When I lost my job in advertising, 2 years ago, it couldn't have come at a more perfect time. My book, "Puppy Chow is Better than Prozac," was finally getting published and now I would have time to promote it. Unfortunately, two weeks later, I found out it wasn't perfect timing. Brooke was pregnant.
Although, Brooke, was bringing home a good salary designing lingerie, you still needed two good salaries to live in New York City. To make matters worse, her job wasn't going to pay for maternity leave, and I couldn't collect unemployment.
I had hoped the book would bring in money, but we couldn't depend on that. Even if the book became a Bestseller, I probably wouldn't see any money till the baby was in college. But I was a positive person. I wasn’t worried. I figured I'd just start freelancing.
Unfortunately, due to this tough economy, work wasn't as easy to find as it once was. Tick. Tick. Tick. As the months moved closer to Brooke's due date, and our baby's hands started to wave hello from the womb, Brooke was starting to panic. As much as I reassured her that I'd be working soon, she was still very nervous. So I made her a promise. I looked her in her eyes and said, "Brooke, I promise I’ll be working when the baby is born." Of course, she still didn't believe me.
Well, talk about cutting it close. Ding-a-ling-a-ling. It just so happened that I started a new job on the same day Brooke went into labor. Bam, that evening, right in the middle of Hellboy II. Great, our child was destined to be a demon.
Bumpity bump! Can't this thing go any faster? Fuck you! Get out of the way! After Brooke almost gave birth in the cab we stormed our suite at the Birthing Center at St. Luke’s Roosevelt. Now, I’m talking sweet. Jacuzzi, hardwood floors, rocking chair, absolute privacy. It looked more like a Bed and Breakfast than a hospital room. Our dula, the birthing coach, started doing some relaxation techniques to Brooke. She had her sitting on a huge red rubber ball, but where the hell was the midwife? Her hands were the golden gloves for the Goldstein’s offspring. Brooke’s contractions were getting closer and closer together. She was sweating. She was moaning like a wild mammal. Any minute now. Any minute. "Hold on baby, hold on. I love you."
When our midwife finally arrived she pulled up her sleeves and proceeded to play catch the baby. And after a little push, push, push, moan, moan, moan, blow out the candles, blow out the candles, out popped the bean. And my, what a beautiful bean she was. I was so proud of Brooke. But the best part about a natural birth was that the baby never left us for a minute. After the baby had her first feeding, I climbed into bed and the three of us lay as one. As a family. I never wanted to get up. But I had to get up and go to work the next morning.
Everyday, while I worked downtown at this agency in Soho writing ads for credit cards, Brooke stayed home taking care of the most beautiful girl in the world. Of course, just because she was beautiful didn't mean it was easy. Changing diaper after diaper, the burping, and the nursing—ouch, every two hours it was feeding time at the Boobs. She never had a break. Eating and going to the bathroom when nature called were just memories from a past life. Now, it was all about the baby calling. And by the end of the day, every day, when Brooke was totally losing her mind, she'd call me: "Are you going to be home soon?"
From the moment I walked in the door, the crying, the diaper changing, the spitting up on my shoulder, (all of my black t-shirts looked Big Bird crapped on my shoulder), fatherhood was just waiting for me where I had left off earlier that morning. I knew the routine. Brooke knew the routine. Brooke's breasts knew the routine. The puffy bags under my eyes knew the routine. There was going to be no sleep again tonight.
As we neared Bean's three-month-old birthday, we knew the inevitable was approaching, That Brooke had to go back to work and it was time to think about childcare. Now that was a tough one. Taking care of your own kid is difficult enough, but putting her in the hands of a complete stranger or strangers sounded kind of crazy to us. We looked into daycare first, but the bean was so tiny for her age, that we were worried she'd get trampled. So we started interviewing nannies. Yikes. What are we rich? Hell no! Aside for the expense, $450 - $600 a week, plus medical, and paid vacations, and them rummaging through your refrigerator on a quest for Twinkies, there were some real characters out there. One night we interviewed this husky lady from Poland with man's hands who we found on Craig's List. We were all just sitting on our couch as the poor Bean cried and screamed as the nannie tried to suffocate her with a pink butterfly pacifier. We didn't care that she bragged she was once Kevin Bacon's nanny. Next! We interviewed a few more nannies, but none of them seemed right. We even tried recruiting my sister, who worked in a preschool, but she said, "No." She didn't want to get involved with family. God forbid, something happened. "And not for nothing, Bruce. You guys are a little nuts."
So we still didn't know who was going to watch our daughter—until one day, I got called into the creative manager's office at my agency. "Sorry Bruce, but the client is cutting back on their budget," she said. "And we're not going to need you next week." Being in the ad business, I had heard those words before, but this time was different. I was a Dad. I wasn't just going to work for me, for expensive sushi dinners and movies. I was working for the Bean. Onesies, a breast pump, and binky's.
So, there we were. Me and Brooke and Ozzy, and a screaming baby in the background, staring at an ugly bill for next month's rent. With daycare and nannies out, there was no alternative. Brooke looked at me, and I looked at me. I mean, I really looked at me. There was definitely a lot of stigma attached to being a stay-at-home dad. Not being a real man. It was tough to visualize me being the only dad in the playground. Just the moms and me. They'd probably be scared of me. Or they’d look down on me for not having a job. Then again, maybe they wouldn't. Maybe they'd see how I loved my daughter and that I didn't care that my wife earned a living. That she wore the pants. But you know what, it didn't matter what other people thought. I had no choice. And I was going to be the best Dad in the Universe, well at least in New York City. So I hugged Brooke, I looked her in her eyes, and said, "Yeah, I can do this. I'll stay home with her until I find a new job." Or until I make a million dollars from the book.
But as confident as I seemed, I was still nervous as hell. I knew things would be different. I was never really alone with her. Oh, my God, what if something happens? God forbid she falls, or chokes, or dies somehow? Well, only time would tell. And I was going to do my best. After all I did raise a puppy and he turned out okay.
The big day was here. Oct 6th, 2008. I'll never forget that morning Brooke had to go back to work. Off to the corporate crotchless panty world. The once fun, exciting and creative career path meant nothing to her compared to holding the Bean closely and kissing her on the head. And it was all over her face. That deep sadness. That separation anxiety. Taking a mommy from her baby.
It was about 8 o'clock and I had just finished bottle-feeding the Bean, with Brooke's grade A breast milk. As I burped her on my shoulder, chubby tush in hand, I watched Brooke get dressed. Putting on her makeup. Eyeliner, red lipstick and the cover-up. But Brooke barely looked at us. She just kept on moving. Packing her pocketbook for the day instead of the orange diaper bag, that of course, I would now change to a camouflage one.
So as I sang silly songs to the Bean, I watched Brooke scurry about, looking around to see if she forgot anything. She had her bag, her coffee cup, but no Bean. No Bean. That emptiness. That pain. Something only a mother could know and feel.
Before she left, she stopped for a second to catch her breath. She walked over to us and moved in to give me a kiss. Then she looked the baby in her big blue innocent eyes and said, "Now you be a big girl and take care of Daddy today."
My eyes teared up. I had a lump in my throat. Then before I knew it, she was gone. We heard the door slam shut. And just like that, I became a stay-at-home dad. I looked at the Bean, she smiled. Then she spit up. I looked around at the apartment. So quiet. Just us. "Okay, Bean. Now what?"