This Isn’t How I Thought I Would Spend My Afternoons

I never had any aspirations to be a stay-at-home parent. I liked my job, and when I became pregnant with my oldest son, more than 10 years ago, it became a question of balancing time with him, against work, my marriage, and time to myself.

I was fortunate to find wonderful child care providers for my children over the years. These teachers had patience and found joy in the tiny milestones of tiny humans. My kids entered kindergarten knowing their letters and numbers, as well as enriched by music, art, and outdoor games.

My own joy came from family activities: trips to the zoo, play dates with friends. As they got older, we would read chapter books together, play board games, or have fierce MarioKart battles.

Because my youngest, Autumn, is so much younger than her brothers, we have had to “start all over” with the milestones of young children. She was enrolled in the same day care that the other two had attended and we followed mostly the same pattern.

Then we hit a global pandemic.

Her last day of day care was March 12th, 2020. Day care was shut down for months. When it finally did open in a limited capacity, we weren’t comfortable sending her. State of Illinois requires all children over the age of 2 to wear a mask, and at barely 3, we didn’t think she could wear it all day. Plus there is a chance that “cold and flu” season could cause things to shut down again.

So, she has been home. My husband and I worked out a routine with him covering mornings, me covering afternoons, and a giant amount of nap time in the middle part of the day.

At first I had all of these grand plans about educating her at home in the same way that she would get in a day care setting. That quickly flew out the window. Ger isn’t good at “sitting” and “playing” with very young children. So his morning shift became: Watch Sesame Street. Take her for a walk. Feed all of the kids lunch.

My afternoon shift has been a blend of learning toys, like matching or letters, and her musical education. We have a record player, so I select an album and we listen. In an age of such “on demand” everything (“Alexa, play me x song….”) sitting and listening to an album start to finish seems to be a skill that needs to be honed. Autumn likes her job of pushing the “start” button on the record player.

Even with Ger starting a new job a few weeks ago, that schedule had been working for us. On Monday afternoon, I found myself outside with Autumn. She finally figured out how to use her legs to push herself on her scooter. When she grew tired with that, she did a bunch of coloring on the sidewalk with chalk.

I have never been one to “sit” and “play” with young children either. I have always left that role to day care. But as I sat on the sidewalk, watching her and watching cars go by, I thought “c’est la vie.” There’s nothing else I can do at the moment to change this situation.

Later, Ger told me that he feels like we are failing Autumn; that she is not getting the same experience that her brothers benefited from at her age. I tried to tell him that very young children do not need a ton of “learning time” during the day. I also reminded him that no one has a normal life right now. Everyone is weathering the same storm, in our own boats.

I also acknowledged that we are getting something completely different out of her toddler years. With the other kids, we missed all of the incremental accomplishments of their lives. With her, we see everything. We have been watching her vocabulary explode. We get to nurture her interests.

Stay-at-home parent was never a label I had intended for myself, and yet now, here I am (or a variation thereof). All of the kids home. It occurred to me that since this is my boat in this particular storm, and since I know she is my last child, I am going to appreciate the time with her.