You may remember seeing a picture of Jon in our feature of his wife's blog, Growing up Senge, as part of our Big Blog Family series. But a picture can only tell so much. Jon's a dad who holds down his music publication career from home so he can care for his and Erin's 13-month-old daughter day in and day out. Here's a day in the life and a bit more:
Tell us about a "typical" day with your daughter.
My day starts with a 3 on the clock—and it's the first number. I quietly work away in our home office creating sheet music for a major U.S. music publisher until about ten o'clock, depending on how generous Alice is that day. My wife, Erin, begins her morning routine ninety minutes after I do, and ready for duty by the time Alice awakes. Our daily ritual is to rescue Alice from her crib together, and sometimes we even bring along a little cat or two. Those first morning grins and hugs are not to be missed! Erin's in charge until she leaves for work, she puts Alice down for her morning nap before we have breakfast together and then she heads out. It's pretty convenient, but we worked really hard at this schedule so we'd have a chance at making this arrangement work. As the nine o'clock hour, and Alice's nap race to a close, I sprint through as many work loose ends as possible, knowing I'll be stepping away for multiple hours.
Once the little girl calls for me, we do all of the regular stuff: eat, diapers, etc., but after that, every day is different. Some days we run tons of errands, Alice's face aglow at all of the new places we visit. Some days we take long stroller walks or go to parks, some days are full of catching up on house chores, and some days are plain old quiet ones, where we just stay in, let the dishes pile up in the sink, and play inside all day long.
Alice is a great sleeper. She'll nap reliably for another two to three hours throughout the day. Then I can put my professional hat back on and catch up on anything that came in since I was last at my desk. I work on a pretty unique team with dozens of folks strewn throughout the country. Since many are primarily in time zones ahead of me, my early hours have really worked well for all of us. I carry my iPhone everywhere and can communicate wherever we happen to be.
We just keep repeating the cycles of sleep, eat, play until I'm off duty—when Alice tells me it's bedtime or Erin gets home, whichever comes first. If Alice is still up when Erin walks in, they get to spend some quality time over dinner and bedtime. Then, fourteen hours from when I began, I am done for the day. Erin cooks a wonderful meal after Alice is tucked in, we watch an episode of Netflix T.V. show du jour, and we're off to bed before nine.
How do you manage your time between your career and being your daughter's primary caregiver?
Most days go according to above schedule, but some days are hard. These are the days when Alice isn't sleeping, or I have a tight deadline on a project, or sometimes both! Then the only option is to just figure it out. Everything is possible, and through enough patience and hard work, we always survive the day. Our baby (quickly transforming into a little kid!), has taught me more about life than I ever would have imagined. One thing she teaches me daily is that getting upset only makes things worse. Sure, there are times when I want to raise my voice because I'm frustrated and she just won't stay out of this or that and I need to get something really urgent done, but the only thing getting angry accomplishes is her learning to fear me. I've raised my voice at her just once under a similar circumstance and learned the first time, yelling at a baby does absolutely nothing—in fact, it made her more agitated. Plus, the regret. I still remember her face. I wish I could take that one time back. Just take a step back, relax, and figure it out.
What is the best advice you've received from another dad? What advice do you have for other dads working from home and caring for their children?
My own dad (and mom) have adopted something of a credo around their house, "stay agile." As Alice runs past the huge milestones of a thirteen month-old, it seems like every day we have a different child. Don't expect yesterday's plan to work today. Stay agile.
My advice to work-from-home dads is to keep your work and child time separate as much as possible. Work ONLY when your kid needs nothing from you. Anything else and you should be with them. Attempting to multitask will result in unhappy kids and bad work. Develop a system that allows you to get what you need to get done while they're sleeping or if they're older, able to safely and completely entertain themselves. This may mean getting up many hours before the sun rises. I can tell you from experience, the hours before dawn are the most peaceful, serene, and productive of my day. I catch up on podcasts, listen to quiet music, watch the sun rise, enjoy plenty of coffee with the slightly guilty pleasure that I've already accomplished hours of work before anyone else on the block has even woken up.
How did your family arrive at the decision for you to stay at home with your daughter and for your wife to work outside of the home?
It wasn't easy. Our original plan was for Alice to enter daycare at the end of Erin's maternity leave. We were sad about this reality and neither of us wanted to have to say goodbye to her every morning, only to have someone else get to see all of her "firsts." We were determined to find a better way. I had always dreamed of working from home, long before children. I like the independence and quietness of it all. I like to wear my slippers, drink my coffee, even work with a purring cat on my lap. Like a flash of genius (or insanity), I came up with this crazy work schedule that starts at four in the morning. I pitched the idea to my team and they all gave me their blessing—or maybe they had a pool going to see how long I'd actually last! I have a pretty independent production-type job that allows me to "wire in" as they say in The Social Network. I get projects to work on and for a good deal of the time, I'm on my own until I finish.
How does your career making sheet music and educational music books for school children come into play in your daily interactions with your daughter?
Daily? It's not directly related, yet. I am thrilled that one day, she may learn an instrument using one of the books I helped create! Indirectly, my passion for music comes to life for her all day every day. She is surrounded by music of all shapes and sizes. Our go-to is the incomparable L.A.-based Classical KUSC radio station, truly one of the best in the nation. Undoubtedly, my own personal love of music has already shaped who she is. When she hears rhythm, she kicks and lights up. When I turn the radio on, she waves her arms frantically up and down—I have to believe she's conducting the music the way she sees me do all day long. It warms my heart, and I look forward to what is to come with her. Sure, I have my preferences on instruments I'd like her to learn (oboe, english horn, voice, piano), but as long as she finds even a small piece of the joy music brings to my life, I will feel accomplished.
Enjoy hearing about this work-from-home dad's days with his daughter? Hear more from Jon in his occasional guest posts at Growing up Senge and follow him on Twitter @GrowingUpSenge and @jonsenge.
Images: courtesy Jon and Erin Senge