So we were actually talking seriously about doing it; about me staying home and Tracy staying at her job. Some of the ramifications were obvious. First and foremost I would have to retire. That turned out to be the easiest part of the discussion. I was ready. I remember being on the flight-line in the early 90’s as an aircraft electrician working on F-16 fighters. Man it was the best. Then came the trips to Central America and some “real world” action. I remember stepping off the plane in Panama thinking, “I’ll never leave the military, they’ll have to pry my uniform out of my hands when I’m 60.”
Well, 20 years later I was ready to go. A far cry from 60 years old, I had allowed two tours in an office environment to wear me down. The word coming down that those of us with the most time on station in Knoxville would be subject to moving to a new duty station was the final sign among a host of signs that it was time to go. So while Tracy was a little worried I may resent her later on for giving up my military career, I can say two and half years later it is still a good decision.
The most interesting part of the discussion about our decision was more about what some of the hurdles might be than how we might jump over them. Other than my retirement there were some other obvious issues. How would people react? I wasn’t worried about the unwashed masses mind you, society will always judge in their own way regardless of how I feel about it. It was more our friends and family that kept coming up in the discussion of hurdles, pitfalls, etc…
Our families were supportive as we pretty much figured they would be. The consensus of my very large family and Tracy’s very small one was this; not many people have the chance to be in this position, you have the chance, you should take it. The friends and acquaintances side of the equation was a little different. It was interesting really, how the positive and negative reactions were broken out. There was a clear line of demarcation and it went along the lines of age not gender. For some reason that surprised me a little bit.
The gang around my age bracket and older weren’t too keen on the idea as far as I could tell. Three negative examples jump out at me as I type this. The first was Tracy’s cleaning lady. Quick aside here; Tracy has always had a cleaning lady, since before I knew her. This was foreign to me but her philosophy was why do it myself when I can pay others to do it for me. Yeah, I was way out of my league to begin with and that confirmed I definitely married up. Of course Tracy’s manual labor philosophy immediately endeared her to my brother.
Anyway, I had been home with Frank about two months when the cleaning lady asked me, well more or less told me, “see isn’t this much harder than just working at a job?” Some how, some way, my editor kicked on because that type of statement would have really generated some zingers. But she hadn’t finished folding the laundry yet so I was in a tough spot. The only reply I could muster was, “No it’s not nearly as hard as my old job.” Man you would have thought I just told her her kids were illegitimate. She said “well how can that be?” as if it was a known universal law, like the firmness of the earth, that taking care of a baby was always harder than going to work every day. I replied that it was harder at work because at least at home I know why Frank doesn’t do what I tell him to do, he’s two months old. At work I have no earthly explanation why 25+ year olds charged with defending the country against all enemies foreign and domestic, at the expense of their own lives if necessary, don’t do what I tell them. Yeah, she was unimpressed with that little rant. Her eyes clearly said it, “what the heck is he talking about, everyone knows raising a child is harder.”
The reaction I got from some of the folks at church who are my age or older was baffling. One woman busted right into a conversation I was having with someone else and said, “you think it’ll be easy staying at home? You have to cook and clean too, it’s not just putting the baby down for a nap and watching TV all day.” I literally had no response queued up that could be uttered in church. I was just dumbfounded with that. She seemed sincerely angry that Tracy and I were doing this. It was as if I was stepping on to her turf without permission or I was going to uncover the secret that being a stay at home parent is no harder than going out to work. It’s just as hard probably, but no harder.
The problem was she had no understanding that lack of sleep, cleaning, laundry, cooking, etc. are all things common to military members. That includes dealing with life or death situations or Operational Readiness Inspections on an hour of sleep in a 24 hour period. Besides, my parents taught me how to cook and clean when I was young. The military taught me how to do a lot of that as well, or at least do it faster and more efficient while an onion breathed Staff Sergeant yells in your face questioning your parents lineage. In fact I would say the military is the perfect training ground for being a stay at home parent. The only X-factor is the actual raising of the child. And since every first time parent is new to child rearing, no one has an advantage. And since all children are different, even multiple child parents may not have suitable answers for your situation.
Which brings me to another group of nay sayers. You all know these people, the people who can’t wait to wish misery upon you if they sense you are enjoying you child too much. It generally goes like this: your child eats a lot, and a lot of every thing, well Negative Nancy* can’t wait to tell you how it will suck for you when little Javier` loses his taste for all those foods. Your child takes 3 hour naps and sleeps 12 hours through the night, well here comes Grumpy Gertrude warning you about the hell on earth awaiting you when little Mergatroyd gives up his afternoon nap.
It amazed me, and still does, the amount of people waiting joyfully to pee in your corn flakes if you so much as mention how little Johnny isn’t doing the stereotypical thing all other children in the world did at that age. If you hear someone start a sentence with the phrase “Oh just you wait till…” in reference to child rearing, you have my permission to bust them right in the cake hole. That’s “Hit them in the mouth” for all you pacifists out there =)
Ok so I lied, four examples came to mind. This one takes the cake in my opinion. It has been without a doubt the most heinous negative reaction I’ve encountered. Leaving the military meant going on Tracy’s insurance and picking a new doctor. I went for the initial physical which invariable became a meet and greet as well. Although during this meet & greet I was the only one not wearing rubber gloves. New Doc 1 – Stay at Home Dad 0. Through out the conversation we get to talking about my new life position. He seemed cool with it, didn’t show a whole lot of interest. He was more concerned with my 4 liter a day diet coke habit but that is a different story.
Tracy had also seen the same doc that day and when we got home she starts asking me all manner of questions about my personal happiness. It was bizarre to say the least. You could see the guilt floating in the air as she kept asking me if I was happy, could I be happy doing this for the next several years, did I want to go back to the military? Whoa, what?
Yeah, turns out the good doctor told Tracy that while I may seem happy now my staying home with Frank would eventually kill me, literally end my life. He tells her that it’s clear I’m not happy and this arrangement is not natural to begin with; that each gender has their role and it should not be turned upside down. I told her my foot up his ass wouldn’t be natural either but I would be happy to oblige him. It may even turn him upside down. Unbelievable.
Thankfully the people around my age and younger were really “down” with the whole situation, as the kids say these days. Well to be honest, who the hell knows what they’re really saying these days as the slang seems to change minute by minute. Anyway, the irony of the church lady butting into my conversation earlier to go all Negative Nancy, I was talking to a young married couple who thought the idea was great and how awesome will it be for me to be home with Frank and how much fun I was going to have. That’s how most of the younger set rolled when they heard through various channels, that I was the one staying home while Tracy did what she wanted which was to keep working. Even most of the gang at the base were on board, hell most of them were jealous. They already worship Tracy anyway because she is such a sports fanatic. She reached Mount Olympus status in their eyes when they found out she wanted me to stay home.
Most of the situations I have encountered on this two and half year old journey have been funny or peculiar, like the pool or Little Gym. However, the reactions to our new normal were a bit disconcerting, especially from the doc and some of the women at church. But you know what, Frank and I are still having fun, every stick he picks up or is handed becomes either a guitar or golf club. He loves Bon Jovi and Frank Sinatra and can say Go Iggles! on command. He can flip his own french-toast, will eat an egg roll, enchilada, or ravioli with equal vigor, all the while two-fisting peas, corn, and lima beans. He still takes 3hr naps and sleeps through the night, mostly.
What can I say, we roll how we roll, and we won’t apologize for it.
Go pee in someone else’s corn flakes.
*Most names changed to protect the guilty