Freaky Fortnight

I Have an Epiphany While Watching Shaun the Sheep

I have an epiphany while watching Shaun the Sheep.

The first hint of trouble was the shower. Normally, I get the first shower. After all, if anyone needs to be clean, it’s the person who’s going into the office. But, in the ragged mayhem of the morning, it was somehow 7:30 a.m., and Susan jumped in first. Then she got way too dressed up. I explained to her that Slate’s office is J. Crew casual, not shopping-at-Bergdorf’s-with-your-mom casual.

The freakiness definitely set in when Susan left with Nick for school. Sure, I have spent some mornings alone with Will, our younger child, but not a work weekday. He seemed to be getting a little bored around the apartment—I assume that’s why he started throwing blocks—so I popped him in the stroller for a walk. Outside, everyone was going to work, and it felt as if the world was revolving away from me. I passed a newsstand and saw the Post headline about David Letterman’s “Love Guru.” Normally, this is the kind of story whose details I would savor over a carefully rendered latte at my desk. I sighed.

Still, it was a beautiful day, and Will is especially fun to be with at the moment. You can tell him any word, and he repeats it back in a distorted yet cute baby way. He will also occasionally scream, “Yay!” for no apparent reason. We rolled up to the Garfield Tot Lot, a playground in Prospect Park reserved for the littlest kids. (Sometimes a big kid shows up, and everybody scowls at the offending parent.)

Will was crawling around doing his thing, but I wasn’t so content. I’d spent a lot of time at the Tot Lot with my older son. Being there with the second kid is like re-entering the dating scene after a divorce. You’re just not as psyched to share with other parents how many months your child has lived on this earth, or to commiserate about sleep schedules, or to enthuse about how cool it is that you are raising Mary to be bilingual. That first-kid glow only comes around once. There must have been some other two-kid-plus parents there, because everyone was standoffish. We pulled our iPhones out of our pockets like hip flasks—an e-mail scan providing a little shot of the adult world.

I also realized that I really didn’t know Will. He appeared to be getting tired, but I wasn’t sure. I’d forgotten how being with a baby is like learning a foreign language. You need to spend a lot of time with them to pick up their cues and subtleties. When I come through the door in the evening, I’m the king with both boys jumping all over me. My time with them is usually short and intense. But this stay-at-home thing requires a different pace. I had to remind myself that I did not have to pay attention to Will all the time. I would have to slow down and be less of a spaz.

Every 20 minutes or so, I thought of Susan at work, but mostly I thought of work itself. A colleague once described working at Slateas “great” but “a little incessant.” The Internet is relentless—deal with it for a living, and you start to become like those mariners who tell you that they can’t stand the sound of the ocean because it never stops. All day, I felt the pressure of things building up, happening, getting analyzed—things I was unaware of. I felt my own intellectual currency fading. What is an editor/writer but someone who lives by his wits?

In the afternoon, I picked up Nick from school and took him to a movie with his best friend. (Will was safely stowed with the babysitter.) A Monday afternoon movie is just one of the many fun kid things that you get to do again as a parent. I checked mail a few times but started to feel like an idiot. It didn’t matter. The whole point of this experiment is that I don’t have to worry about work. It’s Susan’s responsibility. So I sat in the dark, doing my job, tending to our older son. It was a nice feeling. I leaned back in my chair and grabbed a handful of Nick’s popcorn.