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I work from home. If you work from a home where young children live, the first line of your job description quickly becomes offspring logistics. You become responsible for all the things that need to be done during the hours many adults wisely choose to spend at the office. Of course, these days it’s totally normal to be a man who plays the traditional role of the mom, so there’s no reason to feel weird about it. No reason at all. These days, it’s completely socially acceptable to be a Man Mom.
“Stop calling yourself that,” says my wife. “What does that make me? Lady Dad? No thank you.”
“Yes, dear,” I reply, folding a pair of her panties from the dryer.
Anyway, when you’re the head of offspring logistics a lot of your time is spent waiting. Waiting for the kids to come out of tutoring, or taekwondo or whatever it is you’re making them do to ensure they become the type of grown-up who’ll look after you in your old age. Because as much as your kids add to your appreciation of life, they’re also a constant reminder of how quickly its end is approaching.
The waiting times are just long enough to start doing something you’ve been meaning to do but not really get anywhere. Either that, or have a quick pint. It’s the perfect amount of time for that. And there’s nothing more manly than enjoying a nice, cold beer. At least, until the moobs kick in.
Before you get this job, you don’t realize how often you’ll find yourself standing around with other parents whose names you’ve forgotten. And as enlightened as the current thinking on gender roles is, those parents are very often moms. Women Moms. It’s mostly the moms and me.
Initially, the prospect of hanging around with women all day didn’t seem half bad. After all, it was something I spent most of my youth trying to do. And inside your own head, your youth is never over. You still feel like the mid-20s person you were when your brain stopped taking in new information. But seeing the women hanging around outside the kids’ school really drove home how old I’d become.
How could I possibly belong in this macchiato-quaffing squad of gymnastics schedulers? Taking stock, I had more grey hair and crow’s feet than any of them. I had scheduled gymnastics on several occasions. Gazing forlornly down at my new beer breasts, I realized I did belong.
As much as I was doing for the women’s movement, I still felt uncomfortable. I was uncomfortable standing around outside the school chatting about other kids’ afterschool schedules and interteacher drama. Uncomfortable is the wrong word; more like bored. And judging by the looks on the faces of the few mothers I’d attempted to engage in small talk, I wasn’t the only one.
I learned to show up one minute after whatever it was the kids were doing had finished. That way, you still seem like a responsible parent who’s there for his (or her) children. But as soon as the kids come out, the parents focus on them and you don’t have to make up anything about what you’re planning to do over the weekend.
But still, now almost every day I have to go to an institution that gets sporadic bouts of lice and where the inmates are often illiterate, are losing their teeth and occasionally wet themselves. When you graduate from elementary school, you think you’re done with that place. The fact that’s not true is not one of the things they teach you, in that school or any other.
Your kids put you in many situations you’ve never expected to end up in. I’ve spent some of the longest moments of my life standing beside a table full of birthday cake-eating kids pretending not to be upset there’s not going to be enough for the adults. But I’ve also learned some amazing things about bees on farm trips. Did you know bee society makes a bunch of queens, and when they hatch they all fight to the death and the one who wins reigns for life? I digress.
I’ve learned that much like being a real mom, a lot about being a Man Mom comes down to appearances. I make sure the kids brush their teeth and hair before they leave the house, as those things have the most immediate effect on the public opinion of the parent responsible for them. Most of the time you just do it for them because there’s no time left to let them screw it up and then fix it.
“Every time you call yourself Man Mom, you make yourself sound so dated,” my wife says. “Anyone can be anything now. The terms mom and dad are basically interchangeable. You’re a parent, just like me.”
But I can barely hear her over the noise of the vacuum. As I push it back and forth, back and forth, my mind wanders wistfully back to an era when there was no debate about who did the housework.
Fortunately, my confidence hasn’t been affected by the new arrangement. Not in the least, not even a little. When I leave the house, I make sure to put on my wedding ring so the moms will know I’ve been spoken for and maintain a respectful distance. (But it’s also so they’ll see that at one point in time, someone actually decided to marry me and I’m not just some chubby old guy lurking around a playground. Although technically I’m also that.)
The most impressive thing I’ve learned is that while your kids are making your life more difficult (so, so much more difficult), they’re also making you happier than you’ve ever been. The joy of being a parent isn’t something you can easily explain to someone who’s never chased down a small psychopath to make them zip up their coat. All day you dream about the moment they’re going to go to sleep, then you miss them as soon as they do. And it’s that insane, ridiculous love that makes you gladly go through whatever parenthood pushes you into.
Richard Scott-Ashe lives in Vancouver.