On Wednesdays and Thursdays, a good part of my parenting energy goes toward defending my twin toddler girls against the perceived threat of the garbage trucks that patrol our neighborhood. I’m hoping the dread fear that leaves them sobbing and clutching at my legs and gibbering about “jurbage chucks” for much of those two days is just a phase that will soon subside.
In the meantime, part of my strategy to deal with their fear is to give them opportunities whenever possible to watch the terrifying machines, from a safe distance, while I comfort them and talk about what they’re seeing: “Now the garbage truck lifts up the dumpster…now the garbage goes in the truck. Yay! Garbage truck is our frieeeeend.” That kind of thing.
One thing I try to do as part of this de-sensitization regimen is to get the trash collectors to wave at the girls, so the girls will understand that we like the garbage truck and the people who live inside of it.
I remember the first time one of the guys on the yard waste collection crew, who ride on the back of the truck, old-school style, and dump the containers by hand, waved at us as we stood on our front steps. I was chirping away, trying to get the kids excited about the super-fun friendly truck, and flapping my hands like a cheerleader hoping to get the attention of the hunky quarterback during the big game.
The yard waste guy tossed the empty container onto the sidewalk and waved at the babies with a grin. He seemed to chuckle as he made eye contact with me.
I caught my reflection in the window as we headed back inside. It was a little comical: boxers, flip-flops, and a t-shirt at 11:00 a.m., with no evidence of any grooming having taken place for days, and a little cherub in a pink onesie in each arm.
That was just one of many times that I’ve felt, despite my absolute philosophical confidence that being a stay-at-home-dad is as legitimate as any job a guy could hold, a twinge of self-consciousness about my role as a full-time nurturer in a world where men are usually expected to be out hunting down prey.
It never bothered me to hear guys at grown-up parties talking about their boardroom exploits and entrepreneurial coups–that’s a world I’ve never been involved in, and just can’t muster any excitement about.
It’s always the landscaper or utility worker I need to skirt around on the sidewalk with my double stroller that makes me ever so slightly sheepish about my current occupation.
That’s probably because for most of my life, I’ve made a living from doing manual labor; so that’s the club I used to belong too. And as much as I mock macho posturing, I have to admit that when I was in that club, I indulged in some self-satisfied scoffing at men with clean fingernails who sit at desks all day.
So you can imagine what kind of disdain my former blue-collar colleagues might have for a guy who doesn’t even make it to the desk, but instead putters around the house with babies in tow. Or what disdain they would profess, at least, in the presence of their peers.
So although I’ve never heard any comments from workers I interact with, and I honestly wouldn’t care in any important way if they thought I was less manly than I should be, I can’t help but to harden my expression a bit, and perhaps grip the bar of the stroller more like the handle of a five-pound sledge as I walk by and greet them with a jut of the chin. And my usual blithering at the kids suddenly becomes firm and businesslike.
This is ridiculously lame, I know. But, as we parents do, I’m moving ever closer to an identity-free existence in which any notions I ever had of being tough, or cool, or sexy have completely evaporated. So these twinges of embarrassment are becoming fewer and farther between. And more to the point, I think I’ve finally realized that if I care at all about how strangers perceive me (which I shouldn’t, but, you know…), I want them to be impressed with what a badass I am at wrangling multiple toddlers, rather than swinging a hammer.