THE MONTH (by Daddy)
Ever approach a new challenge feeling as though your only guidance comes from the kind of movies you wouldn’t want to be caught dead watching? Bear with me.
We had agreed that I would take the month of October 2011 off to be at home with F when S went back to work. My company allows unpaid parental leave during the first 18 months, so we crunched the numbers and figured we could get along for four weeks before I went back and we hired a nanny for a few more months.
Not only would this be a first for me, it would be the first time for the Little Guy to be alone with one person for more than an hour or two. For his first three months on Earth he had been attended to by a combination of S and me, S and her mother or the three of us together.
Where to turn for inspiration? “Daddy Day Care” the regrettable (though high-grossing) Eddie Murphy comedy from 10 years ago … “Mr. Mom,” the Citizen Kane of stay-at-home dad movies and the one that coined the phrase? How about the 80 percent of television commercials that show Dad as an eccentric, buffoonish clod? Something was definitely lacking. My parents’ Depression-era upbringings didn’t offer any real-life examples; when most of my friends began having kids in their late 20s and early 30s I was single and, though a big fan of children, not versed in Care Bears or Beanie Babies or whatever happened to be the must-have toy of the moment. Now, their kids were in college and their memories seemed to have gaps when it came to those early years.
Yet my fears were the fears of any new parent, or at least any new parent with a half-century of seeing what the world is capable of dishing out. Near the top of the hit parade: He’d slip out of my arms and hit his head; he’d go to sleep and never wake up; he’d choke on something; we’d get hit by a car crossing Broadway.
Thankfully none of those things happened, though there were a few minor bumps and bruises. Once, as I was balancing him and unfolding the stroller in the building vestibule before taking him out for a walk, he bumped his head. He was still crying, and fairly loudly, as we got outside the building. A man walking by stared, then _ and this is a cardinal sin among New Yorkers, who cultivate the ability to be nosy while appearing to be aloof _ stopped and stared. I found myself feeling defensive; did he think that because I was older that I was a kidnapper and not the baby’s father? I couldn’t help myself. “What the #^*&!* are you looking at?” I demanded. He moved on. I felt vindicated for about two seconds, then shocked at my casual mean-spiritedness.
We developed a comfortable routine. S would leave for work and I would strap F into his Baby Bjorn and we’d make our rounds of the neighborhood, stopping at Starbucks, the fruit and vegetable stand, maybe the Korean deli and the liquor store, before making our way back to the apartment. Inevitably he would fall asleep as we were climbing the stairs or soon after we got inside, and I perfected the art of sliding the Baby Bjorn from underneath him without waking him up.
On our first day together, he fell asleep in my lap on the couch and I was so terrified of waking him that I stayed in the same position for 90 minutes. Luckily I had turned on “The Train,” a great World War II thriller starring Burt Lancaster and Paul Scofield about Germans trying to steal valuable paintings out of France. It now holds a special place in my personal movie hall of fame.
On our neighborhood jaunts I studied the faces of people who passed us on the sidewalk. Even in a neighborhood where older dads are more the rule than the exception, I found myself projecting my self-consciousness onto them. I tend not to make assumptions as quickly as most people, but I could have sworn that the nannies, particularly those in middle age, looked at me with a mixture of pity and contempt. Did they think I was taking a potential job away from one of their friends? Eventually I let it all go and focused on making the most of my time with this wonderful little guy. The four weeks went by quickly, and soon it was time to return to work. I realized my fears had been unfounded; it had been one of the best things I’d ever done.
Happy New Year! Mom will be back blogging tomorrow.
Next time: Are you his nanny?
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