Pete (left) and Bubba Ludwig set off for the first day of the school year. | Howard A. Ludwig~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 2, 2013 6:18AM
The first day of school arrived without a single tear. My two sons greeted their friends in the parking lot and walked into the building smiling at their teachers.
I returned home, closed the door behind me and let out a long, deep breath. For the first time in seven years, I had the whole day to myself. There were days when I fantasized about having 61/2 hours alone, particularly when Bubba and Peter were infants. That day had arrived.
“What are you going to do with yourself?” asked friends and family.
Well, my big day started out on the toilet. I sat there with the door open. Privacy surrounds you in an empty house. Nobody interrupted my morning ritual with the usual requests to play video games or watch television.
It was a gray, rainy day. It would have been easy to sneak back into bed. But I felt that would have been a waste of my precious, newfound time. So I went to the gym. This time seemed different. I wasn’t hurrying through my workout to spring my children from the kid’s room. I even took a shower, shaved and left feeling renewed.
On the way home, I turned on the radio. It was tuned to one of several pop stations. My 7- and 5-year-old boys enjoy singing along with Katy Perry, Lady GaGa and the rest. Without them in the car, I changed the channel to sports radio. I caught up on the White Sox and Bears without a single request to return to the FM dial.
Later that morning, I paged through a few emails before sitting down to lunch. I ate by myself. That’s when it started to hit me. I suddenly flashed back to spooning yogurt into Peter’s mouth and warming up bottles for Bubba.
Those days are gone. Here I was, eating alone. I’d been looking forward to the first full day of school for years. I’d never taken the time to realize the significance. I’m still a stay-at-home dad, only my hours and responsibilities had been cut back.
Ultimately, I hope to find some part-time writing work. This should fill my days and earn a bit of extra money. I could go back to work full-time, but we’ve avoided relying on baby sitters thus far. Going back to work a 9-to-5 gig would break this streak, and while I’m not morally opposed to sitters or day care it’s just something I’d rather avoid.
The idea of this new normal sunk in for the remainder of the afternoon. I washed bedding and picked up the house a bit. All the while, I kept thinking about how my days were going to be different from here on. Where I once ran with a pack, now I was a lone wolf.
Other parents warned me that 2:30 p.m. would arrive quickly. Indeed it did. My sons returned via carpool just as I stuffed the last pillow into it’s newly cleaned pillowcase. I smiled ear-to-ear as Bubba and Peter walked through the door.
Maybe I had missed them (though I couldn’t wait to drop them off at school). More likely, I now knew how much I’d miss spending my days with them. We’ve had a good run. I honestly feel like I put everything I have into raising these boys. And there’s still plenty of work left to do.
Normally, when your hours get cut at work it’s because you’ve done a lousy job. I’m confident that’s not the case here.
Howard A. Ludwig is a former SouthtownStar business reporter who traded his reporter’s notepad for a diaper bag, becoming a stay-at-home dad.
He can be reached at email@example.com.