On the joy of staying home with Fiona

The opportunity I have right now to stay home with Fiona every day is one of the greatest blessings I’ve ever received.

I got home a short time ago from baby story time at the Mount Pleasant Branch of the D.C. Public Library. Fiona and I try to go every Tuesday at 10.00. We’re usually late, but we’re there. I sit cross-legged on the floor, and Fiona sits on my legs. She’s always so calm when we’re there. She simply sits there and takes everything in. It is quite a contrast to the other noisy children bouncing all over the place. Even though we’re there with other people, it’s still a great time for me and Fiona to spend together.

Later today, I may put her in the baby carrier and go to the park so we can play on the swings and slides together. Or maybe we’ll ride the Circulator from Dupont Circle, through Georgetown, and across the Key Bridge to Rosslyn. Maybe we’ll watch the evening journal télévisé of France 2. Of course, there are the books from the library, and the toys on the floor. Perhaps Fiona will help me with chores.

These are my days home with Fiona. They are usually simple and uneventful. But they are among the greatest blessings I have ever received. It is a joy to spend my days with my beautiful little girl. We are best chums. Every day I am grateful for this brief window in our lives to spend this time together. The pay is low—well, nonexistent—but it’s the best job I’ve ever had.

Not to say that there’s never any stress. Taking care of a baby doesn’t require more energy than other jobs, but it requires a different kind of energy, an exhausting mental energy. Part of it is that for most of my life I have interacted with people my own age or older. Now I spend my days with someone whose age is measured in months, not years. Taking care of her physical needs as well as trying to help her learn new things and have new experiences—on top of doing chores, searching for a job, building my freelance work, and working on various projects such as this magazine—stretches my mind in ways I never thought it could be stretched.

Another part of it, too, is the need to stay constantly alert. Sure, I’ve snuck in a nap now and again. But I always have to be ready to provide comfort, change a diaper, prepare a bottle, or rescue Fiona from injuring herself or damaging our belongings. It’s a level of concentration matched by few paid jobs. Air traffic control comes to mind.

Then there are times I’m amazed by how much I can do. Some days I wash the dishes, take out the trash, do the laundry, vacuum, catch up on the day’s news, read and reply to both personal and business emails, run to the grocery store, pick up the dry cleaning, write a few Tweets, and complete a work project. And then I eat lunch. Maybe I’m not so bad at this after all?

I grew up without a dad. It’s not something I ever really thought about; it’s just how life was. Then I became a dad. I marvel that when Fiona looks up, there are two of us. I never experienced that. But I did experience the desire to be involved in my children’s lives in a way that my father never was in mine. I think it’s safe to say that I’m involved.

Because of how our self-imposed publishing deadline for this magazine works, I can say this: last Thursday, 21 April, as we were boarding Amtrak’s Capitol Limited to return home from the Deep South and Chicago, I got a voicemail. It was from the deputy director at Transportation for America. It’s a place I’ve been interested in for some time. She offered me a job. It is now Tuesday, 26 April, and I haven’t given her an answer. But I think I should accept.

A number of factors affect my decision—pay, benefits, the fact that this job is guaranteed for only six months and Susan and I need to figure out our family’s future—but what makes this offer bittersweet is that it could mean the end, for now, of this time in our lives. I’m grateful that T4America is willing to be flexible, and I will be able to work from home half the time until Susan’s school year ends. And Fiona could benefit from some time with someone other than me. But we’ve become best friends, and the thought of having to be away from each other for so much of our week is … difficult, to say the least.

Fiona, you will likely read this years from now. When you do, I want you to know this: I love you. You are a beautiful, wonderful little girl. We admire your interest in the world around you and your ability to make everyone—not just us, but everyone who sees you—smile. You are the greatest blessing Susan and I have ever had. I only want to do what’s best for you and our family. And I hope that’s what I’m doing.

This article appeared on page 22 of Issue 2 | April 2011.

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