On Wednesday afternoon, while Beatrice stood sentry over our napping son, I ran a couple of errands in the neighborhood. We’re a few blocks from where they’re building a new arena for the NBA’s New Jersey (soon to be Brooklyn) Nets, and it’s been an ugly process – shady eminent domain and tax breaks handed to the developer, blocks of homes leveled to put up the arena, dirty clangy construction trucks that have started rattling down our street, and the design of the arena itself. It was originally to be designed by Frank Gehry, of whom I am not a fan, but at least you can say, I suppose, that his buildings are usually interesting. Ugly, but interesting. But due to cost overruns (or bait-and-switch, if you’re a cynic, which I am), as soon as the project got all of its permits, Gehry was dropped, his design replaced with a mundane arena with a weird curved design that many critics said make the whole thing look like a giant toilet seat. (Given how woeful the Nets have been in recent years, there’s an easy metaphor in there somewhere.)
The arena is about a year away from completion, but about 2/3 of the building’s frame is already up. As I strolled on my errands, across Atlantic Avenue from the construction site, I noticed that parts of the steel skeleton are already getting their façade attached – lots of mirrored glass. I thought, “Hmm, maybe it won’t be so bad after all. Hope not – if we have to have this neighborhood-killing monstrosity nearby, it may as well look good.” (Aside: checking later, I see that most of the exterior will be covered in what looks to be brown metal latticework – such that it may look like a picnic basket with a toilet seat on top. And a couple pieces of glass. Hooray.)
Just then I noticed, walking toward me on the sidewalk, an old acquaintance who also lives in the neighborhood, Michele. We’d met a few times through mutual friends and, as one does in this day and age, became Facebook friends. We chatted for a few minutes, and she asked if I was freelancing or what, given that I was out and about in the middle of the day.
“No, I’m off this week on paternity leave. My company gives 10 days off, so that’s cool.”
She gave a start. “You’re joking, right? Ten days? I mean, compare that to Sweden, or any other civilized country…”
She’s right, of course: it’s really a sad sign that I’m slavishly praising my employer for granting its male employees 10 whole days off to take care of, and bond with, their newborn child. Ten days flies right by, of course, and it’s not nearly enough time to get the little guy set up. The company I work for gives new mothers three months paid leave, which is pretty good for the U.S., but not when you compare it to, say, England, where the standard is six months paid (legally mandated, I’m pretty sure, unlike here, where paid maternity or paternity leave is entirely up to a corporation’s good graces.)
But it is what it is; until we change the system, this is the best we got. And, stingy or not, I’m enjoying the hell out of this time off. It’s the first time in ages, really, that I’ve taken a significant chunk of time off and not traveled somewhere. And it’s been great. The days have quickly settled into a routine that goes something like this:
Around 4 a.m., give or take an hour, Nyan wakes up and cries a bit, signaling that he’s hungry, and Beatrice wakes up to feed him. I wake up too, ask if I can help. “No, no, go back to sleep,” she says. But I don’t, and within a minute or two she’s asking me to go get another bottle from the kitchen, or something along those lines. I bolt out of bed and head for the kitchen, but since I’m half asleep my body doesn’t respond well and I nearly crash into the dresser, then the closet door, then the walls of the hallway… I get there eventually. After we finish the feeding, we all doze off for a couple hours, but Nyan wakes up early, and by 7 or 8 he’s making little cooing noises – just enough that it keeps Beatrice from getting any sleep at all. So I grab him and head to the living room.
We hang out on the couch for the next few hours. I make some coffee, grab a quick breakfast, mix up some formula, but mostly just sit next to him, talking to him, reading the news on my iPad, watching him as he just sorta lays there and stares into space, makes little noises, occasionally dozes off.
The first day of this routine, Bea slept until almost 1pm – and she needed it. Since then it’s been more like 11am, and she’s been much more well-rested than before, so it seems to be working out well. By the time she gets up, Nyan is about ready for a solid nap, so he goes back into the bedroom while we have lunch and just hang out for the afternoon – errands, chores, reading, talking, and of course checking in on Nyan regularly.
Late afternoon he needs more attention, cleaning, feeding, etc., and by 7pm or so he is, in theory, winding down for the night. Except evenings are when he’s at his fussiest, so the evenings pass with us trying to rock him to sleep in between attempts to have dinner, clean up the place, relax a bit. I’m not complaining in the least, of course.
It’s only been a few days, not nearly long enough for this to be a true pattern, I suppose. But it’s been great. I’ve only got one more weekday of paternity leave, so this routine will quickly change. And yeah, Michele is right – 10 days is pretty much nothing at all. I know it’s going to be a very tough reentry when I head back to the office come Monday morning. Yeah, I know, in this economy and this brave new world of austerity, I should be happy simply to have a job. (But then, that’s how They want us to feel, isn’t it – keep us all sedate and grateful to even have a job, and certainly not agitating for better wages, a share of the profits, more than two weeks off to take care of a helpless little creature.)
But we’ll save such subversive thoughts for later. For now, I’m just happy to be able to spend time with our little guy.