Well, that pretty much sucked as much as expected.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I have a good job. The pay is alright, it’s satisfying more often than not, I work with some good and fun people, and the benefits are very good. But still: going back to work – especially when your son is less than a week old – just sucks.
About those benefits: in addition to a pretty generous (by American standards, that is) vacation package, I also get 10 paid days off for paternity leave. I used up four of them last week, leaving me with six. So why was my alarm clock going off at 6:30 this morning? Why did I wedge myself on to a crowded, dirty subway train and then spend the whole day staring at a pair of computer screens in my windowless office? Pure practicality. Grandma and Grandpa left this morning, but Beatrice’s sister Emerald is here for two weeks, staying with us and providing immeasurable support and teaching us, well, pretty much everything about taking care of a newborn. We’ve got more family coming later in the month, but there’ll be a week or two when it’s just us. So I thought I’d bite the bullet and go back to work, saving up those precious six additional paternity days for when we’re on our own, so we can put off a bit longer the day when it’s just one parent at home alone all day with Nyan.
It makes sense, and it’ll definitely pay off later this month. But in the here-and-now, it sucks.
I’m the editor of an online daily news publication for asset management professionals. Wall Street kind of stuff. My day usually goes like this: I’m up at 6:30 (or, okay, 6:40 after a couple of rounds of the snooze button) and shuffle my way to the coffee maker and then my home office. For the next hour or so I’m reading and editing news articles, deciding what order the stories will run in, adding photos and links and other Web 2.0 bells and whistles, then finally publishing that day’s issue and sending out an email blast to some 110,000 readers. On a good day, I’m getting ready for work by 8am and out the door an hour or so later. On a day when there are technical issues or other fires to put out, it may be closer to 9:30 before I’m off on my 30-to-40-minute commute to a nondescript office building just south of Times Square.
Then it’s typical, routine office stuff. Talk to the team of journalists who report up to me. Figure out who’s working on what for the day. Assign and edit articles. Field calls from readers who are unhappy with something we’ve published. Field calls from flacks trying to get coverage of their company. Attend meetings, play the occasional game of office politics, make sure everything and everyone is working as they should. Pretty standard stuff.
Today was a bit different, as I fielded a fair number of congratulatory wishes from colleagues. It was very nice of everyone, and I was more than happy to chat for a minute or two about Nyan (although as ever, I had little free time to spare – I have dozens if not scores of things that must be done every day, in between all the unplanned distractions – and so couldn’t chat about our boy as much as I would have liked). I told myself I’d get done early today, and every day going forward, but reality has a way of getting in the way of such plans, and it was 6:45 before I walked out onto Broadway and headed for the subway.
That was just late enough for the trains to be running slightly less frequently than they do during rush hour, so I spent a solid 10 or 15 minutes waiting on an overheated subway platform for a packed D train to arrive. I finally made it to Brooklyn, and after a quick shopping trip for some laundry detergent, it was about 7:45 before I got home. But I was energized: I’d get to see Nyan! (And Beatrice and Emerald too, don’t get me wrong. But still. Nyan!)
Except for one little problem: he was asleep. Sound asleep. He’d had a fairly busy day, for a six-day-old; Beatrice and Emerald had loaded him into the stroller for a quick jaunt up to the Walgreens on Atlantic Avenue, where he cooed and looked around and won the hearts of at least a couple of the other shoppers. That was about it, but for a six-day-old, that’s quite a day. So they’d changed his diaper and fed him at around 7pm, and he was down for the count, much to my disappointment.
So all I could do was to tip-toe into the darkened bedroom, where he was swaddled tight and sound asleep; I watched him in the dim light for a few minutes, admiring him, wishing he was awake but letting him sleep.
But, I was told, he would need another feeding soon! So I relaxed for a bit, chatting with Beatrice and Emerald and catching up on the day’s non-finance-related news. After an hour or so, I couldn’t stand it and – selfishly, I’ll admit; it’s a learning process – asked if it’d be alright to gently wake up Nyan so he could have a feeding. Yes, that’d be alright, I was told.
Back in the bedroom, I gently picked him up out of his bassinette and carried him to the living room, where I sat in the glider chair and gently spoke to him, trying to wake him up. No go. The kid loves his sleep. But I thought he needed to eat, and I thought he needed to be awake to eat. So I unswaddled him, rubbed his feet, stroked his cheeks. He stirred, then went back to sleep. Unswaddled him some more, rubbed his feet some more, bottle at the ready. Eventually he woke up… and cried. And cried some more. I put him over my shoulder to burp him, but nothing came out. I offered him the bottle; he took it in his mouth but didn’t close it around the nipple. Clearly not interested in eating.
Emerald or Beatrice suggested I check his diaper, and sure enough, he needed a change. So I carried him to his nursery and changed his diaper, talking to him as he kept crying. I’m no expert at changing diapers (yet) but I did a decent job, I thought. He calmed down after I re-snapped his onesie, so we returned to the glider… but he started fussing again, crying some more. I could feel the anxiety rising, the little voice in my head getting louder and saying, “You fool, you have no idea what you’re doing, do you.”
Well, no, I don’t. Obviously. But I’m trying to learn. Finally Beatrice suggested I take him back to the bedroom, where it was calm, quiet and dark. But even after we retreated to that oasis, he kept fussing. Wouldn’t take the bottle, wouldn’t burp, still had a clean diaper. Nyan still crying, and still refusing the bottle as the little voice kept taunting me.
Finally Beatrice took him from me, rocked and swayed and, after a few minutes, got him to calm down. We swaddled him back up, and as he finally fell back into a half doze, he took the bottle and swallowed about an ounce of formula. Then – as he often does after a feeding – Nyan fell right asleep. I gently laid him back into his bassinette and, thoroughly chastised and feeling a bit of a failure, left the bedroom, quietly closing the door behind me.
I debriefed with Beatrice and reviewed what I had learned – besides the fact that I have a lot still to learn. Most important, perhaps: when he’s asleep, let him sleep. He’ll wake up when he’s hungry or needs a diaper change, but until then, let him sleep. And when it’s nighttime and it’s time for a feeding, do it in the cool, calm, quiet bedroom, away from the relative cacophony of the living room with its lights, street noise and Law & Order reruns.
And – this was the most sobering lesson, but an important one to accept – if I’m not getting home from work until 7:30 or 8pm, chances are I’m not going to get a whole lot of active face-time with the little guy. That’s just how it is.
The plan now is that we will try a new routine in which Nyan and Beatrice get up not long after I do in the mornings, so that hopefully I can bond with him for a little bit before I head off to that packed, dirty subway and that windowless office. We’ll see how that goes.
Over the past few months, when I’d get home from work at 8pm or later, utterly exhausted but trying to be supportive to my pregnant and exhausted wife, I thought back many times to my own father when I was growing up. He worked long hours for an architectural firm – 9 to 5, home for dinner, and then nearly every evening (as I remember it, at least), he’d head back to his office for a few more hours of work in the evenings. So we never got to see him that much, at least on weeknights. His reward for his toil, after 20-some years with the company, was being laid off in a round of cost-cutting in the recession of the early ‘90s, because they could hire a fresh-out-of-college guy to do the job, not as good but adequately, for about half the salary.
Dad worked those hours because he wanted to (and did) provide a stable, comfortable life for his family, and I love him and thank him for those sacrifices. But in the months leading up to Nyan’s birth, I swore to myself and to Beatrice (and to the in-utero LG) that I wouldn’t do that myself. That I would find a way to be there for her and for him, that my job would not take precedence over being there.
It’s just one day, of course, but I need to find a way to trim those hours.
And I need to not be selfish and let sleeping Nyan sleep.
(Editor’s note: I’d intended to write chronologically about Nyan’s days, but with this post I’m skipping from last Wednesday until today. I’ll fill in the intervening days – including such landmarks as Coming Home, Meeting More Family, and First Doctor’s Visit – in coming days.)