It’s a sunny and hot July morning in DC, when you understand why the English used to consider the British Embassy posting as a tropical assignment. The spouse has gone to work for the first time after her maternity leave and I’m on my own after a weekend of cramming and preparation for my first time with the infant girl. I’ve managed to feed and change her without dropping her on her head or setting fire to the crib. She’s been successfully tucked in for a nap – I hate the phrase "putting her down" as it sounds sinister – and when I descend the stairs, the swelling confidence is overcome by the clutter in the sink and the pile of laundry on the sofa. And it’s the first of many times that I’ll ask myself:
What the hell do I do now?
What can prepare a former corporate rat, a business/economics-degreed suit, for a life at home raising children? It’s not like I took Home Economics – excuse me, it’s Family and Consumer Science now, thank you – or even paid close attention when we visited with friends and their newborns.
Fourteen years later, I understand that the business/economics curriculum is perhaps the best education for being a stay-at-home parent.
With the first child, you spend your time focusing on the concepts learned in Human Resource Management. As Maslow described it in his Hierarchy of Needs, you want your little prodigy to go beyond what you’ll ever accomplish and attain the highest level of the hierarchy: self-actualization. Even after an ‘A’ in the class, I’m still not certain what it means; I do know that it sounds suspiciously like what some old-line Catholics consider a sin.
Get out of there right now, Aloysius! Are you self-actualizing again? Father Tim preached against that last month!
Regardless, you work to assure that Junior can reach his full potential and astound the world. Who knows doing what.
That perspective changes when the second child arrives and in a short period, you’ve begun to spend more time utilizing your Business Law background. Especially property rights. And labor relations/negotiations. Don’t get me started on justice and fairness.
Sharing and altruism might be innate in some children, but they require effort to cultivate. Even when you’ve convinced little Vincent that he has old toys that can go to "Sister Mary Margaret’s Home for Destitute and Wayward Children", if he sees little sister caressing a disemboweled, scabrous Teddy Bear, it will become the most beloved friend that he ever had. And then there’s:
No, Vincent. You can’t take that toy away from Hortense after letting her play with it for two weeks. That’s not sharing. It’s wrong and you’re estopped from doing that.
I grew up in a "Highway Household" – so long as your feet are under my table, it’s my way or the highway – so it’s still grating to have children try to negotiate with you. I understand that it’s how they learn and test their limits, but cleaning your room is just something that you do.
Daddy, if I put away ALL of my toys, can I have a cookie? And if I really put them where they belong, can I have a 50% COLA in my allowance?
No, Vincent. Clean your room before I put a 50% increase in your donation to Sister Mary Margaret’s. Got me?
By now, you’ve moved onto the Operations Management portion of the curriculum. The daily schedule – especially with older children – becomes an exercise worthy of the "Traveling Salesman" problem.
Hortense has a 3:45 Tuesday basketball practice at St Matilda’s while Vincent has a 4:15 guitar practice across town at Mrs. Shyster’s studio. Vincent will be done in a half-hour while Hortense has Brownies at 5:15 until 6:00, at which time Vincent has his soccer practice at the Fieldhouse. Remember that the bus wouldn’t even arrive at their stop until 3:40, so you’re picking them up at school. Being children, meaning that they sometimes can’t find their tushies with both hands, you’re obligated to pack the van with two sets of gym clothing, a guitar and sufficient books and toys for little Abner, who’s begun to grow roots into the carseat. Given the above, what’s for dinner? Extra credit is identifying what vegetables will be part of the meal.
The flip side to Operations is Inventory Control. Cost Accounting teaches that there are various approaches to the control of a firm’s inventory.
FIFO (First In, First Out) – the kids’ clothes are used regularly and the drawer contents are rotated to assure that Vincent and Hortense routinely wear all of their clothing.
LIFO (Last In, First Out) – the kids’ clothes are managed such that the last items in the drawer are used first by Vincent and Hortense. The consequence is that some clothes are worn more than others and that really lovely outfit from Aunt Florence will see the light of day just when it gets dontated to Sister Mary Margaret’s.
JIT (Just In Time) – the inventory mechanism in which the daily wardrobe consists solely of what’s available in the dryer that morning. It would be easier to just move the dryer into Vincent’s bedroom, but that would entail upgrading the outlet to 220.
But although the focus changes with each new addition, you still make the effort to come back again and again to Maslow. And one more extra-credit question: Was Maslow Catholic?