Noe Valley Voice December-January 2005

Life in the Stay-at-Home Lane

By Robin Dutton-Cookston

My life has changed drastically since I left a money-making career to become a starving writer and full-time parent. I now dwell in that cluttered, sticky zone where my worries center on a quarter getting lodged in a toddler's windpipe.

And there have been a few other changes as well.

Of course, the biggest blow has been to ye olde pocketbook. As anyone who has ever had the pleasure of paying $30 to park for an afternoon at Fisherman's Wharf knows, San Francisco is one pricey city.

Hoarding cash for luxuries, like bananas and baby wipes, means that I have reduced my clothing budget from $200 per month to $200 per year. I now buy clothes in bulk by going to Old Navy twice annually.

Each summer, I buy 10 long-sleeved, $10 T-shirts in a variety of colors. By the winter, these shirts have become stained with poop, vomit, or some unidentifiable food schmear. So I go back to Old Navy and buy 10 short-sleeved $10 shirts. (No, I did not get my seasons confused. Remember, in San Francisco they are reversed.)

Now that I spend my days inside my own overpriced, rented house, I have become a born-again artsy-craftsy person.

Inspired by the familiar walls and ratty furniture that my eyeballs swear they are sick and tired of seeing, I have enlisted the help of several hot carpenters from Trading Spaces. At least, that is my excuse for indulging in my own desperate housewife equivalent of a Fabio novel by TiVo-ing every home improvement show I can find.

Sometimes I don't shower until 2 p.m. Not because I spend the morning lounging about, sipping a mocha latte, and watching a shirtless televised hunk build a spice rack. I am unwashed because I am busy playing chef, laundress, nurse, maid, chauffeur, emcee, and sherpa to a certain small lovable person (i.e., my daughter, Grace).

I don't mind staying smelly. Most mornings I only see other parents in similar states of unwash, ferrying their own small lovable people.

Another change: Sometimes I am lonely. I'll admit that I get more than a little tweaked for mature conversation. I desperately pounce on the other poor adults at the playground. And I can often be found yelling like a maniac over the back fence, annoying our leisurely, childless neighbors who spend their afternoons sunbathing. I'll talk to the mail carrier, the UPS man, and the nutjob dogwalker who drags 16 slobbering pooches up and down Sanchez Street.

Since staying home full-time, I see a side of the city that most white-collar stiffs miss while they are tucked away in their cubicles. Who else is out and about? Other moms and a few dads. In case you are wondering, the hot dads are in the Castro.

I see garbage collectors. Construction workers. People who have green hair and alternative lifestyles and wake up at noon for coffee. Grad students. Work-at-home yuppies who take breaks to powerwalk with their iPods.

I have the dirt on the nanny mafia that rules my neighborhood park. I know which caregivers are warm, attentive saints who guard over their appointees better than the Secret Service. And I know which nannies spend their days gossiping in the shaded corners of the playground. Their wards dangle from the top of the jungle gym by one finger or else scream out, hysterical and abandoned, from strollers parked 30 yards away.

At the end of the workday, Grace and I often take a short walk to the end of our block. We sit on a bench and watch the J-Church train unload its chattel. Grace always posits the same intellectual query: "What man doing? What woman doing?"

They are going home from work, usually wearing an urban version of business casual. Sleek black clothes, boots, or trendy lace-up bowling shoes, a messenger bag, a funky scarf knotted about the neck.

Grace and I are wearing T-shirts, hoodies, and sneakers that sport more colors than the Pride flag billowing over the Castro bus stop. A froggy backpack dangles from my weary shoulders. We are covered in dirt, almond butter, and crusty yogurt. We usually stink.

We sit on the bench on Church Street and admire the hurried pedestrians, busy on their cell phones or Blackberries.

Oh yeah, I don't use a Blackberry. And the cell phone is to call Daddy from the park to see when he will get home so we know when to make dinner.

Even though it can be tough, I am glad I spend my days hanging around the house. Life in the stay-at-home lane is good.

Robin Dutton-Cookston has lived on Cesar Chavez for two years. When not chasing her daughter around Noe Valley, Robin enjoys writing about her parenting adventures. Her favorite projects are her parenting zine Apron Strings, and her online column "The Foggiest Idea."

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