"What do you do all day?"
People do ask me that, sometimes not quite so bluntly. People ask how I "fill" my days, or what do I do with my "free" time, underhandedly hinting that I must have lots of it.
It's cool. I am a stay-at-home-dad and I expect a few raised eyebrows and some lightly-veiled condescension, I get that. I think maybe, if I weren't actually doing it, I might wonder the same thing or feel the same way. I don't really know what to say to it sometimes.
When I first started staying at home with Nick and Zack I still worked a few nights in a restaurant waiting tables. Waiters and waitresses - 'servers', I guess, but I hate that word just as I've come to hate the acronym 'SaHD' - suffer a certain condescension as well. One night I was talking with an elderly couple, it was late, after the rush, so I had the time and they were sweet.
"So what else do you do, Bill?" the old guy asked me.
His wife sighed.
After nearly thirty years waiting tables, this no longer got my ire up. "I stay at home with my twin two-year-old sons and work a couple nights a week here." I was trying to imply that this was the other thing I did.
He stared blankly back at me as if I'd spoken in a foreign tongue.
"No," he said shaking his head to, I'd assume, restart his thinking, "What business are you in?"
His wife sighed.
"I'm, I guess, what you'd call a homemaker." Honestly, I was trying to use a term he might understand, an anachronism suited to his sensibilities.
He smiled pleasantly, nodded his head knowingly and said, "Housing starts are way down these days, what are ya, a carpenter? Roofing, now that's hard work..."
His wife sighed again, loudly, uncomfortably, apologetically.
I smiled at her and reassured her with my look that I did not take offense. I was, however, a bit stumped as to what to say next. The man was looking from his wife, who's sigh had interrupted him - as I am sure it had many times before - to me and back to his wife.
"He's a housewife, Chester. Just like I was."
I am actually considered an old veteran in this small corner of parenting, this "homemaker"-as-dad thing I do, and I still never know what to say about it to others. Sometimes the parent of a kid who's on the boys' team - soccer, baseball, whichever - or a dad watching his kids at the pool or a mom at the park will ask me what I do and I'll them, usually I say that "I stay at home with the boys."
I've seen grown men actually wince and women physically turn up their noses at the notion. They may mumble something complimentary, but, they don't really mean it. More often they seemed surprised, shocked even, and sometimes, most often, they change the subject, usually to sports for men and school for women.
So, what am I getting at? I like to consider myself a homemaker, it's lovely. And, it is what I do. I make meals, over a thousand a year; I paint kitchens and hallways and sheds and play-sets; I clean bathrooms and vacuum floors and launder piles of clothes, pre-treating and soaking as needed. I mend fences and broken screens and mangled fingers and cracked hearts. I plant bushes and trees and tomatoes and grow herbs and then I trim bushes and trees and pick tomatoes and wash herbs. I straighten up and dust (sometimes) and iron and put those little felt pads on the bottom of the chairs in the dining room so they push in smoothly.
I make sure lunches are ready and snacks are available. I shop and go to the pharmacy. I go to practices and games and take long bike-rides through the neighborhood. I throw endless fly-balls through the Ohio sky as I try to explain football and girls and eternity and...
Well, you get it, don't you?
"But, what do you do all day?"
Honestly, I am not sure. The above and the oh-so-much more I do around here does not take all day, that's the truth. I'd guess, maybe two or three hours, in spurts and spazzes, really, this for a while, wait, fold, wait, chop, this, wait, that. It's not real linear.
I also try to play guitar a bit everyday. Everybody loves a campfire song or a Christmas Carol or a kitchen sing-along, but, everyone forgets one has to practice to make that happen. I walk for an hour or so four or five times a week, lately through the local parks because it is fall and it smells nice, but, sometimes through the same streets I may later bike through. This I do because I want to love and live for a long time to come, but, it takes time.
I pray most days, which for me amounts to listening and hoping, and sometimes that can take an eternity.
I make a home, not just a home as in 'home and hearth,' but a home in my heart. (I don't have time right now, but, perhaps that is where the word 'hearth' comes from, heart.) Not just clean sheets and fresh clothes, but something less tangible, a place to dream and cry, to love and hope, to grow and be heard and respected.
That's all wonderful, true, but it's got nothing to do with me being a man, or with you wondering how you'd spend your time if you did what I do.
By the way, what do you do all day?
Now who's condescending?
There's more, there is always more.
And, I think this is important, these words I send out to you, or you, or...
But they don't come free, they don't type themselves, these words, these thoughts. They've got to be thunk, lined up. And think them I do.
For instance, I came up with the narrative for this curious drawing. Sort of a Charlotte meets Sun Tzu and his doppelganger mini-me who lives on his hat, it's silly and about twenty-five-hundred words which I will spare you:
I've spent probably eight to ten man hours trying to figure out what this was a blueprint for. I actually built a working model of it out of parts from an old dehumidifier and English Ivy vines and a rare nine-volt battery. I turned it on... it turned itself back off. In my defense, I only did that like a dozen times before I threw it across the room, freakin' whimsical nonsense:
I also spent, like, an hour trying to figure if that was a stylized cursive capital "Z" there up on the top right, like a logo or something. And, I know that 63 X 7 to the curious symbol = curiously, pi, well I cheated, I googled it.
I also try to listen as much as possible when they are drawing or talking or playing or dreaming. I can tell you this, it is essential to listen. If I hadn't been listening I wouldn't know that this was a castle under siege:
Or that this was the firepit in the backyard where we roast wieners and make 'smores.
If I weren't paying attention, I may have missed this triumvirate, "Maxnock" "Altock" and the unfortunately named "Nock Cock." I think they live in a forest near Antwerp:
I do waste some time around here, I will admit. For instance, I spent several hours determining that this is nose-ringed bull's head breathing out a cyclone of poisonous smoke, resting on a sword-impaled home-plate, uh, wearing a crown when actually it is just "IdunnodadIjustdrewit":
And then there's this:
I tried it every way I could and, I still got nothing. I can't see it's face is the problem, I think, unless it's a vehicle, or, uh, well... something else.
Listen, what I do is important and noble and decent and honest and respectable and good.
And so is the job of the garbage man and the surgeon, the priest and the politician, the mother and the father, the waitress and the astronaut.
Mine is just a little weirder.
From Marci's " ... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."
"I am versing Bigfoot with a pencil and a notebook."
This was sung in a Wagnerian high opera style and the libretto later revealed that the pencil was his sword and a notebook his shield. That might be true of Cervantes and his windmills but, dude, it's Bigfoot, get a bludgeon made out of a, well, bludgeon...