When you have kids in this day and age and economy, one or both parents very often have to work so that the financial wall they have their backs against doesn’t fall over and crush the whole family. If you’re one of those lucky stay at home loser-moms like MILK, and then just one of you goes back. (Whiskey is jealous because he was hoping for stay at home dad status so he could hang around and live his dream of finishing Grand Theft Auto and drinking beer at one in the afternoon, but Dr. Wife was “on to his little plot,” so she moved her mom in to help.)
The point I’m finally getting to is that somebody has to leave to go to work and, in some situations, this means there is one person at home with the baby/kids. At first, you think the person at home is the lucky one – like it’s all bon-bons and video games for that guy – but as the kids get a little older and less screaming-slug-like, things change.
If you don’t want “change” to mean “total deterioration,” it’s important for the person who gets to go to work to keep close tabs on the caregiver’s mental health. You can become pretty dependent on them so you can go talk to grownups and eat in restaurants that have tablecloths and metal utensils, etc. It is a delicate dance, even if you are paying for the privilege; given enough concentrated time, even the best behaved child has the potential to reduce a normally functional adult into a mess of resentment and psychological damage. In extreme cases, it can ruin marriages…or at least cause someone to seriously freak out and require a lot of emotional bribery to peel ’em off the ceiling and drag them back into the fold. Talk about a pain in the butt, right?
If any of this strikes a chord, maybe it’s time to ask yourself some tough questions. Like: Is the caregiver yelling the solution to the big mystery in an episode of Busytown? I witnessed this today; grandma turned to our two year old and, like someone watching Murder She Wrote, started yelling, “it’s the hippo in the polka dots… why can’t they see that???? why???” Sounds like someone needs a spa day. I think I’ll take the kiddo tomorrow instead of playing disc golf…wait, I know, I’ll take him golfing with me! Damn, I’m thoughtful.
Do you ever hear the caregiver muttering, “Swiper, no swiping!” as she rocks back and forth, vacant glaze in her eyes? That’s not a great sign. This may take a trip to wine country to cure. That’ll be a good use of the overtime you’ve been earning.
Another red flag: has the caregiver begun to eat little kid food exclusively? Mac ‘n cheese and gold fish are not meant for grownups; at least not the mac ‘n cheese in a box with pasta shaped like rocket ships. If you catch your caregiver feasting on the discarded crusts of a PB&J, I’d highly recommend an intervention at a restaurant with “$$$$” on Yelp.
Heck, I was stuck home with the kids for a week after Christmas and I was losing my mind pretty bad. I mean, a zoo day here or there, sure, but I’m just not built for the long run. I came up with all kinds of theories about the subtext of Handy Mandy and became obsessed with building the perfect wooden train set. To the point that the kids I was playing with were annoying me with their lack of design sense.
What I’m saying is keep your eyes peeled, and your ears open and don’t get too annoyed if your caregiver thrusts a child into your arms the second you walk in the door, then runs to the liquor cabinet and guzzles vermouth because it was the bottle nearest to the door. Yes, you had a hard day too, but you may have to suck it up for a minute. Sure you’re tired and your boss was a jerk, but at least he didn’t follow you around punching you in the butt demanding junk food and cartoons while you try to live up to the people in the Whole Foods posters who obviously compost their toilet paper and have kids who live on kale and organic quinoa. Oh they’re just so perfect with their floppy hats and overpriced denim and no shoes and kids with teeth that are just messed up enough that it’s cute and believable.
Here’s another tip for caregiver maintenance: do not, under any circumstances, brag about your job. I don’t care if your job is driving Ferrari’s with a talking dog for a co-pilot who is funny as hell, and always buys the beers; your day sucked. You better talk about how much you wish you could be there for all the milestones (and poop and beeping toys, and incessent repetitive shows, and snot). Damn are those Ferrari’s uncomfortable, and that dog is such an asshole.
If you want to keep driving Ferraris with the most awesome dog in the world, you keep the home front happy. And this is why a good daycare in my town costs well over $1000 a month, and there is a line to get in.