This week, Joel Warner gives us some insight as to what it's like to be a part-time stay-at-home dad and a full-time neurotic obessessive with fantasies of prehistoric predators eating his young. Read his feature about the baby products industry here.
Friday: Today something extraordinary happened: I had free time with my son.
This was an entirely new phenomenon. When I work from home with him, there is no such thing as “free time.” When my son’s awake, I distract him by wiggling a toy in his face with one hand and type horribly misspelled e-mails with the other. When he’s tired, I rock him to sleep, all the while composing stories in my head. And when he’s asleep, I dash downstairs, desperate to spew as much verbiage into my computer as possible before the baby monitor unleashes its first tell-tale whimper. The marathon continues until my wife comes home and yells at me for putting socks on her son’s hands because his fingers felt cold and I couldn’t find his mittens.
My evenings and weekends aren’t much better. A month after our son was born, my wife and I made what we assumed was a marvelous decision. “Gee,” we thought. “This ten minutes of down time we have right now is way too much. We need some excitement in our lives. Let’s go a buy a house. Right now. Preferably one with clothes rods that spontaneously explode out of closet walls and ventilation ducts that don’t connect to anything.” This might seem like a brilliant move for first-time parents with a one-month-old baby, but, I can assure you now, it’s not. Our new home, now three months old, is still littered with unpacked boxes and half-finished construction projects, a devastated landscape that perfectly mimics my psyche. All too often my wife finds me curled up in a dark corner, a tape measure tied commando-style around my head and spackle smeared all over my face, all the while mumbling, “The box level made me do it. The box level made me do it. THE BOX LEVEL MADE ME DO IT!”
Which is why I was totally floored today when I discovered I had nothing to do other than hang out with my son. This was a great, until I realized I had no idea what to do with him. He’s not yet into the whole “toy” thing. His idea of playing is to stick whatever he has in his hand into his mouth and leave it there for two to three hours. There are other things he can do, but I am not allowed to let him do them. For example, I created this fantastic game for him called “Karate kick mom in the stomach with your little feet!” but for some reason my wife, the downer that she is, won’t let us play it anymore.
She has also instituted a rule that the television can’t be on when he is awake. At first I thought this was a little harsh, until I saw the influence this technological monstrosity has on my progeny. Remember the weird bond between Eliot and the alien in E.T.? That’s the connection my son has with our television. Turn on a T.V. and my baby, no matter where he is, will stop what he’s doing, swivel his head and stare at it. It wouldn’t matter if a rainbow is sprouting out of his chew toy or the Second Coming is occurring on his play mat. If a T.V. is on, he needs to look at it. Just looking at him staring in awe at the boob tube, I can almost see his brain cells withering by the second and his belly quivering in anticipation of a future beer gut. In other words, no television.
I could read my son a story, except most of the baby books we have are downright terrifying. For example, it’s always fun to feel the soft fur and smell the flowers in Pat the Bunny, but don’t the story’s two children, Paul and Judy, with their perfect blond hair and cold, cold eyes, bear a little too much resemblance to poster children for an Aryan nation? I’m always a bit worried I’m going to turn a page and read, “Judy can say ‘Sieg hail!’ Now you say ‘Seig hail!’” And what about Goodnight Moon? What type of psychopath would write a book like this? Why would you ever say goodnight to a comb, or, worse yet, to “nothing”? Is that some sort of sick reference to the yawning oblivion that awaits us all? Finally, right when the book is wrapping up, it’s revealed THERE IS A CREEPY OLD LADY SITTING IN THE ROOM!!! Who is she? Has she been there the entire time? For the love of God, she must be stopped! Please, young mouse, little kittens, anybody, chuck that fucking bowl of mush at her head!
Since a story like that was out of the question, I considered having a sing-a-long with my son. For the first few weeks of parenthood, I’d whip up masterpieces on the fly. I was the Randy Newman of baby songs, I was that good. One of my best was “The Poopie Dance,” sung to the tune of “The Safety Dance”:
You can poop if you want to, Whether it’s your poop or mine. Everybody poops, yes everybody poops, Everyone poops their behind.
The poopie dance, the poopie dance, Everybody poops their pants. The poopie dance, the poopie dance, Everybody poops their pants.
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These days, however, thanks to sleep deprivation and the realization that my son is not that discerning, I’ve resorted to repeating nonsensical phrases to the tune of “Alouette.” This includes, “We are bouncing, we are bouncing. We are bouncing, we are bouncing,” and the perennial favorite, “I’m a pirate, I’m a pirate. I’m a pirate, I’m a pirate.”
Today that didn’t sound like much fun, so I decided to come up with something else. Out of desperation, I created with the game, “Follow the bouncing stuffed animal.” This was a complicated maneuver in which I would bounce a teddy bear back and forth in front of my son. Stupid, I know, but guess what? He fuckin’ loved it! It was quite possibly the greatest thing he’d ever seen! He squealed and howled in delight, as if I had single-handedly unleashed all the visual power of ILM right there in our living room. It was beautiful. Weird, but beautiful.
I didn’t understand the significance of the game until later, when I was sitting at my computer and laughing like a maniac about a YouTube video involving a cat and a trampoline.
“My god,” I said to myself between cackles. “Like father, like son.” -- Joel Warner