River Dad ~ Dipping a Toe… Into the Workforce

I have been a stay-at-home dad for 7 years. Not that I haven’t worked off and on during this period of my life, but I have not commuted to an office, had any semblance of a regular schedule to keep, or had a boss to make faces at when his or her back was turned.

When my children were infants and toddlers, being a stay-at-home dad was a full-time job. At times it may have been awkward (particularly during Mommy & Me classes where I would wear a long wig and hope no one paid me too close attention), but it kept me busy from dawn to dusk.

However, both of my offspring are now in the throes of elementary school. Add after-school activities and playdates to their days and it is possible for me to whisk my children onto the godforsaken early bus at 6:50 am and not see them for 10 or 11 hours in a row.

While at first glance this sounds like a dream come true, it turns out that sitting quietly in a chair and staring out the window can get old.

So I have begun to re-insert myself into the regular-job-having world. Sadly, my extensive experience with marketing services software of the late 1990s does not seem to be highly in demand. Also, there’s this thing called “social media” that every job posting expects you to be familiar with, no matter if you’re applying to be a writer, an engineer, or a janitor. Meanwhile, it would seem that some of the jobs best suited to my more recent experience include taxi driver, ice cream vendor, and working at a Laundromat.

So I decided to think outside the box. Rather than look in the field of digital marketing services where I spent the most professional (and possibly the most dull, save for the fact that that’s when I met River Mom) decade of my life, I chose to enter a field where, to be frank, I actually know what I’m doing.

For many years, I used to joke that my Bachelor’s Degree in Theater was the most useless college degree imaginable. I don’t say that anymore. It turns out that having a degree in theater comes in quite handy when you’re trying to teach theater to children. Who knew?

There are some restrictions to this new potential revenue stream soul-rewarding career choice.  Like any teacher who does not have a teaching credential, I am limited to offering my wares in back alleys, church annexes, or formerly abandoned kindergartens. Also, since no school district can hire me, I must hold my classes at times when my students are not, actually, at school. And finally, I can only be paid in moderately fresh produce or used soccer cleats. But it’s working. I’m working.

This whole working thing has produced some unexpected benefits. For example, I now have bosses to make faces at when their backs are turned. I’m good at making faces (you should see my driver’s license), so that’s a plus.  Also, when someone asks me what I do for a living, I can say something other than “astronaut,” which was always my go-to answer when I wasn’t working, but which would inevitably get me in trouble when they asked for details.

On the other hand, this new time-sucking commitment of actual work has created a host of unexpected problems. Like, when I’m not at home to watch my children, I have to pay someone else to be there because they remain too young for me to just leave to fend for themselves, hoping they’re all there when I get home.

I’ve dealt with babysitters before. Back when I had babies. I even wrote a column about them. They would come to our home in the early evening and allow my wife and I to go to a movie, dinner, or to just go sit silently in the park and stare into space. But needing someone to come for two hours in the afternoon four days a week? And maybe could they also come in one evening a week for about an hour before my wife gets home but after I have to be elsewhere?

Not so easy.  I know, I know. Right now, all three of you are saying, “Welcome to the club.” But it’s a new club for me.

Another issue that popped up? The whole schedule thing. See, I used to be the guy that could pop over on the spot when help was needed. Now? Sorry, I can’t help you crawl out from under that fallen bookcase… I have to be at work. It even caught my wife my surprise when we prepared to head out for a weekend trip. She’d taken Friday off so we could get an early start on the road. Except… well… I had to work. Awkward.
My children are still not used to River Dad having regular work, as evidenced by how they will ask what we are doing on a particular day, hear me start to answer with, “Well I have to go to work.” Then they interrupt me with, “No, Seriously, Dad. What are we doing today?” But they are adapting. We are all adapting.

And when the daily grind begins to wear me down, I just tell myself that I’m only a few years away until my own children are old enough to work and then I’ll be home free and can get back to staring out my window.

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About the Author: David Neilsen