The Paternity Leave Chronicles, Vol. 1

I am writing this feverishly during one of Poe’s four daily half-hour naps. “Shouldn’t a baby nap for more than a half hour?” you say. And my answer to that comes in two parts: Fuck. You.

Yes, she should. She should be napping more like an hour to an hour and a half at a stretch, but Poe’s always been a trend-setter, and the baby books are so full of “shoulds” that I could puke. I want to shove all the “shoulds” up my own ass, light them on fire, and then shoot into the air like a bottle rocket.

So, paternity leave is going great, thanks for asking!

I’m kidding. It’s mostly pretty ok, but it started out with me having a full emotional breakdown in front of my parents. It’s been (mostly) up from there. It’s all so tedious to relate. I attempt to exert some sort of control over the situation, find myself woefully intellectually and emotionally over-matched, and then have some sort of anxious meltdown. If I ask you to hang out any time in the next couple of weeks, DON’T DO IT. I guarantee I’ll talk to you about naps the whole time and possible cry at the end (or throughout).

Again, I’m kidding. I’m ok. I’ve been not ok for stretches of this, but right now I’m ok. I’m trying to find that middle ground between caring and letting go. I came at parenting like a battering ram, thinking that if I just threw myself at it hard enough, I could master it. But it’s clear now that there will be no mastery. I am reconciling myself to being a B- father. And let me be clear: in terms of amount of love and care that I give to Poe, I think I’m an A/A-. A lot of fathers are barely present in their children’s lives and if there is one thing I am right now, it’s present. I am extremely fucking present with my child. I am Deep. In. The. Shit. But in terms of keeping myself mentally, emotionally, and physically together, I’m about a D-. So, let’s say that averages out to about a B-.

I wish I could relax. I want to let go. But here’s the thing: letting go only works up to a point. Sleep is a fundamentally important part of Poe’s life, and if she doesn’t get enough of it, EVERYONE suffers. So, I’ve got to provide her with structure and routine, or she and I will be miserable. And if I obsess, if I try to force things, she and I will be miserable. So, I have to find my balance somewhere in the middle. Which has been difficult.

I can’t determine whether I wish I knew more or less. Less probably. Fuck it, definitely less. I have often joked at my job (standardized test prep) that once I’ve moved on from it, I will get a very specific lobotomy to erase my intimate knowledge of all of the SATs and ACTs that have been released in the last 10 years. I feel the same way about parenthood. Once Poe stops napping during the day, I would love to go in and excise the part of brain that contains intimate knowledge of infant sleep cycles. I wish I didn’t know how much babies need to nap or that most babies can nap 1-2 hours at a stretch. I wish I didn’t know that naps in the stroller or carrier have a detrimental effect on Poe’s ability to nap in the crib. I wish I had enough of a fuck-it attitude to just strap Poe to my chest, throw the diaper bag over my shoulder, and go explore New York City, letting Poe sleep when she damn well pleases. But instead, I’ve imprisoned myself in the apartment, reading baby books and staring at the monitor, trying to will Poe into napping longer with the sheer force of my titanic anxiety.

I think I will look back and be (grimly) thankful that I took paternity leave. I will be thankful that we were able to get Poe that much more time with a parent before she toddles off to daycare (where she will probably finally decide to nap for long stretches, THE BITCH! Sorry.). But for now, I can’t help but think that maybe Poe would be better off with a professional who is paid (and trained) to take care of babies. I don’t know. I’m probably selling myself short. But having a daddy that goes off the fucking deep end is likely not too healthy for a child.

I’m not going to go off the deep end. I’m being hyperbolic. What? No, I don’t do that all the time; I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Poe pulled herself across the floor for the first time yesterday. I placed her on a mat on the kitchen floor and handed her a couple of toys to play with while I did the dishes (so many bottles). When I looked down a couple minutes later, she had turned 90 degrees and was two feet closer to me. She looked up at me and I looked down at her and she grunted, slapped her hands to the floor, and pulled herself forward an inch. And then she did it again. And again.

If I hadn’t taken leave, would I regret missing these little milestones? I doubt it. Poe has a couple milestones a week, and I don’t need to see her do something for the first time to feel a sense of wonder when I see it for the first time. But it’s still meaningful. It’s meaningful to be the person that helps her get through the day, that sees her scoot for the first time, that spends those couple minutes after she’s been fed and is completely milk drunk listening to her babble and coo and watching her grin at me and drool. The moment to moment of it all is mostly tedious and is almost definitely flooding my system with enough stress hormones to fell a walrus, but if I’m able to step ever-so-slightly back, distance myself from it the tiniest bit, I can revel in the magic of my quickly developing daughter and bask in the difficult glory of it all.