Freaky Fortnight

Am I Peggy Olson or Betty Draper?

Am I Peggy Olson or Bety Draper?

Yesterday evening at Slate: white noise, feet on carpet, e-mail about upcoming release of Where the Wild Things Are. Me in Mike’s office, composing Entry 5, the one about feeling too timid to be my former high-functioning self in the workplace. But even as I’m making myself out to be Betty Draper, I’m feeling more like Peggy Olson. Here’s what I’m texting the baby sitter:

I am running late. I am so sorry. Will 6:30 totally mess you up? If so, I will find a way to get there

She writes back:

No worries at all! get here when u can. should i make some pasta for the boys?

I’m late because I’m trying to finish the entry; also, because I’m enjoying being at work.

This is a time I’ve always liked in offices. The time when the windows go dark and, despite the overhead lighting, the space feels cozy. The late-afternoon coffee has kicked in, and even if you are not writing that well, you have the flushed-cheeks feeling of deep engagement. At home, my desk is in the kitchen, and if I’m working at this time of night, there’s a lot of, “Honey, can you just keep Nick away?” or me putting on a stony mean face when the refrigerator door bumps into me right as I’m on the phone with an important person for the most important story any writer has ever even done.

When I finally do get home, it’s almost 7:45. “It’s Mommy!” Nick runs to meet me in the hallway, his wet hair smelling like baby shampoo. (Not that old familiar golden liquid; today’s baby shampoos have the components of herbal teas. Ours is a mix of chamomile, tree bark, and Oregon grape root.) In the boys’ darkened room, I sit on the couch. Nick folds himself into my lap, and Will mushes into the crook of my arm, sucks two fingers, and stares up at me. You get all the love like this when you’re the parent who’s home less. I feel like the special guest star who just stepped through the front door to the studio audience’s claps.

First sign that we may swap bodies, not just lives: After the boys are asleep, I do exactly what Mike usually does, which is forage for beer and cheese. We stand together in the kitchen. I have the airy-insides feeling of a lot of coffee and not very much food. Mike calmly gathers things for dinner. I have a weird hyperness that I try to tamp down. Truth be told, it’s a familiar dynamic. I’m the one who has a harder time disengaging from work, and tonight I have a new appreciation for how good Mike is at suspending it. He leaves the office and returns to things later, resisting the temptation to burrow in.

If being at the office during late hours taps into something familiar, being away from Will does not. We’re still physically connected to each other—he’s still breast-feeding. Tonight he wakes up every hour. Finally we bring him into the bed with us. He turns in close to me, and I put my arm around him.

Once we had a baby sitter who said the family she worked for before us didn’t sleep-train their daughter because their jobs (actress, film director) kept them away from her so much that they liked to see her in the middle of the night. I didn’t disapprove of this. There’s something tender about the wee hours. Not that it was a solution for the actress and the director not spending time with their daughter when the sun was out—but I didn’t think the arrangement could hurt. Maybe it was a reaction to my own childhood. For years my father worked as a radio news reporter on a morning program, and I would sometimes get up with him at 3 a.m. I’d eat an English muffin with him, he’d leave, and a few hours later, we’d turn on the radio and I’d hear his voice.

Today from work, I call Mike, and he passes the phone to Will. I say hi. A few minutes later, Mike uses the phone to send me a picture.