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A little more than one year ago, I abandoned my comfortable, mid-level corporate gig for a life of ponies, puzzles and pretend play. I had become a stay-at-home dad. The decision was based mostly on one glaring reality—my oldest daughter, then 4, would be entering kindergarten the following autumn. I needed that year with her. No daycare center would claim her. No desk job would hold me. It was to be our year, and so it was.
My shift from suits to sweats shocked my extended family. It shouldn't have. My wife and I have always been unwavering in the value we place on family, even before we started one of our own. This manifests itself through family dinners, game nights and a whole lot of reading while we snuggle on our king-sized bed. The brutal swiftness of childhood made the stay-at-home-dad decision an easy one for me, and we were lucky enough to afford it. I mean, seriously. Fifty-two weeks of cuddles or a cubicle? Was this really a choice?
The iPhoto album of this past year always makes me cry, and serves as a silent, perfect representation of our family's history together as a quartet. I'm always transfixed as our visual greatest hits collection splashes across the screen—the swimming pools, bubble baths, shared naptimes, baseball games and the Paris Metro. There we were in Maine on the beach, at the Louvre, and in the backyard. It was a great year.
Fast forward to now. Suddenly my oldest daughter was being measured for a uniform, labeling crayon boxes and sharpening more pencils than any child could possibly use. I was all smiles. Yet on the inside, I was absolutely dying.
My girl was growing up, as children are known to do. Like any dad in distress, I flashed back through her milestones—lying inside the vibrating bouncy seat, taking those first steps and smiling ear to ear after mastering the potty. Then there was the crystal clear sight of her jumping for joy when I announced my decision to be a stay-at-home dad. Now she stood before me, beaming with pride in her khaki skort and collared, forest green shirt, and I had a new photo for the album.
I counted down the days to the first day of school with a heavy dose of nostalgia before reluctantly handing my first-born child over to her homeroom teacher at 8:05 A.M. on a steamy Monday morning in August. Despite her bravado in the weeks leading up to it, my girl had butterflies in her stomach and I couldn't help choking up as we passed through the threshold of room 124. Once inside, we found her pre-assigned seat, deposited her lunch and snacks in their proper bins, and hung up her backpack. We were learning the new rhythm of her weekday mornings together. Then we kissed, hugged, kissed again, exchanged one more hug, and said an unnaturally firm (so as to show our strength) goodbye.