By Nick McDaniels — I am very fortunate. I’m about half way through my third decade on this planet and my daughter is about half way through her first. And we are both half way through my first summer as a stay-at-home-dad. I’ve learned a lot, from her, about her, about teaching and learning, about myself. So here are eight things I learned during my eight weeks of vacation.
First: I am fortunate to have a job where I get to spend so much time with my daughter. I imagine there are not very many men my age who get the opportunity to spend eight weeks with their kid(s) without interruption. For this, I am grateful.
Second: Four-year-olds talk a lot! Those that know me, know that I don’t leave too much open air in a conversation, so I’d have a hard time claiming that she gets it from her mother. But Charlie’s language is just exploding with idioms and colloquialisms that never stop, but for the occasional breath. At every utterance of an “O Dear Me,” or “Heavens to Betsy,” “What in the world…” I wonder, one: who taught her to talk like my West Virginia grandma, and two: how amazing it is to watch personality bloom in children. I’m pretty sure last Sunday, she talked for about 14 hours straight. Perhaps I’m raising a filibustering future politician. Watch out Ted Cruz and Wendy Davis! Charlie may be able to talk you into submission.
Third: Teaching reading is very different than it used to be. I was not trained to teach reading per se, though in my job, I am probably called to do so more than I should be. But I learned to read simply by being read to, a lot. My daughter loves books, being read to, taking home 45 pounds of books from the library. She loves How The Grinch Stole Christmas more than anything, all year round, usually twice in a row. But she is not interested in sitting down with me and working through a book together as a reader. She’d much prefer to play learning-to-read games on her tablet to practice. I’m not sure if this is blessing or curse, probably both, but I am sure it is different.
Fourth: Physical activity is so important for children of all ages. On days where we’ve hiked all around the zoo (about once per week) because the giraffes, Charlie’s favorite animal, are the farthest from the gate, she is happier the rest of the day (and goes to bed earlier!). The same is true for the pool, where she is learning to swim on her own, an incredibly strenuous activity, learning to swim.
Fifth: I’m a firm believer that being a stay-at-home-parent is really challenging work and stay-at-home-parents do not get the respect, credit, or gratitude they deserve. Parenting is harder than most jobs. I will say this, having only one kid, it is easier than my day job, where I have 30, so I am grateful for the opportunity.
Sixth: Kids learn a lot from TV, the good and the bad. Charlie usually watches some television during breakfast and lunch. We don’t have cable, because like most people, we gave up our phone and TV subscriptions in favor of cell phones and streaming. I monitor which shows she watches, and the volume, but I don’t think it is the brain-rotting evil that I once thought it was. The other day, I said to her, “here’s some water, have a drink.” She replied, “If I don’t I will get dehydrated. Dehydrated is when you don’t have enough to drink.” Then she took the water and walked away. Doc McStuffins is the wise sage that instilled upon Charlie this little gem of knowledge. Not much to complain about there.
Seventh: Children need firm and fair discipline. We’ve experienced our first real bout of back-talking in recent weeks, as the terrible twos were pretty mild for us, which I think we’ve dealt with pretty well using the John Wayne model of parenting (don’t take any crap off anybody). But I can see how such issues can compound and compound quickly without firm structure and boundaries for kids.
Eighth: I will be a better teacher this year because, for the first time, I’ve spent a summer recharging, doing something out of pure love (not that I have not liked my summer jobs). Teachers need this more than most, particularly teachers with families, because during the school year, teachers burn the candle at both ends probably more than people in most professions, all while the days are short, and energy is low. I’m glad to have experienced this and I feel more ready and prepared to teach this year than ever before.