Post-It Notes and Parental Pitfalls: Q&A with Chris Illuminati
Following the birth of his first child, and wary of the looming, wallet-emptying prospect of childcare, Chris Illuminati quit his job to be a stay-at-home dad. (He avoids the acronym ‘SAHD’, “because it looks and sounds too much like the word ‘sad’.”)
One day in 2010, with his wife about to leave Chris alone with their newborn son Evan for the first time, she reeled off all the duties he was to undertake in her absence. “I better write this down,” he’d said, grabbing some post-it notes and a black Sharpie.
He wrote down everything, posting it to his bulletin board, and set up a Tumblr page capturing his handiwork.
The notes caught fire – metaphorically – with parents and the broader community before an article from an Oklahoma-based community website sent them viral. Within days ‘the notes’ were the lead story on countless websites and media outlets, and were featured on Good Morning America.
In 2014, the notes evolved into the website Message With a Bottle, which also features a ‘lifestyle’ section for dads, mums and kids; food and drink reviews; trending parent news and practical advice for dads.
When not caring full-time for Evan (now seven) and Lyla (four), the New Jersey native divides his time as an author, commentator and comedian. A full plate for sure, but he was kind enough to catch up with The Dad Website for a chat.
Thanks for your time, Chris. Why do you think such a simple idea as ‘the notes’ caught on so much?
The experiences are shared. Every parent goes through these issues up and down, every year, from now until eternity. It’s a common bond we all share. We all have the battle scars. These notes are showing off my scars.
Do you have a favourite ‘note’? Do your kids have a fave?
My kids haven’t read any yet but my son likes any of the notes featuring his toys. Honestly, picking a favorite would be like picking a favorite kid. I have one but I’d never say. I love them all because they remind me of specific moments in life. Every note is attached to something that happened.
… picking a favorite note would be like picking a favorite kid
Message With a Bottle: happy with where it’s at now?
As a creative person I’m never happy with the end result. I always look at the notes and think “oh, I could have said this better” or, “saying like this would have made it funnier.” Just like any comic, or person who does comedy for a living, there’s a constant working and reworking of material. Except comedians get to try the new joke out while my note remains the original way it was written forever. I am happy with the way people have responded to the notes. I’ve received nothing but positive feedback and I’m thankful to anyone who takes even a second to read my work.
How do you fit in all the other aspects of your life, and which takes precedence when things are piling up?
I’m not sure how I do, but so far, it’s been mostly by blind luck. I’ve realized I can’t do everything yet haven’t smartened up enough to realize focusing on one thing would be the best idea. It’s probably the ADHD in my brain. I’m never happy doing just one thing but never able to manage many things. See, it’s been all luck!
Is public speaking on parenthood something that you’ve grown into?
I actually enjoy speaking in front of people. Don’t get me wrong, I still get nervous as hell about it, but I’m better thinking on my feet. While the overall theme of my notes is parenting and kids I think the real appeal for people is the shared experience. I’ve had more than a few people tell me the notes were “exactly what they were thinking.”
I try to only talk about my experiences with parenthood and tend to not get preachy. The last thing I’d ever do is tell someone else how to raise their kid.
Tell us a bit about life as a stay-at-home-dad.
As of this writing my kids are still in school so I take care of my daughter starting at noon every day and then my son after school. In a few weeks they’ll both be home full-time. Then the fun will REALLY begin, and by fun, I mean the misery.
The best part about being a SAHD is not working. I’m being serious. I look at people who hate their job and think, “wow, I’m glad I’m not that guy.” Don’t get me wrong, being a stay-at-home parent is just as demanding as a full-time gig but at the end of the day you’re suffering through it all for your family. I’d hate to work my ass off all day so some guy I can barely stand can buy more gas for his boat.
My least favorite part is sometimes there is no normal or routine. There’s things you do in a day but it’s never “every day at 10 we do this.” I’m a creature of habit and routine and when it comes to kids NOTHING ever goes according to plan.
What about interactions with mums and mothers’ groups?
I tried to make mum friends, and I have a couple, but there’s always the male and female dynamic that gets in the way. Mums will always feel more comfortable around mums. My mum friends always evolve from people we’re already friends with. I’ve never made a “new” mum friend.
There is one regular crew of parents who do school pick-ups. They’re not all stay-at-home parents but they all have the flexibility of picking their kids up from school and hanging out at the playground for a while. It’s a mix of mums and dads. It’s a group of funny and interesting people. Hanging around and bullshitting with them is usually a highlight of the day. The other highlight is not getting anything on my shirt.
being a stay-at-home parent is just as demanding as a full-time gig but at the end of the day you’re suffering through it all for your family.
How do you typically do ‘downtime’?
I would say my downtime is after the kids go to bed. From about 8pm until 11pm I could do pretty much anything I want.
As a writer and lover of cliche, I’d like to say I spend my spare time banging away at a keyboard into the wee hours, working on a novel and drinking Cabernet from a mason jar. I don’t. I could go out and meet friends or get a hobby or do absolutely anything. But I don’t do that either. I usually hang out with the Permanent Roommate and consume terrible TV. I’m happy with that.
What does being a dad mean to you?
I’m the fixer. Whatever is broken – either a toy or a door knob or a heart – I try to fix it. I’m not always successful at these tasks but I’ll try my hardest.
The New Dad Dictionary: give us the ‘elevator pitch’?
There are a ton of confusing terms when it comes to parenting. I try to make them less confusing by making them funny. Imagine a dictionary with dick jokes.
Did you know I wrote a book? That’s a trick. I’ve written 5!!! It’s like we don’t even know one another anymore. So sad. Anyway, my latest book is The New Dad Dictionary. It’s the perfect gift for dads and HINT HINT Father’s Day is coming. It’s also perfect for baby showers because now, apparently, men gets gifts too and where the hell was that custom when I had kids?!?! BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! See the copy in my hand. I’m giving it away. I’ll even sign it too. Want to win it? It’s easy. Just tag the guy in your life who desperately needs this book. If he doesn’t have an Instagram account, just write his name, and explain WHY he needs it so badly. Feel free to embarrass the hell out of him. The best story gets a signed copy in time for Father’s Day! If you want to do things the old-fashioned way, follow the link in my bio to get a copy. I’ll heart you hard. #books #notes #contest #dad #dadlife #daddy #fathersday #newdad
How do you think society’s views on SAHDs have changed in the past decade or so?
Being a SAHD is now considered a choice. Even just seven years ago, when I stayed home with my first, people were like, “oh you’re out of work?” Being a SAHD was viewed as “temporary until he finds a job.” Now there are men choosing to stay home and care for kids.
We’re still a long time off but, eventually, society will realise stay-at-home parents are their own workforce.
Dad-blogging seems to be growing, even by the week; any views on this?
I believe every person, man or woman, should keep a journal of their lives. It’s something to pass on to future generations. Blogs, Instagrams, Snapchat and everything else is just taking those journals and letting the world have a peek.
First, I’d like to say thanks for the interview. I’m always humbled when anyone wants to hear my opinion on anything. Secondly, please check out my website, Instagram, Facebook or anything else that I do. I appreciate it.