day, a 1950-ish dream.

This isn’t so much to ask, I thought. To have the house to myself for eight hours. To make all of my child-rearing mistakes under a rock, only to share with my husband if there were telltale bloodstains or if he found the iron in the refrigerator. (I’ve never heard the end of what he imagines were my attempts to diaper the wrong end of a friend’s child).

My fantasy was never to be realized. I had the most perfect baby on earth, and I’m home like I wanted to be. But so is my husband. How can I put this delicately? He’s home. He’s at home. He works at home. He’s a stay-at-home dad. Oh, forget delicacy: He’s in my way.

Whereas I once thought our house too big, it’s now not nearly big enough. I no longer prize our open floor plan, dreaming instead of old-fashioned heavy-paneled oak doors. His basement office floods frequently for very different reasons each time; I suspect sabotage.

My fantasies now involve a second separate kitchen, since ours is at all times devoted to some stage of tea making, including the choice of mug or glass, bag or loose tea; water boiling; tea steeping; tea cooling; and tea bag or infuser draining in the sink. I tried to make myself a cup not long ago and was admonished for adding lemon to Earl Grey (apparently its essence of orange precludes the addition of lemon or milk). Someone has way too much time on his hands.

I know I should be thrilled. Our business, sold when Alec was four months old, did well enough to make us pretty well off, with prudence. We don’t have to work outside the home, so my son doesn’t have to be in day care, so we’re not forced to work to finance it. My husband is central to his son’s life and not merely in its periphery.

And I understand that he has faced three life changes at once: stopping work, selling his business and having a child. But this doesn’t mean his being underfoot is any less annoying.

Like appearing uncannily at the precise moment my sister answers the phone on the other end of the line — and smirking. Like offering to help unload the groceries only on those days when I buy personal hygiene products. Like asking to join me and Alec on our walk as we don our jackets — but can we go after he finishes his coffee and newspaper, checks his messages, takes a shower and brews a second cup of coffee? Then pouting when I act impatient. Annoying like a throw rug with one upturned corner that trips you up no matter what measures you take to smooth it down.

My husband says I have a life any woman would kill for, but I say it is one that any woman would kill from. This belief is borne out by friends and strangers alike, with whom I find myself desperately sharing my situation. The response is nearly universal — it ranges from “Oh, my God!” to “You poor thing,” to “Oh, no!” — and is always accompanied by a look of horror. New wives, old wives, grandmothers: “I don’t know what I’d do if mine were home all day.”

What’s going to happen when my son is in school and comes home sobbing when he learns that all the other fathers go to something called “work” every day, while his dad never seems to have to be anywhere at any given time? I can’t begin to calculate what this is worth in future therapy dollars.

Alec is old enough for us to start vetting schools. But what I should be doing is vetting a day-care center for dads, where stay-at-home husbands can adjourn for a few hours a day, preferably daylight hours. The perfect center will offer cushy leather armchairs with ottomans, ample phone jacks and DSL service, a varied assortment of loose teas, one bathroom per member and a library large enough to serve a mid-sized county — and that’s just with nautical and travel books.

I realize what I’m describing is an old-fashioned men’s club moved technologically into the 21st century and that my personal woman’s movement has gone full circle. But other than his getting a job (never!) or starting another business (not with my help!), this is all I can think of to preserve my sanity — besides going back to work myself … and then fantasizing about staying home.

In all fairness, Annette’s husband is a writer who works from a flooded basement.

Copyright 2003
Bay Weekly