Exhilaration & exhaustion, excitement & frustration, happiness & joy for the little moments, lots of laughs, hugs, screams, cries, and boo boos (I think we’re out of the large pack of Band Aids we brought with us). Those are some of the thoughts that pop in my mind after spending 5 months as a stay at home. . .I mean road warrior dad.
When I made the choice to cut ties with a 14 year career as PNC Bank, I honestly had no reservations at all about my decision. I knew I wanted to spend more time with my kids, and there was no better opportunity to do so than right now. If there’s one thing I learned while employed at PNC, through their early childhood education program, Grow Up Great, is WE (parents & guardians) can have the biggest impact on our kids lives’ before they hit the age of 5. Leo is 5 & Mila is 1 about to turn 2, and the chance to be by their side, teaching them about different cultures & cuisine, introducing them to new people & places, climbing mountains & building sandcastles together, and of course playground hopping with them was something I wanted to do. It has been such a joy to watch my two rascals grow together since we’ve hit the road. They may not remember every journey or destination we’ve taken them to, but they know mommy & daddy are by their side, giving them lots of love, compassion, confidence, and discipline.
As all moms & dads know, parenthood comes with plenty of highs & lows. One day your kid is the perfect child, eating their breakfast, putting their dishes in the sink, getting dressed on their own, brushing teeth, playing nicely, and going to bed with out a fight. Except when you turn the clock and the next day they do none of that. I’ve had both glorious moments of proud daddy, and rough days where you just want a break from your kids.
I’ve watched my son, Leo start to come into his own, maturing and developing more independence each day. He’s always been a mommy’s boy but he’s been asking for daddy time more & more. Whether it be zip lining in Switzerland, building sand castles in Corsica, throwing him around in the pool or looking for tigers & bears in the Thai jungle (Jungle Book is far and away our most watched movie, we all love it!), its been so much fun to watch him ask daddy to come & play. We’ve embraced rocks, sticks & twigs as our toys, building houses, airplanes, you name it. At first, it was all unconventional for me, I thought play time was kicking the soccer ball in the back yard, teaching him to shoot hoops or watch him hit a baseball from a tee but what I’ve learned is its his world for play time, not mine. What I may have enjoyed as a kid, he wants to do something completely different. And it is perfectly ok.
Mila is my travel companion. She’s on my back in our Osprey poco carrier for most of our journey so we share a ton of moments together. Whether its hiking in France & Switzerland, horseback riding in Italy, walking the streets of Bangkok & Kuala Lumpur, or jumping through the puddles in Uluru, we’re defined by that bond of being together and chatting away the day. I not only get a great workout with her, but she’s always in my ear, telling me when she see’s a bird, spots an airplane in the sky or tells me the moon is coming up. She talks up a storm. She’s quite the character now, dancing, laughing, and already cutting jokes. Her personality is shaping as she hits 2 years old. I’m amazed at her vocabulary and ability to pick up on things so quickly. She’s been a tremendous influence on Leo as he has struggled at times with speech and communication. No question since she was born, he has matured and become a great big brother.
Fatherhood from the road presents its own quirks. There’s very little routine, but we’ve embraced it. Some things haven’t changed like bed time Dr Suess stories, but many other simple things have. Sleeping arrangements change from week to week as we move to new places. Sometimes Mila is in a crib, other times she’s in a bed with Gosia or I. What will bath time look like? Do we have a tub or shower? What types of foods are available to us and what are the kids willing to try? How far can we let them run & play without feeling their safety is at risk? What makes it so enjoyable is we’ve made the entire adventure a game for both of them and they love it. They get so excited to learn when its time to move to a new house. They ask if we are taking an airplane, taxi, train, or car to get there. Does the house have a pool? They enjoy finding out who is sleeping where, what games may be available to them, searching for the nearest playground on our walks, and finding new and exotic wildlife. They are constantly asking questions and have embraced their change of scenery every week.
Speaking of sleep, I’ve had more sleepless nights over the last 5 months than I had in the last 5 years with my kids. It’s not due to an uncomfortable bed or new setting but the fact I’m sleeping next to Leo or Mila almost every night. There’s only been a few occasions where we’ve had enough beds that they’ve slept on their on. They toss & turn all night. At midnight, Mila wakes up and wants to play peek-a-boo while I’m just trying to get shut eye. I wake up tired & exhausted but then I have Mila leaning her head on my shoulder or arms wrapped around my neck and Leo half smiling in his sleep and my fatigue goes away. Its a small moment but one we share.
I’ve always considered myself a pretty good listener, but listening to your kids and understanding their emotional behavior is vastly different than listening to your corporate clients’ request. They are at that stage where they ask a ton of questions. They say there is no stupid question in the work world so you have to apply that same logic to your kids. Taking the time to get down to their level and answer their requests is something I enjoy. I hope it’ll go a long way down the road when real “teen” issues come up. I want my kids to know they can share anything with dad.
I’ve learned the true definition of a backseat driver. When your on the road over 12,000 km with your kids, you not only get Siri telling you to turn left, but Leo & Mila repeating, “Daddy turn left, daddy turn left”, until I actually turn left. Sometimes I turn right just for fun to see if they have their directions down : ) Of course, now I’m on the left hand side of the road in Aussie, so having 3 navigators, plenty of 4*4 range rovers and some interesting looks from the locals as I get acclimated to the opposite side.
I’ve learned the true meaning of patience. I’ve always been one to want to just get things done, move on to the next job or task, and keep moving. But I’ve slowed down a bit on this trip (just a bit). Sometimes you just have to move at your kids pace, letting them have a little fun. Things like making a mess with their dinner because their learning to feed themselves, or taking 20 minutes to get our clothes on in the morning because Leo takes forever. I think he asks me 15 times if he’s got his socks on right, but we’ve come a long way since the beginning of the trip, where he refused to put his socks on his own. I try my best to let them work out of their tantrums versus screaming and yelling back. Its tough, I definitely lose my cool from time to time but when I stay calm, the situations tend to work themselves out. I’ve learned to let them attempt to fold the laundry, knowing quite well I’ll be refolding everything 3 times before it gets done. I want my kids to make mistakes and learn from them. I always thought you had to parent your kids to walk in a straight line, but I think we need to let our kids zig-zag as things don’t always move straight ahead.
I’ve learned to watch them grow and enjoy every moment of it. They are only 5 & 2 once. They are so different. Every kid is different. Letting them be who they want to be, as long as their safety is not at risk, helps set off their creative imagination. I’ve watched Leo climb trees and pick up lizards, Mila eat rocks, spit them out when I see her, and then try and put them in her mouth again. They’ve learned to build things with sticks, get their hands dirty in the mud, try new foods (albeit they rarely like it) and run around the house 100 times screaming “The Bergens Are Coming, The Bergens are Coming” (Trolls)
Finally, I give a standing ovation to every single stay at home mom and dad out there. It is not easy to be around your kids 24/7 with little adult interaction. It is a tough sledding. From time to time, I miss water cooler talk and just hanging out with the guys. I do get frustrated and sometimes want to lose my cool. Your on the clock every minute. We’ve had plenty of tantrums, vomits, daddy I want this, daddy I want that moments. But I know “staying” at home isn’t going to be forever. So, I’m doing my best to live in the moment, stay calm through every interaction, enjoy every second, and give them constant love & affection. Hugs are free and they are abundant to my kids. Time is something that we do not know how much we have and getting the chance to spend this time together with my wife & kids is priceless.