Day 3 of Freaky Fortnight saw me calling in some heavy reinforcements: I went to the toy store and bought a huge box of Legos. All of the parenting books tell you not to try and re-create your own childhood, but, c’mon, who are they kidding? I loved Legos; therefore, I want my kids to love them, too. I put the box on the floor. Will reached in with both hands and started to make the most fantastic racket. When Nick saw the box, he made himself a Lego gun within 15 minutes. My little MacGyver. Of course, he insisted on taking the gun outside to look for “bad guys.” So there I was, walking the streets of Brooklyn, my son packing plastic heat.
Normally, this is the kind of story I would hear about at day’s end. Nick would be messing around in a corner of his room, and Susan would prompt: “Do you want to tell Daddy about the gun you made today and why it’s a bad idea to shoot people?” But here I was, living the critical parenting moment. I had two options: a) explain to Nick why holding the Lego gun to his brother’s head execution-style is a bad thing or b) play it cool and ignore the whole episode. I went with Option B. After Daddy didn’t seem so interested in the gun, Nick moved on to doing wheelies with Will in his stroller, which Will happens to enjoy despite the fact that it won’t end well one of these days.
Giving parenting advice is a lot like giving writing advice. You can say a lot of things that sound very intelligent and thoughtful, but when it comes down to the actual act, it’s mostly intuition and the inescapable fact of who you are. Alan Kazdin, who runs the Yale Child Study Center and writes for Slate, told me that a lot of the parents who come into his clinic want to correct behavior in their children that they really need to correct in themselves. I think of this when I am ready to scold Nick for being jumpy at dinner or when Will refuses to go to sleep and tries to divebomb off the bed. I often go a little stir crazy sitting in my office, and, when not exhausted, I prefer to stay up late. Like Nick and Will, I would also love to eat blue corn chips all day.
Wednesday also revealed that I may be a bigger jerk than I thought. I’ve definitely been one of those dads who comes home at the end of a workday and wonders why the apartment has to look like a crime scene. You didn’t have five seconds to pick that dirty diaper off the floor and throw it in the trash? Today, however, I didn’t have those five seconds. An unexpected errand in the morning caused the family to lose a crucial 20 minutes, and the day just cascaded into mayhem from there. Yogurt hardened on dirty dishes. Laundry got piled into ever bigger heaps. There were attempts to get five things done at once. All futile. When the shit hits the fan, the poop stays on the floor.
Though I kind of knew that Susan lived her life in an eight-block radius like some sort of neo-medieval peasant, it’s another thing to experience it. There’s the Writer’s Room a few streets away: She pays a membership fee and gets a desk in a quiet space surrounded by other writers who cough discreetly. A sandwich place, a bookstore that smells like cats. The bakery that’s a regular pre-school pit stop. It’s a pretty good system. Maybe we’re not so deluded to live in a tiny space with kids for the walkable life in Brooklyn. The baker asked me where Susan was, since she hadn’t been by in a few days. Susan is meeting my co-workers; I’m getting to know her chocolate-chip-cookie guru.
The big excursion of the day was going to a “mums who write” summit at City Bakery in Manhattan. I was trying to think of a similar group for men, but the only thing that leapt to mind were ham-radio enthusiasts or the Promise Keepers. I suppose poker nights would be the closest equivalent. Over blueberry corn muffins and coffee, the mums and I discussed what all journalists discuss when they get together: Twitter, Facebook, blogs, site traffic, other writers, and how many monitors we use.
When the discussion did turn to distaff subjects, I surprised myself by spouting a tirade against birthing classes. One of the (very pregnant) women there had quit her birth class after being annoyed by a long discussion about “whether an episiotomy was a form of assault.” Episiotomy—now there is a word that a man deletes from his memory bank as soon as he learns the meaning of it. My complaint was that birthing classes bore you into submission for seven weekends with embarrassing techniques that at best prove marginally useful during the actual birth. Then, at the end, the instructor says, “Hey, we’re having this extra class next week on basic baby care, if you want to come.” You look at your impregnated other and think, “No way in hell.”
You should have gone to that class. Because the baby arrives and a kind nurse stops by 15 minutes before you’re about to leave the hospital and quickly explains all the crucial baby-handling techniques that you will rely on for the next three months. So despite my previous advice about advice, here’s my advice for upcoming dads: Learn how to swaddle your kid like a burrito.