Nick knows that something is up. Like a young Jedi, he senses a disturbance in the force. “Why you not going to work today, Daddy?” he asks me, as I wrestle his shoes on his feet. Why not, indeed. This was one of those times as a parent when you have to decide how much information to impart. “Mommy and Daddy are playing a game where Mommy goes to work,” I tell him. That answer seems acceptable. “What do you want to work as when you grow up?” I ask. “Poop,” he replies.
Gotta say that Nick and Susan did a classic dump-and-run yesterday morning. The house was a total disaster when they left. They had to make the 8:20 a.m. bus, and all the good intentions of cleaning-up-as-you-go fell by the wayside. My mom has a word for this kind of mess: Pompeii. On the other hand, I forgot to make Nick’s lunch. I do my share of dealing with the kids in the morning, but I don’t have that internal monitor that Susan has. The kids aren’t always on my mind. They are always on Susan’s mind.
So the house was Pompeii. Clean socks were hard to find. I was wearing yesterday’s clothes. Plus, Will and I had to go move the car for alternate-side-of-the-street parking. The deal is that you double-park for an hour, make sure that the street sweeper and the cops have gone by, and then move your car back to the other side.
There are some nice mornings when I chat with the neighbors, but mostly shuffling the car around is a pain. It’s one of many inconveniences that make parenting in Brooklyn like parenting at altitude, where basic life is a little harder. The simplest trip to the zoo will turn into a march of the penguins as the older child demands to be carried on shoulders while the younger one does some crazy back-arching thing in the stroller while wailing at full volume. One longs for a minivan with a built-in DVD player and a big, fat driveway to pull into. So when I move the car with Will, I have a Britney Spears moment: I just plop him in the front seat next to me. Will loves it.
Being with a baby is a lot like being with a celebrity, actually. People give you free food in stores, they smile at you for no reason, they want to get close to you. I can also tell I’m getting a free pass as a dad with a kid during work hours. There are extra solicitous smiles. Will is learning to walk by grabbing my hands for balance, and a lady stops us and tells me of a nice spot in the Botanic Garden where the ground is really soft. I’m not the only dad around, but Park Slope during the day is a very maternal space, not unlike a giant nursery. Young boys in particular seem curious about me. At the playground, they edge closer and hold up their trucks for my inspection.
Will naps … after three “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Stars” and 47 “Frère Jacques.” I clearly need to work on my singing. Then the baby sitter arrives so I can go into the Slate offices and record a podcast. As a father of fairly recent vintage, I’m still halfway amazed by the world of baby sitters and nannies and caregivers. There seems to be a constantly replenishing supply of feminine goodwill toward children that keeps the whole neighborhood afloat. It really does take a village—one with lots of ATMs, because all payments have to be made in cash.
I take the soothing subway ride into Manhattan and emerge into the 4 o’clock light—the Edward Hopper time of day. The office doesn’t feel strange, but I do startle when I see Susan sitting at my desk. She looks poised and happy and well-lit. I haven’t seen her in a professional setting in a decade, and she doesn’t look out of place. Maybe I could be the one who stays home, the one who strings together the pieces of the nest.