Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Diary Of An Unemployed Baby Daddy
The storytime was just getting started today at the Windsor Terrace branch of the Brooklyn library. The room was filled with children, of course, but also moms, nannies and at least a few dads.
It was my first time here, at least solo. Since I was laid off two weeks ago I have more time for this stuff now.
The leader of the singalong, I believe her name was Miss Cindy, started the program off by having everyone say their name. We were sitting right in the middle, so it took her a little while to get to us.
"And who's that?" she asked.
"This is Stella," I said, "and I'm David."
"Oh, Stella!" she said. "I know Stella! It's just that I'm so used to seeing her with her mom."
That was interesting. The sight of my daughter in public with just her dad is so unusual people didn't recognize her. It's amazing what a little context can do.
One thing I noticed after the naming ritual was completed is that none of the kids had what I would consider "normal" names. It seems names like John, Robert, Jennifer, Mary, even David are all real, real over. At least in this part of Brooklyn. No, all the kids had names that either sounded like they belonged on a library at Harvard (Bennet, for example), or were just kind of inexplicable. You might hear a kid named Bram, or Eliza, or Elvira, but not Jane. Which means, of course, that all those humdrum, uncool names will be "hip" again when little Quentin has his own kids.
(Some names, btw, never come back. Mildred, for example is deader than disco and always will be. But don't take my word for it, just use this handy-dandy name tracker.)
I took a good look at the other dads, there were three of them. I had an immediate and visceral dislike for them all. Probably because we were all clones of one another. The other guys also had beards, glasses, "hip" sneakers and hoodie sweatshirts, just like I did. Christ, we all so damn predictable. One day you put something on that looks just a hair more contemporary, in my case a hoodie, only to see that you are joining the crowd too late.
Another thought: maybe this is just the de-facto "unemployment" uniform for us guys? Because I had to wonder: where any of us likely to be at this singalong three months ago? The answer: probably not so much.
I've wondered about this kind of thing a lot, actually, ever since getting my walking papers. Because I've had a lot more time to take Stella to the playground, the various singalongs, to daycare, to pick her up from daycare, to hang with her during the day when she's either not eating or napping (which she does now, thank god!).
I go to the playground, and there's always three to five dads there, whereas I imagine they used to come mostly on weekends. I go to singalongs and I see a couple of dads, along with some moms, and a few nannies. I could be hypersensitive to this, but I always suspect that when a dad's spending time with a young child during the day it's because he's got nowhere else to go these days. Not because he's "freelancing," "working from home" or "rich."
Don't get me wrong, it's been fun. I haven't gotten to spend this much time with Stella since our last vacation, and I love being with her. But it's still a bit disconcerting. All these people told me I'd finally have some time to myself, to think things over. Nope. Instead Stella's need for attention and love kind of has the properties of a liquid: it expands to fit the size of her container. And now both mom and dad are around, so her needs have expanded to fit into all the free time both of us have. Seriously. Meaning that if one of us leaves to run an errand she cries. Or if one of us is working in the apartment, or in my case looking for work in the apartment, that's the one she'll gravitate too. (The cats do this too, btw!) If Randi is all set up and ready to play with her, or barring that, watch a "Sesame Street" DVD with her, and I'm editing my resume: bingo! She goes right to Dada, and wants to steal all my pens and paper, get into the trash can at my feet, grab a few loose wires, turn on my amp, make this kind of whining unhappy sound while doing it all, and if that fails spill some water or whole milk either on herself or me.
So then I'll pick her up, put her on my lap, maybe play her a video on Youtube, in order to pacify her. Not a good plan. Because then she'll want another one, and another one, and another one. Seriously, Randi once played the "All The Single Ladies" video for this kid four times in a row, and then clicked on all the videos derived from that one, including one of a three year old girl dancing to the video. So they were watching a video of a kid watching a video. Stella, of course, loved it.
Meaning that being laid off isn't quite the relaxing, reflective time I had imagined it could be. One where I take several moments, breathe deep and accurately and smartly plot the course of the rest of my life. A time where I can calmly and sagely apply my hard fought wisdom to the key question of what I should do when I grow up some more.
No, instead it's kind of like any weekend day with Stella, except it's every day. Fun, a riot, filled with love, I wouldn't miss it, and kind of draining. It's work, even as I should be looking for work. And I'm not certain this approach is working.