No one noticed my Halloween costume, even though I had worn it all day. But I can't blame anyone. The costume consisted of a gray sweat shirt, bluejeans and black sneakers. I was in disguise as a stay-at-home parent. The biggest twist on my masquerade? I'm a dad.
Halloween or not, I've been wearing pretty much the same costume every day since I quit my job two and a half years ago to care for my son, Nicholas. Among the skeletons, witches, and superheroes at the local Halloween parade, I was as much an oddity as anyone.
I'm used to it. I'm regularly the only dad at the playground and parent-child classes. Although statistics vary, they bear out this abnormality. Depending on the source of the numbers, I'm one of anywhere from a few hundred thousand to a couple million men in the US who stay at home to care for their children – a small minority.
Other than it being Halloween, the day was much like any other, filled with errands and chores. I had worn my camouflage to the grocery store with Nicholas. He sat in the shopping cart, wearing a glow-in-the-dark skeleton shirt, while I made my rounds up and down the aisles among the moms and seniors.
After we came home, I made lunch for the two of us. My wife, Beth, was at the office. While Nicholas took a nap, I mowed the lawn. After that, I worked on a wooden toy garage I was making for Nicholas as a Christmas gift. For a couple hours, I almost felt like a regular dad.
When he woke up, it was really time to show off my costume. The Halloween parade is a big deal. Hundreds of kids and parents blanket the main street in elaborate outfits. Nicholas looked good in the skeleton shirt Beth had picked out.
I observed the parents as much as the costumes. There were plenty of dads who had taken time off from the office to be with their kids. But the parents I really related to were the stay-at-home moms.
I began staying at home when Nicholas was 2 months old. As I looked around at the moms, I knew that much of their virtuous work was probably underappreciated.
Their day had probably already been filled with shopping, cooking, decorating, doing laundry, and washing dishes, all with at least one very excited and unpredictable child in tow. None of this work was paraded.
I knew that at the end of another long day, all that the husband saw was an exhausted wife. But before he got home, she had already worn many masks: teacher, cook, dishwasher, chauffeur, wrestler, musician, tour guide, psychologist, and doctor.
I worked in offices for 18 years before my role reversal allowed me to glimpse this other world. Sometimes the reversal took a funny twist. When Nicholas was just 3 months old, and I had been home only a month, we scheduled a boiler checkup. The "gas guy" showed up, wearing a Harley-Davidson T-shirt and explained to me what a solid old boiler we have and how they don't make 'em like they used to.
The "gas guy's" name? Mary. She worked while I sat on a couch cradling and feeding Nicholas. It was a shock to the system, but I became used to being the odd man out.
When Nicholas and I got home from the parade, I lit our jack-o'-lantern and displayed it in our window. Few trick-or-treaters came by, so Nicholas made his own plans for the rest of the evening.
"First we have food, then we see 'airplane and moon' [a video he likes], then we go paint," he said. So we did. Then it was time for a bath, bedtime reading with Mom, and lights out.
Does this sound like a rough day? Not necessarily, but that's the point. Staying at home is a marathon, not a sprint. Stay-at-home moms need to string together months and years of such days. Their strength lies in their ability to store vast reserves of the energy, patience, resilience, and affection required to raise a child. Marathoners need a healthy heart, and so do stay-at-home moms.
Two nights after Halloween, Nicholas didn't feel well, but we didn't let that get in the way of our festivities. Nicholas ate his first pumpkin pie, which he helped me bake. Then we made another. I'd like to say we baked them from scratch, but I confess I used frozen crusts and canned mix. It was a homemade pie in disguise.