At around 5pm regular as clockwork Monday to Friday, both myself and The Boy start to count down to Mum’s grand return. Max will sink deep into a trance-like state repeating the mantra ”Mummy, Mummy, Mummy” over and over again, ungrateful little so and so. I begin checking my watch, initially with a casual glance but soon building up to something more desperate with frenzied looks every two minutes. Max looks forward to a hug, a kiss and a cuddle and I look forward to throwing Max at Mrs Under, slumping into the sofa and closing my eyes for five minutes or as long as I can get away with.
Mrs Under must feel very special indeed with both her boys barely able contain their excitement on seeing her. As a stay at home parent I seem to pace my day to Mrs Under’s return, giving all the energy and love I can muster up until I can take off my attentive father hat and put on my lazy husband hat. The worst phone call I can receive is Mrs Under calling at 5:30pm to say that she has to work late – “but Mrs Under” I begin to remonstrate “I have spent nearly all my energy and love in anticipation of you walking through the door any minute now, I couldn’t possibly love and care for another whole hour!” Turns out I normally can, but it’s begrudging, through gritted teeth, slightly forced, feeling ripped off love.
This is normally the perfect opportunity for Mrs Under to remind me of the phone calls she used to receive from me when she stayed at home. I was not pleading my case to work late; I was issuing my right to go for a well earned post work beer. “Mrs Under” I would say in a slightly patronising voice “I have had a very tough day in the office doing whatever it is that I do. You on the other hand have had a blissfully relaxing day with Max, no doubt cafes, shopping and parks all played a prominent part”. I even once had the audacity to suggest that I should be allowed five minutes when I got back from work just to gather my thoughts before I had to engage in any fatherly duties.
I think it took all of one day in full charge of the Max situation for me to reform my ways, give Mrs Under a big kiss, make my apologies and realise what most men don’t ever get to realise – being a stay at home parent is damned hard work! Of course I helped out but perhaps I could have helped out more. Of course I was sympathetic but not sympathetic enough. Of course I tried to empathise but I could have empathised further.
Being able to share Max’s upbringing has not only led to a deeper bond with The Boy it has also fostered a profound understanding for what Mrs Under went through and has cemented us as a couple. We have a mutual understanding and respect for what each other does. I understand what it’s like to close the door on a child that desperately does not want me to leave only to have to go to a job I desperately don’t want to go to. Mrs Under understands that sometimes a day with Max can all be too much. We both understand that post work drinks are a rare treat issued at the discretion of the other, rather than a right.
So a message to all the men and women out there who have not been fortunate to ride the stay at home journey, a little more empathy, a little more sympathy and a little more help would go a long way. And for goodness sake is an occasional massage too much to ask for?