(Ep. 25) Suddenly a Stay-at-Home Dad with Jim

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In this validating, relatable, and just funny episode, my family friend and dad of two, Jim Bialick, stops by to give us an inside look at his quick education in stay-at-home parenthood. Jim and his wife recently swapped roles, with Jim trading in his high-level job in D.C. for cleaning up vomit and shuttling his girls to ballet. One day, I got a private message from Jim that said, “I have a new perspective as now the stay at home parent. Nobody needs this many snacks and kids are more full of shit than politicians.” I loved hearing his take on the parts of parenthood he hadn’t seen before because he was the working parent. Selfishly, it was super satisfying to hear this strong, professional dad talk about how in just a short time, he’d been brought to his knees by two small people. I asked him if he would come bare his soul on my podcast so that all of us stay-at-home parents could feel seen, and thankfully he said yes! So join us for today’s episode where Jim shares about being iced out by ballet moms, the loneliness of no adult contact, his existential crisis in the minivan, and much more about what happens when your clients go from being Presidents to preschoolers.

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Brandy:                   Hello Adult Conversation Podcast listeners! Today’s episode is my holiday gift to you. It’s so validating and relatable and just funny. My guest, family friend and dad of two, Jim Bialick, stops by to give us an inside look at his quick education in stay-at-home parenthood. Jim and his wife Kelly recently swapped roles. After six years of staying home with the kids, Kelly became the breadwinner and Jim traded in his high level job in Washington, D.C. for cleaning up vomit and shuttling his girls to ballet. One day I got a private message from Jim that said, “I have a new perspective as now the stay-at-home parent. Nobody needs this many snacks and kids are more full of shit than politicians.” I loved hearing his take on the parts of parenthood that he hadn’t seen before because he was the working parent. Selfishly, it was super satisfying to hear this strong, professional dad talk about how in just a short time he’d been brought to his knees by two small people. I asked him what other new insights he had, to which he answered, “Things that are cute get not cute very quickly.” Then I asked him if he would come bare his soul on my podcast so that all of us stay-at-home parents could feel seen and validated, and thankfully he said yes. So join us for today’s episode where Jim shares about being iced out by ballet moms, the loneliness of no adult contact all day, what it feels like to be on the receiving end of the your spouse’s work trip pics from the beach, his existential crisis in the mini van, and much more about what happens when your clients go from being Presidents to preschoolers.

Brandy:                   I want to give a shout out to my newest Patreon peep, Tiffany Gordon – hello and thank you! If you would like to join other lovely listeners in helping make this podcast possible, you can go to patreon.com/adultconversation and throw just a few bucks my way. That’s P-A-T-R-E-O-N .com/adultconversation. Onto the show.

Brandy:                   All right so today on the podcast I have with us Jim Bialick. Hello, Jim.

Jim:                           Hello.

Brandy:                   So you’ve recently become a stay-at-home dad after six years of being the working parent. Is that correct?

Jim:                           That’s right.

Brandy:                   Okay. So your wife, Kelly, and I met at a Gymboree.

Jim:                           I actually think you’re still in her phone as “Brandy Gymboree.”

Brandy:                   That’s so perfect. And so our families became friends, and Kelly and I hung out a whole bunch because our girls were the same age and they were friends and we were friends and all that great stuff. Of course, then we got to meet you and then we loved you, so we’ve been family friends.

Jim:                           Yeah.

Brandy:                   So I had to laugh when I got this instant message from you about your shift to being the stay-at-home parent. I was just laughing because it’s like the daily stuff that I’ve been doing for about almost 13 years and Kelly had been doing for six years, and so, A, I love that you reached out to me because I feel like what does that say about me that when people are falling apart or having hilarious parenting struggles that they come to me? (Which I absolutely love.) But yeah, I had so many questions for you like, “So is it what you thought it would? Is it harder? It is easier? What brings you to your knees quickest?” All of those things so then I thought why don’t I bring you on here and let’s really have a discussion about what the shift has been like for you? So we will get to that. But first of all, what do you think the listeners need to know about you?

Jim:                           So, like you said, I’m staying home now for the first time ever. I had been working in the Washington, D.C. area for about 10 years, really involved in politics and some international relations stuff. And so I was really moving minute by minute, kind of caught up in all the D.C. nonsense that goes on a day-to-day basis. And then also because I was doing a lot of international work, I was traveling a lot. So it’s actually interesting now with my three-year-old I keep asking my wife, saying like, “I don’t remember Eleanor,” (our six-year-old, “doing this. I just don’t remember being like that.” She very calmly reminds me that I was not there for a lot of that time. So I’m learning a lot of this on the fly.

Brandy:                   Yes.

Jim:                           It’s a big change.

Brandy:                   And I think too one of the interesting things about you is that you’ve had some pretty high profile jobs. You’ve worked with Presidents. How many Presidents have you met?

Jim:                           I met Carter, Clinton, W. Bush, and I’ve met Trump. I didn’t meet Obama, even though I was here for his entire administration, I never met him.

Brandy:                   I’m now retitling this episode, “The World’s Greatest Tragedy.” Out of all that, oh my god.

Jim:                           Yeah.

Brandy:                   Okay so with the jobs that you’ve had and the work that you’ve done, you’re meeting with some pretty high profile people and then you switch to the opposite of that. Which is funny because it’s like the most important people in your world and yet maybe not the most refined or professional. So it’s probably got to be a pretty big shift for you.

Jim:                           Yeah, it’s been different. I think when you’re in the corporate world there is this expectation that when someone who’s in charge says, “Go do this,” that everybody will drop everything to go do that one thing. Because I mean it’s their job. It’s their job to comply with that person. In politics it’s a little different because people say things all the time, they don’t really end up doing it. It’s just kind of they say it and it peters out. I always say that’s why when you have like someone that’s the long term executive at a big company, a CEO, that becomes a congressman or a congresswoman, they’re always really surprised that people just don’t do what they say. I definitely had that mentality going into it where I’m kind of used to managing people and so like all right well, listen I’ve streamlined the morning routine, we’re out the door a little bit faster. This is going well. And then I already have dresses picked out. Even I picked out two because I thought to the three-year-old I could say, “Well do you want this one or this one?” And she would choose.

Brandy:                   Right.

Jim:                           It was like, “Well do you want the yellow dress or pink dress?” And she just looks at me and goes, “No.” What do you mean no? No. You get to choose one of these two dresses. And that led to her stamping her feet and rolling around on the ground and everything just fell apart. My best laid plans fell apart within the first 10 minutes of me doing this at home.

Brandy:                   Didn’t you and I refer to this as “The Humbling?”

Jim:                           “The Great Humbling.”

Brandy:                   This is part of the humbling process.

Jim:                           Yes. Especially in the early part, that’s when you’re immediately reminded of the things that you were doing that you may have put higher value on before, but you’re like, “You know, I’ve met four goddamn Presidents,” and I’m here with this kid rolling around on the ground, and she somehow got a water bottle during it, was throwing that around. It was like, “Ughhh.” You get humbled pretty quick.

Brandy:                   Oh my god. You’re like, “Do you know who I am?”

Jim:                           Yeah, exactly. Yeah, exactly. I do the, “Do you know who I am?” And she gives me the, “Who do you think you are,” pretty regularly.

Brandy:                   Right. Yeah, well as much as any job can have such difficult personalities, I always think about when you’re parenting, especially the younger years and the toddlers, how it’s unlike any job I can imagine, except for if you worked in a mental health institution or a zoo.

Jim:                           Yeah.

Brandy:                   Right? And in both of the those situations they allow you to use tranquilizers. But in this situation, they do not. I’ve struggled to liken it to anything, to give a metaphor for what’s it like, and I don’t think until you’re in it you realize no matter how shitty your job is, the amount of resistance that you get from a toddler is just unmatched for any job or any awful boss. That’s my take on it, I’m sure there are people out there like, “Actually my boss is an ass. My kids are better.” But especially coming from where you are where people are expected to do their job, I love within the first 15 minutes your girls are like, “Yeah, we run this. Thanks, Dad.”

Jim:                           Yeah. It’s very much like the Captain Phillips’ scene where the pirate takes the boat and he’s like, “I’m the captain now.” I got that very early on. I think the zoo analogy is probably the closest one because it was really jumping into it because the first two weeks that I was doing this was also a training period for my wife where she had to be in Florida for two weeks. So I had some support from family, which was great, but then I was really just learning a new routine, school had just started, we’re learning everything. We had a lot of people saying, “Oh, you know, come over for a playdate or whatever.” And I think it was very much like the zoo mentality where sometimes the kids were just so crazy it was like, “No, the exhibit is closed for today. We need to take a break on this.”

Brandy:                   Exactly. All of that stuff that you do when you’re a stay-at-home parent where you are doing playdates and go do the park and all of these things, I think from the outside those things look like, “Oh, how fun. You guys get to have fun all day.” But I think the outside perspective, and I’m not saying that you had this, but I think people who don’t get an insight into it just think it’s fun and they don’t realize the low level management that’s always happening and the low level gauging of should we even do this? Have I pushed it too far? Is somebody about to get hungry? It is going to be too hot?

Jim:                           Oh yeah.

Brandy:                   All of that stuff. So what you’re talking about where you’re just like, “Yeah, exhibit’s closed,” those are pieces that from the outside maybe aren’t so obvious that are a part of the experience.

Jim:                           Totally. As simple as it sounds, something like folding laundry is one that I never really got because I was like I can just watch TV and fold laundry. But now it’s like you have all these different competing interests that make it really complicated. And you know both our girls are in dance classes. They both have extracurricular activities. We have a lot of friends that they want to see. And now with Eleanor being in elementary school we have a different … the kids are on different schedules for the first time. I got to get one home to do nap so I can wake her up and give her a half hour to yell at me before we put on her ballet stuff and go pick up her sister.

Brandy:                   Right.

Jim:                           And so these are just new experiences … I’ll tell you, part of the humbling is it’s made me feel like an asshole about it because I don’t want to say that I didn’t fully know that all this work was going on, I just don’t think I appreciated it in the same way. I definitely have always very deeply appreciated that my wife has wanted to stay home with the kids, especially because she has an amazing career history and has been a part of some very cool and exciting things. And I think that in her new role she has that she’s absolutely thriving in that. And so I don’t want to say I’m valuing the work different or that I’m the first one to discover that it’s pretty difficult to keep these unruly kids and a house clean, but part of the humbling is, “Does nobody know how hard this is?” And it’s like, oh wait, you’re the only one who you just weren’t really thinking about it.

Brandy:                   Yeah, well and how could you know? That’s the other thing is unless you’re in the day to day of it, how could you know? I think too it’s different when you come in and you do a day, like as any parent just comes in and is like, “Oh, I got the kids for a couple days while my wife’s gone or my husband’s gone,” or whatever, but what and why I wanted to talk to you is because it becomes a whole different ballgame when for the unforeseeable future you’re IT.

Jim:                           Yeah.

Brandy:                   Because anybody can parent through, “Okay, I got 24 more hours and then I’m back to my life that doesn’t include doing all of this.”

Jim:                           Yes.

Brandy:                   And so even with you, because I know you’re in the process of switching careers, you still have at the end of this, there’s still probably an out for you and so the one piece of this that you don’t have that a stay-at-home parent, and usually the mom has, is endlessness.

Jim:                           An opportunity for parole.

Brandy:                   Exactly. Like anytime that you’re having a low moment you probably don’t have to tell yourself, “Well I only have 17 more years of this.”

Jim:                           Oh yeah.

Brandy:                   You know what I mean?

Jim:                           Yeah.

Brandy:                   Like my husband and I were talking the other day about just when there’s something going on in your life whether it’s the kid waking up or they won’t eat or you go to a party and you have to follow them, whatever the thing is that feels like an infringement on your freedom, most of the time it’s something that you have to swallow for like five to 10 more years. So yeah this feeling of there’s probably going to be a relief for you, so maybe some of the things feel like, “Well I can get through it for X amount of weeks or months or whatever,” but, Jim, I just want you to really tap into next time you’re having the hardest time, I want you to tap into if you were like, “Only 15 more years.” And then on top of that, I just want to add the extra layer that then your period would maybe start. So those are two elements of the stay-at-home momhood that I feel like really go unlooked at. Okay.

Jim:                           That’s absolutely true. And setting those milestones for sanity’s sake has been a big part of this for me. In addition to all the stuff that’s been changing, we’re also in the process of selling our house.

Brandy:                   Right, because that’s how life works-

Jim:                           Of course.

Brandy:                   … because everything huge has to happen at once, yeah.

Jim:                           Always. And so keeping the house show ready at the drop of a hat where this text message comes through, “Can someone come look at the house in the next hour?” It’s like, “All right, kids, dogs, get in the car.” Or there were a couple days where there were showings during the ballet classes. So like literally the dogs and whatever daughter was not dancing, we were in the minivan. But at the same time, the milestone on that had been, “Well, this will be a lot easier when I don’t have to keep the house in such crazy condition.” So we got to a point where we had two days where we didn’t have any showings and it was just like actually spending time with the kids, I didn’t have to have the dogs with me constantly – which I love them, but they’ve got about 12 brain cells between them – so it’s kind of hard to take them places. I really honestly was thinking like I could really imagine myself being good at this and really imagine myself enjoying this.

Brandy:                   Yeah, without having to do the whole house thing?

Jim:                           Totally. But then that gave me pretty significant pause because I was implying that I wasn’t enjoying it. And this was on one of the days I wasn’t dealing with the house crap. It was actually just being with the girls. And so that was a point where I think I had to stop thinking about it on the milestone, “It’ll get better when, it’ll get better when.”

Brandy:                   Right.

Jim:                           Because that means you’re just plowing through it and when you’re heart’s not in it, it’s harder.

Brandy:                   Yeah. I remember when you messaged me, I think when we were talking and I asked you how it was going, you were like, “I can see myself liking this,” and I laughed so hard because the lived version and the imagined version of parenthood … I just love this idea of people saying, “How’s motherhood?” or “How’s fatherhood?” and going like, “I can see myself enjoying it,” would be such an amazing, but also honest response. But then like what you’re saying is this idea that once you get through this move, then maybe you’ll be able to enjoy it. But in my head I’m already thinking ahead and know that then you’ll be in cold and flu season. So then what will happen is then your kids will be home sick or you’ll be dealing with this and then you’ll go, “Okay, once it’s spring and summer again,” and then you’ll go, “Oh, it’s summer, they’re home the whole summer. Once it’s not summer…” And then exactly what you’re saying, then you find yourself doing what you’re talking about, this “I will enjoy it when.” I feel like the reality is, “I will enjoy it when they aren’t children anymore.”

Jim:                           Yeah.

Brandy:                   I will enjoy the memories of this. It’s so fucked up!

Jim:                           Also when you talk to people that don’t understand it, like I keep in touch with people who I worked with in the past and they’re like, “How was your day yesterday?” And the things that you blurt out, they just make no sense. There’s no context for it. So it’s like, “You know, what’d you do yesterday?” And I’m like, “Well, I kind of had a little bit of a panic because my three-year-old fell asleep in the car and I needed to pee and I didn’t want to wake her up and I didn’t know what I was going to do for 45 minutes.”

Brandy:                   Right.

Jim:                           And they’re like, “What the hell are you talking about?”

Brandy:                   Yes. And you can probably see from that experience … so one of the things that I noticed about becoming a stay-at-home parent was that when I would go into group settings and we’d all be chatting about life or what our week was like, all of a sudden the things that I’m talking about are like you’re saying, they’re crazy. Nobody can relate to it except the other stay-at-home parents. If you have a professional job, those stresses and those experiences are different than literally listing off every time you got woken up that last night. That I remember, in the beginning specifically, was like we would get together and if there was another mom it would be like, “Well she was up at 3:15, but then I got her back and down and then she was up at 4:30.” And now I look at it because I’m so far out of that and I’m like how did somebody not slap us? This is the most boring shit, but it was our world.

Jim:                           Totally, totally. It was a new experience, I mean everything. The one thing I completely didn’t expect is how much the being at home parenting is kind of like being in high school. It’s really, really cliquey. And I never really expected that, even for the moms and the dads, there’s like oh these are the dads that are in the bike group, these are the beer dads, these are the coach baseball dads. And I experienced the same things with the moms. I talked about the girls being in the dance class, and at one of the dance classes, I’m the only dad that’s ever there. And there will be no talking to me. They’ve got their own group and their insular thing.

Brandy:                   I can’t believe how much they’ve put you on ice. I don’t know, I feel like out here if a dad shows up, A, he gets sort of special treatment, but, B, I don’t know about the icing. Do you think that’s an area thing or do you think that’s probably how it is in most places?

Jim:                           I don’t know. That could be regional. Maybe it is. I think what was interesting is I’ve been really involved in the girls doing their dance classes because they love it and-

Brandy:                   Okay, just say it, Jim, just do your shout out about your resume please.

Jim:                           So I’ve done both Daddy/Daughter dances, which is like a choreographed thing. And then I was Gaston when the pageant was the Beauty and the Beast.

Brandy:                   Amazing.

Jim:                           So I feel like going into the dance class I should have at least a little credibility, you know, with all them.

Brandy:                   Can you remind them that you were Gaston? Do they know? Do they know that you were that?

Jim:                           I think one of them does because I recognize the daughter. So one of them does. But the example was, so we have the little Amazon tablets for the girls and Eleanor looks at it while we’re waiting for Amelia’s dance class. One of the other moms, her son was having a full blown meltdown because either his had run out of battery or they had forgotten it. And so I had the other one in my bag and I was like, “Oh, hey. Does he want to use this one?” I mean it’s just sitting in my bag.

Brandy:                   Oh, nice.

Jim:                           Yeah, man, they looked at me like I had just gone on like a swearing tirade. It was just like stunned silence. And then they turned around and started talking to each other again. I was like, whoa, this is insane. And then that gets into the kind of-

Brandy:                   How dare they.

Jim:                           … the humbling and the weird doubt that you start to feel in a totally different environment. I was like, “Oh my gosh. Do I not understand social cues? Have I been doing human interaction poorly all this time?” That was a weird experience for sure.

Brandy:                   Totally. As I’m hearing you say this I’m thinking these relationships in these little worlds that we have, we put in a lot of time and effort, as you know through Kelly because I know she does the same thing with her friendships. And maybe it’s a personality thing because I’m always looking to help and gather in the weary and the overwhelmed, so if I’m at dance and there’s a mom who’s losing it, I have a soft spot for her. And I maybe wouldn’t go out of my way, but I definitely wouldn’t ice somebody who clearly was looking for adult conversation or interaction clearly. But I wonder if in their mind they’re like, “Oh no, we’ve been working on this relationship for about 10 years now,” or six years, or whatever the thing is, and you don’t just get to walk in here and have all the benefits of this tightness without doing the work. But that’s so messed up because how do you ever find your people in this? But you said you have found dads, like wasn’t there a dad who wanted to do a dad playdate where you guys were like fixing stuff together?

Jim:                           Yeah, yeah. No there were a couple.

Brandy:                   Sweet.

Jim:                           It’s amazing. I’m not the handiest person by any means so he comes over, he’s like, “If you’re going to a job interview, I can watch Amelia or pick her up and just take her home for a little while. And then also, I noticed the sink was leaking. I’ll just run and grab some parts and we can fix that too.” I was like oh man this is great.

Brandy:                   I love that.

Jim:                           We’ll keep you around.

Brandy:                   This is such a gender stereotype and I totally love it. If I had said that, if I had said, “Well do you guys do a dad playdate where you guys fix things?” everybody would be like, “That’s a stereotype! How dare you?” But the reality is that it exists.

Jim:                           Listen, I’m happy to live the stereotype. I wish I had a useful husband, that would be fantastic.

Brandy:                   Well so what do you think out of all of it, and you’ve touched on some of it, what do you think surprised you the most about becoming the stay-at-home parent?

Jim:                           I think it’s a combination of how hard it is to keep a schedule is one thing. When it’s like, “Oh I just have to drop the kids off to school and pick them up,” any one little change to that really throws off the day. I never really understood that. These kids are really flexible. They’re dealing with a lot of change right now, but at the same time we have to skip this or we’re not going to be able to do it because we have a showing or something like that. Those changes where it’s like, “Oh yeah, can you just go do this at 2:30?” And it’s like, “God, that’s right before I have to pick up Eleanor at school,” and that kicks off a whole, “All right, I gotta figure out how to do this.” It’s one thing when you’re working and you have a lot of meetings, you can move those around. These are fixed timelines. You can’t change things. You can’t change when kindergarten ends.

Brandy:                   Yes. I call them hard stops.

Jim:                           Hard stops, yes.

Brandy:                   You know, whereas in business I feel like they’re soft stops because you could say to somebody, “Hey, let’s push that meeting back 15 minutes,” but if you don’t show up at kindergarten you get charged and you get a phone call. So you have to adhere to that schedule like a dog being trained. It’s like they have a clicker and they will click and shock you if you’re not there on time and that’s a really different way to live. Have you felt that with all the drop offs and pick ups that you’re constantly trying to work around?

Jim:                           Oh yeah.

Brandy:                   Do you feel more pressure or stressed or panicked to make sure that you make those?

Jim:                           It’s definitely a source of anxiety. It definitely is.

Brandy:                   Yeah, okay. Do you set alarms on your phone? How do you remember to do that?

Jim:                           Yeah, I was at first and now I think that’s been beaten into me enough where I just know when it’s time to go and it’s like the machine turns on.

Brandy:                   Exactly, yeah. Yes.

Jim:                           The other thing that has been I think probably most surprising, and this is maybe a little more nuanced, but interacting with other people while they’re parenting their own kids.

Brandy:                   Oh yeah.

Jim:                           So you know we have our own set of rules, for example the girls are not allowed to play with toy guns. That’s something that I’m very strict about because I don’t want them to think they’re toys. Especially we live in the South, it’s a different mentality here. There are a lot more guns around, there are a lot more military families, a lot more law enforcement families. The idea that someone has a gun in their house, it’s a “probably” not a “maybe.” I’ve been really strict about that to the point where they’ve missed out playing some games for that reason. That’s one of my many eccentricities.

Brandy:                   Yeah, you’re going to die on that hill.

Jim:                           Yes, exactly. But then when we’re at a park or in a public place where you see other people parenting and they come out hard on things that you just never even thought of. So like we were at a park and there was a little boy that was like four, maybe, and he walked up to another mom that was there and was just talking to her. He just kind of like struck up a conversation. And his mom came over and grabbed and pulled him back and said, “What have I told you? You never talk to a woman unless they talk to you first.”

Brandy:                   Oh wow.

Jim:                           And I was like whoa.

Brandy:                   You do live in the South, yeah.

Jim:                           Yeah. I was like holy, is that … And then you start to rehash all the things that you’re prioritizing. It was like, wait, is that a thing that I’m not … is this why when I was at the dance studio everybody iced me because I’m not supposed to talk to women? I was really confused by that. I never heard that before. It makes you kind of take account of the things that you push as your top priorities with your kids and then when you see it when other people have different priorities it’s just a different social experiment I guess.

Brandy:                   Well it’s so interesting because it’s like you were talking about, this high school mentality and wondering with the ballet moms, “Do I not know social cues?” It’s not like being gaslit, that’s not the right thing. But it’s like you’re having to question everything you’ve known, “I thought I knew social cues and then maybe I don’t.” And then, “Wait, this person’s teaching their kid this and I hadn’t even thought about it. How have I been living all along?” But I feel like what you’re seeing is not the norm or not something that you should necessarily strive towards, but I can imagine how it’s making you think, “Wait a minute, but should I be doing these things?” I just love this whole personality check that you’re getting that you have to ask yourself.

Jim:                           There are all these weird new sources of anxiety. I mean, I have low level anxiety all the time, but you know I don’t consider myself someone with debilitating anxiety where I can’t do stuff. But then the other thing is in those times between dropping kids off at stuff and picking them up from stuff, you are alone a lot. And so that’s something that I’m not used to at all. Because I’m always at work, I’ve always had a bunch of people around me. And there are a bunch of people that are talking to me, need to talk to me, want to talk to me kind of thing like that. As you know, my wife is very outgoing.

Brandy:                   Yes, she’s the best, by the way.

Jim:                           Yes. Like to the point where she got a job because she started talking to someone in the locker room at the gym. I was thinking the locker room at the gym is where you keep your eyes down and your mouth quiet. I don’t understand, that’s a totally different lifestyle.

Brandy:                   Right.

Jim:                           But I would say that 90% of our friends are people that we’ve met because Kelly has befriended a mom or someone else through one of her social groups that she’s in and then they become part of our family friend group, our family social network. Most of the people that I know are friends that I met before Kelly, these are friends from high school and college. The people that I know now, it’s been from work. And also, because like you said, some of the jobs I’ve had they’ve had a bigger profile, either people come to up to me because they want something or because they kind of have to interact with me because that’s their job. And so that gives you that extra gut check because when I was experiencing these new … It sounds so weird because it’s like I have never understood human interaction before, but I guess I’m doing it-

Brandy:                   Right, I know. That’s what I’m laughing about.

Jim:                           Yeah. It’s like-

Brandy:                   And not because you don’t ,but because you’re being forced to like rethink, “The way that I’m social, am I likable?”

Jim:                           Yeah, am I like really weird? Yeah.

Brandy:                   “Do people only talk to me because they had to at work? I’m a nice person, right?”

Jim:                           Totally and so there I am driving around in the car, again, with the three-year-old asleep in the back. I can’t stop somewhere to go to the bathroom to wake her up because she’s going to be yelling at me until we have to pick up the six-year-old. I’m like having this existential crisis in the mini van. It’s like Jesus, wow the tables have really turned here.

Brandy:                   It’s so fast how the existential crisis in the minivan happens! There’s no sliding into this easy. We’ve all been there. And the kinds of things that it you makes you question … I think your point about how you have a lot of time alone and all of these anxieties that get thrown in there. I feel like that is the essence of I would say motherhood, but in this case to open it up to the stay-at-home parent, the person who is the main caretaker, because all of a sudden you’ve got time to worry about crap, stuff is so different than how you’ve ever lived your life. Like this personality stuff that you’re questioning, when we become stay-at-home parents it’s so fast. And then everything you knew about the world just gets flipped upside down and your value, which maybe you’re experiencing too with wondering like, “Well so do people only talk to me when they need something or whatever? What is this? The moms won’t talk to me.” This idea of value and who you really are on this planet, that happens when we become parents, but I think to a deeper extent it happens when you become the person who is the isolated stay-at-home parent. That’s just part of that bag that is just inherent in it. So it’s interesting that even a couple months in you are already crying in your minivan on the side of the road. Maybe not that far, but you know, like that is so frigging real, dude.

Jim:                           Yeah, yeah. I mean it really highlights to me the importance of having a support network, whether it’s formal or informal, or even just like an outlet.

Brandy:                   Yes.

Jim:                           Because we have been so lucky with the friends that we have, moms, dads that have reached out, they’re being proactive because I think they know that I am not going to do that right away. That’s been really positive. And even just having that extra support checking in kind of thing like that, it’s great for two reasons. One is because, A, it’s again like you’re not just naturally alone with your thoughts all the time. But the other is my wife is starting a brand new job in a very serious role. I know that she is missing being at home just to be around the kids, but I also know that she really loves her job and is thriving in that job. I don’t want to be bombarding her with text messages like, “Kid shit on the couch again,” kind of thing. And so I’ve been trying to be as respectful about it as possible. There are certain things where I just fundamentally don’t know. Like what you guys do with the podcast, even just having a conversation where people know that they’re not fully just on their own or that they’re not insane.

Brandy:                   Exactly.

Jim:                           If someone can remind you that you’re not fully insane, like even if you could just set an alarm on your phone that says, “Just a reminder, you are a human on this Earth. You’re not insane,” I think that goes a long way.

Brandy:                   Yeah, yes. Totally. Now that the tables are turned, I remember you saying when we talked before that when Kelly was at a training she had sent you a picture. They did a day where they did training all day and then they went to the beach.

Jim:                           Yeah.

Brandy:                   And you were laughing at like, “Oh god, that hurt,” and thinking back to maybe the times that you’d sent her pictures when you were in Cuba, or weren’t you in Germany? I don’t know why I know this, but I feel like you were at Germany for some awesome thing or something. So what does that feel like to be on the other end of watching somebody be alive in the world in this whole other way and then you’re at home cleaning out piss and Goldfish crackers from a car seat?

Jim:                           Yeah. It’s always the wet Goldfish, so gross.

Brandy:                   So gross.

Jim:                           I think that it’s another thing that I’ve had to check myself on because my gut reaction, like my visceral reaction is just to be resentful. And that’s not okay. I mean, she’s just having a good time, she’s blowing off steam. There have been pictures that I’ve sent her from places where, I mean, I’m mad at myself for having sent those pictures now.

Brandy:                   But it’s hard, I mean, I would imagine on that side it’s like you want to share, and especially if you don’t know. Like that’s the thing is you were in a position where you didn’t know yet what that felt like, so now when you go back to work, if the tables were to ever change, maybe you would know and maybe you would pick a different picture to send that didn’t rub salt in the wound.

Jim:                           Oh yes. Yeah.

Brandy:                   I’m not trying to give you an out, but also, you didn’t know what it felt like to be that isolated person who’s like, “Only 16 more years.” And now you do. Know better, do better, right?

Jim:                           Yes, exactly. I think that the mentality is like, “Hey, share in my good time.” And when you’re in the Gulag it’s hard to do that.

Brandy:                   Right, “Share in my good time that you will not see for the next decade.”

Jim:                           Yeah, yes. “One day you too could have this experience, but until then.”

Brandy:                   So are you in a spot yet where you have a good rhythm on things? Or do you still feel like you’re tweaking things? Or once the move happens then you feel like you’ll get in a better rhythm? How are you doing? What are you, two months in?

Jim:                           Yeah, thereabouts, thereabouts, yeah. The streamlining of the morning routine has gone very well. The more practical things I think we have a pretty good hold on. I still dread Monday and Tuesday because of the complexities of their dance classes and stuff like that, but I’m pretty comfortable and confident with being able to get people in and out the door. The thing that we haven’t been doing, quite honestly, as many social events as Kelly would have done. So I feel bad because it’s like these girls are just so social and I don’t want to isolate them by any means.

Brandy:                   Do you find yourself comparing what you’re doing to how Kelly did it? And do you find yourself judging yourself? Because the thing here too is that the hardship, I would imagine in your role, is you’re coming in with a whole framework that somebody has set for you, whereas if you start out as the stay-at-home parent, you get to set the framework. So your framework has been set to how Kelly did it and some of the socialization and all of that, so do you feel like you’re coming in and trying to keep those things up? Or do you feel like you can come in and be you and say, “I don’t necessarily know that I want to be out doing that much,” aside from the house stuff. Do you find yourself trying to fill her shoes in?

Jim:                           Yeah.

Brandy:                   And if so, is that uncomfortable? Are there times when you’re like, “But that’s not how I’m comfortable, so even though she would’ve done it this way, if I’m going to be the stay-at-home parent, I can’t do it that way because that is not congruent with my personality?”

Jim:                           Kind of a two-part answer to that would be, I keep thinking that this isn’t me. But I mean it is. I mean, it fundamentally is me.

Brandy:                   Wow. Wow.

Jim:                           So it’s not that I’m trying to necessarily compare myself to her because I feel like I’m comparing what she did just to something that’s something else, something that’s just really foreign to me. The other part of that is, again, she was gone for the training for the two weeks and then that’s when I was totally redoing the house. So she actually flew back in and when she came in to the house, she had never been in it like it was. So she was coming in to a different house.

Brandy:                   Oh.

Jim:                           And so that’s why I say it’s a little bit different because that was kind of a reset point where I would be comparing myself to her probably constantly if nothing had changed besides the facts that I was just staying home. But because I had done this thing, it was like a reset. So now it’s like well it’s not your show, it’s my show and this is what I have to do to keep the house in a certain way.

Brandy:                   Got it.

Jim:                           But at the same time, I constantly think about how much fun the girls have always had and it just sucks because I’m like, “No you can’t do that. Put that down.” I feel like I have these crazy austerity measures in place. It’s the circumstances of the situation. That’s when I do compare myself I think a lot more, which is I think she was just generally more fun than me. I think she generally is more fun than me, just as a baseline, but I think that on all things. That’s, I think, where I compare it most directly.

Brandy:                   It’s interesting. I think that that exists in every relationship and in every parenting relationship where there is one parent that’s more fun than the other one in specific ways, right?

Jim:                           Yeah.

Brandy:                   I definitely … my husband is the more fun one when it comes to like sitting down and making Barbies talk and then giving them crazy names and having crazy scenarios and all of that kind of stuff. He’s that guy. But it is, it’s like a little bit, I don’t know, it’s confronting a little bit to think about why am I not like that? Or why can’t I bring that to the kids? I don’t know that I’ve ever met a couple where both parents are the fun parents or both parents are the less fun parent. I think that there’s always a decent balance.

Jim:                           Totally. I mean it would have to be because I mean Kelly and I both have, I think, pretty type A personalities, which leads to conflict obviously because we both have an idea of the way things should be done.

Brandy:                   Sure.

Jim:                           I imagine if you had two people that were just like so zany all the time that could be pretty extreme in a different, hopefully positive way, but maybe a negative way as well.

Brandy:                   Exactly. So now that you’ve got your morning routine sort of streamlined, where I was going with that was do you have any Dad Hacks for us? Is there anything that you’ve learned and that you’ve put in place that’s like the Jim Bialick trademark certain thing and we can all learn something from you? Is there anything that you do that you’re like, “This is pretty genius.”

Jim:                           I don’t think it’s that particularly genius as much as like … I make it so the kids have to put their shoes on before they go downstairs for breakfast. Because I find that I spent 15 minutes that we didn’t have every day on just getting people’s shoes on. I was like why?

Brandy:                   I mean, shoes. Before you have kids you don’t realize that shoes can undo an entire family.

Jim:                           Totally.

Brandy:                   Like every day, shoes.

Jim:                           Yes. And the other thing is, and I think this is what maybe had kicked off the first message I sent to you was, there’s no way they need this many snacks.

Brandy:                   Right.

Jim:                           They just constantly want snacks. “I’m hungry.” You just ate like a pound of bacon. How are you still hungry?

Brandy:                   So with the shoes, okay so the hack on that is that you make them put the shoes on before they even come downstairs-

Jim:                           For breakfast, yeah.

Brandy:                   … so that right before you’re leaving you’re not dealing with shoes. Do you find that when you have them do it earlier there’s less bullshit about it?

Jim:                           Yeah, they don’t grouse about it. Because they know they won’t be able to get downstairs unless they have their shoes on.

Brandy:                   How do patrol this? Are you at the bottom like, “You will not get past me if you don’t have shoes on?” I guess I’m wondering why they’re not like, “No.”

Jim:                           Well there’s a gate and then-

Brandy:                   See, that’s what I was wondering.

Jim:                           And then also they know that if we’re in a hurry they can’t watch a show while they’re eating breakfast. And so it’s like, “Well if you want to watch a show, we have to be ready don’t we?” And they’re like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

Brandy:                   Got it.

Jim:                           They’ll be quick to brush their teeth.

Brandy:                   That’s what I was sussing out.

Jim:                           Yeah.

Brandy:                   That is what I was sussing out – where is the incentive for them because putting shoes on, even though it makes sense for you, in my mind I’m like, “Why would they say yes to that?” So then as I’m going deeper I’m realizing, “Oh yes, there is TV. There is some sort of entertainment that they are gaining.” And everything clicks now. Yes.

Jim:                           That’s also, I would say, one of the things that I had to get past really early on was that when Amelia’s like, “I’m not wearing this dress,” or, “My socks can’t match,” or just whatever the issue of the day is, or that when the first thing I hear from her is like she’s got a problem with something. She is like a walking Twitter. Basically a cute picture every once in a while, then just like complaining. And so the thing that I had to get past really early was they’re not intentionally doing this to troll me. Because there was like a-

Brandy:                   Are they though? What’s the evidence you have for this, Jim?

Jim:                           I guess that’s true. My thought was like I was getting resentful first thing in the morning where I was like, “No, fuck you, kid. Put your shoes on.” And then I was like wait, wait, wait. Okay let’s everybody calm down. I don’t know if that’s just the stage that she’s in or-

Brandy:                   Thank you for validating the experience, Jim. This is what it is. The minute you open your eyes you’re at the end of your rope and you’re like I can’t be at the end of my rope. I’ve been awake for literally one minute! This is not going to go good. Reframe. Attitude adjustment. All of that.

Jim:                           When I wake up, the first thing I think about is when I can potentially sneak in a nap.

Brandy:                   Yes.

Jim:                           That’s literally the first thing I think. I never do it, but the first thing I think about is like, “Well, all right, I got this thing. Well maybe if she goes to lunch bunch that’ll buy me an hour.” Just so I can fucking lay down and I just woke up.

Brandy:                   Exactly.

Jim:                           I went to bed early, like I just woke up.

Brandy:                   Right. That’s like me. Every morning I wake up and I’m laying there I’m like, “How can I get back here? I’m not even out of it yet but how do I get back here?” And then the whole day feels like an effort to get back to bed.

Jim:                           Totally.

Brandy:                   What has been the most humbling for you do you think? Is there one moment that you can remember that was the most humbling moment?

Jim:                           Yeah. The most humbling was, I kind of tie everything back to these first two weeks because this was the real trial by fire. So it was the second week, my mom had come in to help get the house in order. She had just left. And so we’re like, okay, here’s our new baseline. The kids are going to go to bed soon. They were being so sweet and they were playing a game together on couch. I was like oh, this is … Look at them, look at this little family we have. Kind of thing like that. So then Kelly calls me and I think it was a Friday. It must’ve been a Friday and Kelly calls me and she and her team, they’re basically in the long-stay hotels where there’s kind of like a little kitchenette thing.

Brandy:                   Oh right, yes.

Jim:                           So they’re partying in the kitchen, she’s FaceTiming, they’re all drinking wine, having a good time. And then Eleanor walks around the corner and goes, “Dad, Amelia pooped all over the couch.” And I was just like … I like looked at Kelly, it’s so loud in the room and I can see all these people dancing behind her. Somehow just by looking at her in FaceTime I was like, “I’m going to have to call you back,” and she’s like, “Okay,” she goes, “I’m not going to call you. You call me because I don’t want to interrupt whatever just happened.” And I was like, “Okay.” And so then I went out there and oh boy did she. I think she had (pooped) and just didn’t really notice it and then like rolled around on the couch a bit.

Brandy:                   Oh my god, yeah.

Jim:                           So I mean it was just everywhere.

Brandy:                   She was like the human Roomba on your couch.

Jim:                           Yes, yes, exactly. She just fully Roomba’d the couch. And so I’m like well I have to clean this up. This is going to stain. I have to get this out. But at the same time, I can’t let a shitty kid walk around the house and touch other stuff. So it was just like oh my god.

Brandy:                   Yeah, was that one of the first times where something massive like that happened with one of the kids and it was all on you? You are the end of the line here. You have to make it work.

Jim:                           Yeah. The humbling time is when you are … I’ve tried not to do this, but in these times … And she didn’t intentionally poop on the couch. But like at the same time-

Brandy:                   Of course. Well, wait a minute. Did she?

Jim:                           Yeah, yeah. But in that time I was thinking like, “She did this to me.” And then you get into like the, “I have two degrees and I’m in here picking up shit off this couch.”

Brandy:                   Yes.

Jim:                           And so yeah that I think was probably … I think the humbling is definitely a gas lighting activity because it just is a constant, like a little bit something’s off and then you eventually just are like, what do you do? I don’t know. I drive around I guess. You get reduced I think a little bit. A lot of bit.

Brandy:                   Yes a lot. Yeah, and then everything gets sort of taken away from you.

Jim:                           Yeah.

Brandy:                   So then as things get given back to you, the littlest thing like, “A stranger smiled at me today,” you feel like you won the lottery. What it takes to make you happy once you’ve been through the humbling is so little, it’s so little. In your bed, quiet, things like this that are attainable for everyone else on the planet, but if you have small kids it’s not attainable. I feel like that’s one of the downsides and one of the benefits of it is that no longer do you need fancy dinners and nights out and all of these things.

Jim:                           Yes.

Brandy:                   You just need the most basic human rights.

Jim:                           Basic human rights, absolutely. I mean, that was the question I was going to kind of ask you in response to that is, and this is something that I’ve been trying to reflect on myself and I don’t know that I have fully actualized this so I don’t know the answer. But post humbling, or I mean I guess you never really are post humbling.

Brandy:                   Right, right.

Jim:                           But as you are progressively humbled, do you think that you’re a better person for it?

Brandy:                   Oh, hell yes. I mean it’s funny because there are two different angles. On one hand, I’m a shell of a person, I don’t have the same interests because I haven’t had time to do those things. So much is stripped away from you that you feel like you’re not as whole. But then in a sense you’re even more whole because you’ve been humbled. For me personally, without all of this, without the humbling, the intense humbling that continues to happen, I wouldn’t be who I am today. So yeah I definitely, I mean I feel like as cliché as it is it’s all worth it, but damn. That’s the thing, I don’t question if it’s worth it or not. I question how do we get through the humbling. That is my MO in all of my work and what I do is that part that you were talking about, just knowing like I’m not insane – the alert goes off, “Oh, yep, remember you’re not insane today.” I feel like it definitely, for me, it gives me compassion for people in so many different situations. So the humbling on this, on having all the things stripped from you in parenthood, for me is similar to having things stripped from you in terms of financial hardship or health hardship, which I have a personal tie to, but all of those things it’s like a humbling in one area translates to all the areas. Because you can see somebody who is so low for a totally different reason and been like, “Oh my god, I’ve been there.”

Jim:                           Yeah, absolutely.

Brandy:                   You know, “Can I make you soup?”

Jim:                           Absolutely.

Brandy:                   So yeah, do you feel that way? Do you feel like through some lashings you’re becoming a better version of yourself from this?

Jim:                           Yeah, I do. I’m much more confident that I am a better version of myself now than I think I was at the beginning. Like you said, in the past having worked in pretty high profile jobs and then having a job where the funding didn’t get renewed and all of a sudden that went away, there’s nothing like being essentially laid off to make you feel like you are not valued at all.

Brandy:                   Right.

Jim:                           There were a lot of competing things, but without the money there’s no money for people to work there. And so my first instinct was, “All right, well fuck these guys. I’ll go do this for somebody else. There will be another high profile job like that.” And you know, I applied for some bigger places and have interviewed with them and that sort of thing, but then also now, especially after like the first month of doing this, I was like some of these jobs would be very public, but they sound awful. I don’t really care about this. And so I was like what do I really care about? Obviously I care about the safety and security of my family and that sort of thing. But then what are the issues that I worked on before family when I was just passion driven and not necessarily financially driven? And one of the things I worked on for a very long time is newborn and early childhood issues, like on policy level. And so I was thinking, I mean my career’s been pretty defined by that a lot of ways, maybe stop thinking about what your business card is going to say, stop being like an American Psycho where you’re comparing business cards to everybody, and start thinking about what you could actually be happy. Because it’s going to be a lot harder when you are going to work and you’re going to come home and you’re still going to have to do this because your wife is working too. And so that’s been a big mental shift for me. And quite honestly it’s actually worked pretty well. I have several interviews with some really interesting nonprofits that are working in that space. It’s something where it’s going to be a lot of work and the work can be really depressing at times, but at the same time I know that it’s meaningful. And if I’m going to be away from the kids and going to have to pay someone else to do something I know I can do, then it better be worth it.

Brandy:                   Yes.

Jim:                           So I think that’s probably the biggest benefit of the humbling. I mean it really gets beat into you. But it’s a reeducation for sure.

Brandy:                   Yes and those reprioritizations of things, we keep refining ourselves. And so the humbling it’s not a fine grate, you know, and it’s not fine sandpaper, it’s real coarse. And so then you really realize, “What is important to me? Who am I?” After you get ground down a little bit. One of the things that I’m really impressed by with you is the way that you talk about the moments that you feel the resentment, which I think every listener can totally relate to. But then you have this way where you’re like, “Okay, I don’t want to be in this resent space. How do I switch my attitude on this or how I’m looking at it?” Do you think that your desire to not get stuck in the resentment place comes from being possibly on the receiving side of it?

Jim:                           Yeah.

Brandy:                   You’re learning things about what Kelly’s life had been like and her day-to-day stuff. And she’s probably learning things about what your day-to-day and the stresses of being the breadwinner or having a career or whatnot, she’s probably learning about those stresses. So it’s like you both come back like, “Hey, I remember what it felt like to be on this end so I’m now going to do something different.” Do you feel like that’s your response to the resentment piece because you know what that feels like?

Jim:                           I haven’t thought about it that way.

Brandy:                   I’m just impressed by it. Instead of you just being like, “Dude, I’m pissed,” instead you’re like, “Oh, I’m resentful, but I know that that’s not a good space to be in.” And maybe that’s just your personality that like how do you know that you should not stay in that?

Jim:                           I think maybe more so now I could say that that’s probably why because I’ve spent some time thinking about it and not just stewing in it. But I would say that initially it was a purely selfish reason. And that was twofold. One is I can’t feel like this. Like it hurts to feel like this.

Brandy:                   Yes.

Jim:                           It hurts so much just to get through the day anyway right now, I can’t, I’m physically and mentally in anguish. Plus I’m still dealing with the job stuff and first time not being able to provide. I don’t care that Kelly works. I don’t care if Kelly makes more money than me forever, I hope she makes way more money than me because then we have more money.

Brandy:                   Right, yes.

Jim:                           It’s not that that I care about, but at that time I was feeling very, very low. I feel much better than I did then. But I was feeling very, very low. The other thing was the more selfish kind of sense of self. It was not the sense of self in that like, “This is who I am,” but rather like, “This is how I’m perceived,” and I didn’t want to be perceived by the kids as being just a dick all the time. My dad’s a great guy and we have a really good relationship. He’s changed quite a bit since when I was kid. And so I don’t want them to be like, “Yeah, Dad was always barking at us or really gruff or had a quick temper.” Inside, I catch fire very quickly. But how that manifests or how I say that to the kids, I understand from personal experience why that’s really important, and so I had to check myself because even if I am that way, I don’t want to seem that way to them.

Brandy:                   Exactly.

Jim:                           I don’t know. That feels kind of selfish, but that’s hard.

Brandy:                   No, actually, I think that’s not selfish. I think that’s actually looking out for your kids because the easier choice, in my mind, is to explode and say the thing thing that you want to say versus the thing that takes you a minute to get to a better place for your kids. Because my experience of motherhood has been the thing that I want to say and the thing that I do say many times are different. Because the first thing I want to say is, “Why the fuck would you be doing cartwheels on the couch when you have a glass of milk next to it?” That’s what I want to say. Like, “Why on Earth would you think that was going to end well?” But I don’t say that because, same as you, I don’t want my kids to be like, “God, my mom’s such an asshole,” even though deep down inside maybe I am. That’s my stuff. That’s not their stuff.

Brandy:                   So it’s like taking that moment, like you’re talking about, taking that moment of thinking how do I feel and I also can get pretty impatient and pretty hot pretty quick. And then thinking about it, “They’re not trying to do this. This is developmentally appropriate.” And then coming up with a response that is softer, right? So I don’t think that that’s selfish because I can tell you, 12 years of that it’s a lot of work and it’s not necessarily for me, even though maybe at the end of the day I’m concerned with how I’m portrayed in their memories, but it’s really about them because I don’t want to hurt them. I don’t know, I’ll tell you it’s not selfish that I can tell myself it’s not selfish. Maybe I’m really saying this to myself.

Jim:                           But I’d be really mad if someone else did that to them. You know? If they had a teacher that was as abrupt as I feel sometimes, I would be like, “This is not an appropriate place for my child to be.” And so the idea that their home is like that then that’s a bigger problem.

Brandy:                   Exactly. Well, so what is one of the things that you’ll do differently when you go back to work? Like now that you’ve had this experience and you see the inside, is there anything that you’ll do differently or that you’ll change when you return to being a working parent?

Jim:                           Yeah. I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot because a lot of the interviewing questions that I get are, “Have you ever managed people?” And like, “What’s your management style?”

Brandy:                   I’m just laughing because I’m thinking you’re managing two small people. Like, “Oh yeah, you want to hear the hardest people I’ve ever managed?” Sorry.

Jim:                           I know. But I mean it’s like, yeah, I manage these four tiny mammals, because the two stupid dogs, that don’t know our social norms.

Brandy:                   Exactly.

Jim:                           You know it’s like having Martians.

Brandy:                   And that take longer than any other animal. You look at the giraffe that’s walking in like two hours or something. And we’re like … why are we like this? Why do we have to be like this?

Jim:                           Our oldest dog is named Darwin and he would never survive in the wild.

Brandy:                   The irony.

Jim:                           The great irony, yeah. So in what I will do differently, the question of management, because I’ve always been really direct. I try to keep things light at work. I try to keep things enjoyable. I like to connect with people. I like to understand what their strengths are so that they can be most effective and I do whatever I can to help them be effective in their job. But it really stopped at the job. I don’t think I need to pry into everybody’s personal life, but I, like you said, when you see lows even if they aren’t the lows that you yourself have experienced, you know what it looks like to dip like that. And so being more responsive to that I think is important.

Jim:                           And part of that may be not just like, “Hey, I understand what you’re going through. I can cover for you on whatever.” That’s actually probably worse for them because what you really need to be pushing for is a more structural or institutional change to support them. You don’t want to be a crutch to them. You want them to be empowered to be really good at their job, but at the same time that like if they need a break for something understand that that’s necessary. Granted there are times when things get out of control and you make a new plan for that.

Jim:                           But when I was working at the last corporate company that I worked for, when Amelia was born I was like, “Hey, I have a bunch of time off. I’m going to take a couple weeks off to help Kelly with the new baby.” And they just told me no. I think that paid parental leave is very important, among many other things that we could be doing a lot better. But in that moment, I talked to some other people and they were saying, “All right listen, just don’t take the time off, but we’ll cover X, Y, and Z for you.” And that was really helpful and I was like wow, it’s great to have friends like this at time. But at the same time that’s not the problem. The problem is the company policy is bad.

Brandy:                   Exactly.

Jim:                           And so that’s what I would say that I would do differently is I want to understand more of the person, they’re not just like wards of the company. I want to understand the person behind it so I understand what their needs are so that I can better shape a workplace that would make us be more effective. Because ultimately that’s your job is to make things effective, efficient. So I would say this probably has really rounded out my thinking in a way that I probably wouldn’t even have thought about in the past.

Brandy:                   Yeah, that’s pretty amazing. I mean, who knows what next venture you’ll be on, but I wonder if it rounds itself out to some of this more systemic stuff that has to do with paid parental leave. Or I wonder with the whole parenting experience, I wonder if that’s what … It would be awesome for you to have this insight and to be working in that space where you really understand it. I bet you could do some pretty amazing things in there.

Jim:                           It’d be great. I mean these are hard issues. I like big … See this is the other thing and I would say .. and another thing! I have always taken on jobs because I would say that I like big systemic problems. I like someone to say, “You can’t do this,” and then to just do it. We did that in a really big way around some maternal and child health issues. We did things around patient safety issues. Things that now are impacting every kid born in the country. These were big, big structural changes and they said we couldn’t do it, so I wanted to do it. Now that said, that’s always what I’ve said about myself. But now I always question whether that’s actually true.

Jim:                           Because this job, meaning staying at home, is really, really fucking hard. And I don’t want to do it a lot of the time. But I know that I have to. And so it’s like, “Oh yeah, you like big challenges? Well, here’s a big challenge.” I don’t know. I feel like sometimes I’m not rising up to that. So was that just something that I’ve always said about myself? Or is that something that I actually practice what I preach kind of thing? I think that’s another big part of this is that you can say whatever you want, especially out here in D.C. area, people just talk constantly for the sake of talking, but like to actually mean what you say. There is nothing like the rigidity of need that kids have to make it so that you have to own up to if you’re actually doing what you say. And that has been a big part of this experience.

Brandy:                   Right, because the challenge, you know “I like a big challenge,” that’s maybe assuming that you can overcome it. Like in that challenge you’re already seeing yourself like, “Okay, I know I can do this and it’s a challenge, but it will work out.” And not to say that thinking about kids is a different way, but if you take the same mindset that you tackle a business problem with, for kids it just doesn’t translate. With a business thing, you’re in control of so much of it. And with the parenting thing, even though you are on some of the framework stuff, like you’re really not with the response. They’re in control of that and they can at any moment turn on you. And I guess a business problem could do the same thing, but it doesn’t tend to do it in the same, I don’t know I guess from my perspective, in the same way that kids’ stuff can. So like you’re saying with this, “Do I really like taking on challenges? Because I just took on the biggest challenge and it’s not fucking fun sometimes.” I think that that’s a difference between a challenge that has an actual solution or a challenge that’s a challenge throughout the whole thing.

Jim:                           Just hearing you describe that and thinking about both of our respective challenges is that there’s a difference between being an advocate for patients and being a patient advocate. The issues that I worked on, they never personally touched me.

Brandy:                   Yes, exactly.

Jim:                           So I could say like yeah I wanted to do it and you know it was a big thing.

Brandy:                   Right.

Jim:                           This is different because now I’m actually in it. If I was sick and advocating for change in a hospital versus just changing hospitals because I think they should, that’s a totally different mindset, right?

Brandy:                   A challenge that you can let go of and a challenge that you can’t. Like you can come in and not really have it touch your life but be real passionate about it. And at the end of the day, the skin in the game is maybe your ego and maybe some finances. But with the kids, it’s like your skin in the game is your literal skin. It touches you in every single way. And because of that there’s no, “I’m just going to not think about this for 24 hours,” unless you take a little vacation or something. But even then it never ever stops. So whatever challenges you’re having, you can really never quite get a break from them, and I think that that’s another different thing because we have so much skin in the game with our kids and with parenting.

Jim:                           Totally. The humbling is understanding that finances and ego aren’t what are important.

Brandy:                   Yes.

Jim:                           It’s definitely easier said than done.

Brandy:                   Absolutely. Oh my god, all of it. All the lessons of parenthood are so much easier said than done. If you had to pick a part of this experience, including the humbling, what would you say your favorite thing about being a stay-at-home parent is? And are you going to say that you don’t have to wear pants because I feel like that’s just the obvious?

Jim:                           I haven’t worn closed-toe shoes in two months, which has been very nice. It’s really interesting to see their evolving personalities. The kids really love music. They love singing, they love dancing. So do I. But I listen to a lot of podcasts and talk and stuff like that. If I have my headphones on, I’m probably not listening to music. I’m probably listening just to someone telling me a story. But it’s so funny to hear like what the kids want to hear and just how happy they get. Especially because the kids take a shower together sometimes and there’s a speaker in the shower. We were listening to Karma Chameleon. And through the glass, it’s like mosaic glass, you can’t really see in there’s kind of just a blurry image of them, and Eleanor’s just in there just dancing. And she’s not dancing for Amelia. She’s not dancing for me. She’s not doing it to get attention. She was just in there dancing with her little shower cap on. And I was just like oh my god, look at this carefree little person. I love that about her. She makes up parody songs all the time and she gets embarrassed when I sing and stuff like that. I think that’s the funniest thing.

Jim:                           Amelia is an insane person. That is also pretty funny too because like the things that she thinks are hilarious, it is unbridled hilarity for her. She just cracks up, rolling around. Like we were listening to some song and it says, “It’s like a kick in the pants,” and oh boy, that was our whole month was “kick in the pants.” And she just was cracking up about it. And it’s just funny because she’s got this like, her teeth are all spaced out because they’re still coming in, she’s got this big funny grin. I know it’s like, I mean these are just little things, but I never got to see any of that before. And it makes me sad I missed it.

Brandy:                   Yeah, these kind of moments, like I can see where you miss some of those big moments if you’re the working parent. You see them in the edges of the day, the beginning edge and the ending edge. But all that meat in the middle and all of that fun and silly and those moments that come out that you may not get to see as a stay-at-home parent, like some of that stuff is sort of what keeps us going, in a sense.

Jim:                           Yeah. Well and also the beginning and the end of the day are the worst parts for you and then the worst parts for them. So you’re not seeing them at peak kid.

Brandy:                   Right, yeah, yeah, yeah. Totally. Oh man, Jim, is there anything else you wanted to mention or talk about or anything, because this has been so awesome.

Jim:                           Good, I’m glad.

Brandy:                   I thank you so much.

Jim:                           No, of course. I’m really happy that you do this. I listen to the show-

Brandy:                   Oh you do? Another dad.

Jim:                           Yeah. I really think that it goes a long way to be able to have real open conversations and not pretend like everybody is Leave it to Beaver all the time. No, I appreciate this.

Brandy:                   So I have an update for you all about Jim and where he ended up landing. Just like he mentioned here, he took a job leading Capitol Hill and White House advocacy for an organization that focuses on paid family and medical leave, child welfare, foster care reform, kids in cages at the border, and like 10 million other issues that impact infants and toddlers. He also said that his work culture is so progressive, as you’d imagine with a company whose interests are what they are. So congrats on all of that, Jim!

Brandy:                   This brings up a point that I want to make sure I mention, and I sort of mention it in the interview. This stay-at-home parent gig was never going to be a long-term thing for Jim. It was a pit stop rather than an entire era of his life. I know most stay-at-home parents don’t have that out, nor maybe even want that out, but I did feel it was important to mention because it does change how you relate the situation that you’re in. If you know it’s going to end soon you can handle some things, whereas if you know you have years of it, that’s a little bit different. Also, having an existential crisis in the minivan within two months, gah, that was so satisfying to hear because we’ve all been there! And I really appreciated the thought he put into what he would do differently in his next job having been through the humbling. It made me think about how different our systems and policies and laws would be if the people making them had firsthand experience of being a constant caretaker like Jim experienced. Imagine all the things that would be different from this perspective. In closing, women need to be in power. Amirite?

Brandy:                   So a quick word about reviews and ratings. You tapping on the five stars in your podcast app or leaving a few kind words about how you’re enjoying podcast helps me AND you. When I reach out to higher profile guests to ask them to be on the show, they (or their publicist), usually look to see how many ratings and reviews I have to see if it’s a popular podcast or not, and worth their time. And as you’d imagine they tend to say yes to the more popular podcasts. So, your taking just a few moments right now to rate or review me helps all of us so that Snoop Dogg will say yes someday. You want Snoop Dogg, don’t you??

Brandy:                   As always thanks for listening – and Happy New Year! We did it you guys! Another year we didn’t fly off to the Cayman Islands and create an entirely new identity and life for ourselves. Pat on the back to all of us, except those who abandoned their families and are living in the Cayman Islands. Although technically I think that could be considered self-care.

** As always, thank you to Scott Weigel and his band, Seahorse Moon, for providing me with that jaunty intro and outro music. You guy are awesome. Check ’em out on iTunes.