The way that I ended my job was not sudden. There were protracted negotiations. I worked from home for the final month of my notice period. It was drawn-out and emotionally tedious.
However, it was as if the gods had planned it all along, because my last week of work coincided neatly with my eldest daughter’s first week of her first year at school. Working from home that month, I had observed our nanny in action, helped out a bit, trained up and then the last Thursday of the last week of notice, was the first day of school. We were all getting a new start. Technically, my last day of work was the Friday, but please, don’t tell my boss that I was moonlighting.
We took pictures at the school gate and said goodbye to my wife, who was going back to work, and to our nanny as well. After five years with our daughters, this was her last day. It was teary joyful.
I took our youngest daughter back home in the stroller and she introduced me to the game that we would end up playing for most of her pre-school life, ‘Mommies and Daddies’. Luckily for me, my part was not too much of a stretch. I was to play ‘Daddy’. My daughter rotated roles between the baby, the big sister, and sometimes Mommy. I was always Daddy. Occasionally, I was allowed to play the puppy. But that part was usually taken by a rotating cast of stuffed animals. I think playing at family like this allowed us both to practice our new roles together without the pressure of it being real-life.
Once we had played and fed and perhaps napped a little, I realized, that period had been the longest I had ever been alone with my own daughter in her whole life. She would turn three in a few months.
Yes, I had taken care of both children for longer than that without my wife around, and yes, I had taken the eldest on solo excursions, just me and her on the town. But those three hours were the longest I had ever been alone with my youngest daughter in her very nearly three year-old life.
That was a profound moment for me, one that really illustrates the gulf between my relationship with my children when I was working and my relationship with them now as a stay-at-home dad. Since then, we have seldom been apart for more than a few waking hours.
I remember the fear of the unknown and the futility I felt about my own ability to care for them. I couldn’t shake the extremely irrational worry that I wouldn’t be able to tell the girls’ clothes apart, and would put them all away in the wrong girl’s drawers. I woke up sweaty at night worried about that, but it turned out to be a rather misplaced anxiety.
I sometimes still have to look at the tags and have learned not to get them too many matching outfits to prevent confusion. It still throws me when we bring out a set of hand-me-downs for winter and I have to mentally adjust to seeing our youngest in all of the clothing that I associate so closely with memories of her older sister. But now, instead of abject fear, I find it funny, when I realize somewhat belatedly, somewhere downtown, that the youngest is accidentally wearing her sister’s shoes.
I worry about those things a lot less now. After two years, I am more secure in my role as ‘Daddy’, more confident in my real-life abilities. And there are always new, more important things to worry about, like whose turn it is for the spotted tray, or the purple spoon, or the special seat. Things that, in my previous incarnation, I didn’t even know existed.