5:05 a.m.: The baby screams. She does this sometimes–wakes up, realizes it’s still dark, then goes right back to sleep. A second later, I hear her snoring. Baby-snores! The awesomest, most disruptive sound in the universe. She’s like a tiny tyrannosaurus.
6:00. I’ve been lying in bed for nearly an hour, awake, trying to force myself back to sleep. That’s my limit. I leap out, pass my still-sleeping wife, grab my laptop off the floor. We watched our token episode of TV together on it, The United States of Tara, before crashing last night. That was a few hours ago. It was our couple-time for the night. Basically these days, Toni Collette is the third person in our marriage. (I’m the token non-Australian.) The screen’s still up, and it makes a momentary loud noise before I close that window. My wife stirs, then falls back asleep. Whew.
6:15. I’m deep into my teleplay. I’m writing a pilot for a TV show that, in all likelihood, will never exist. By this point, I don’t really care. I’m in love with my story. The main character is an ex-nun who’s wrestling with sex addiction.
6:30. The telltale yell from down the hall: “I’M FINNNNISHED!” This means three things to me. One: That an older kid is awake. Two: That she has made a cucky, which is a) Yiddish, and b) our word for a bowel movement. And, three, that she is finished. I go to wipe her.
7:00. OK, time to get up for real. I’ve been polishing up my work for the morning. The kid is curled up behind me on the rocking chair. It’s really weird writing a scene about smoking up in the back of a synagogue while your kid is staring at the words. Not that she would care–and, amazing fact about me that none of my friends believe, I’ve never smoked pot–but it still feels a little disjointed. I try to finish the scene. It’s not working. I leave it for later.
7:05. I pour cereal for the kid, slip on my tallis and tefillin, and start praying. Each day it’s a new struggle–should I try to go to synagogue? Should I not?–synagogue starts at seven, is a three-minute walk away, and usually takes 35 minutes or so. I never used to like going to synagogue during the week. The synagogue near our new house is really awesome, though. During the week, it’s mostly a bunch of old guys, cranky and sweet. Sometimes they drink scotch after prayers (just a sip, but man, does it do wonders for the morning). Last night we had a late night, and there’s one kid already awake. No chance. Today I’m flying solo.
7:35. Getting close to finishing prayers. I hear a cry from upstairs. Run up and get the baby.
7:37. It’s a cucky. Strip off my tallis and tefillin. No way to leave this till after I’m finished praying.
7:40. Bathtub. Uggggggh.
8:15. I’m finally out the door. It feels like I’m halfway through my day, and I haven’t even gotten to the office yet. Maybe I am halfway through? Way too tired to do the math.
9:00. On the subway, I work on a new scene for the TV show. I decide, in my stupor, that I’m either a comic genius or incredibly demented. Maybe both. Probably just one, though.
5:15. Yes, I’m skipping eight and a quarter hours of my day. This is the weird time: the time-off sense, the hours when I’m not actually a father. I mean, I am. I have pictures of my kids all over my desk. I miss them nonstop. And yet, there’s still a percentage of my life that adheres to the rule of “out of sight, out of mind.” I zone out. I listen to death metal. When I walk down the street, I don’t have to be careful of anyone but myself running into traffic.
6:15. The minute I step through the door, it’s all over. My wife doesn’t have that buffer-zone, I recognize, and I am incredibly lucky to have it. As a stay-at-home mom, from the minute she wakes up until the minute I show back up, she’s on. She’s working. My day job and my subway ride are a blessing. She never gets away from the house (except with the kids), and she never gets a rest from them.
Which is why I don’t mind when she dumps them on me and runs. One in each arm. She retreats into the kitchen. She’s a personal chef, and she has clients who need their food. So the minute I’m here to relieve her of the kids, she snaps into professional mode. She makes three times what I do an hour, which is equally a reflection of how crappy nonprofit work pays (sorry, bosses) and how good she is. Could she do this all day? Probably. But then I’d have the kids, and while it would probably be mad fun, the house would look post-apocalyptic, and I’d be the one going insane, instead of her. And she’s way better than me at handling that insanity.
6:15. Dinner. Bath. Pajamas. Toothbrushing. I operate like Rosey, the robotic housekeeper from The Jetsons, in order to get them in bed and ready for sleep by seven. Everything is a routine, and there’s little time for the jokes and antics and wrestling that we indulge in during mornings and weekends.
7:00 But it pays off: They are in bed, and clustering around me, and ready for storytime. I reward them: We get to read Goodnight Moon, the usual bedtime reading, and Goodnight Dune, this totally crazy parody based on a 1960s science fiction TV show. I printed it off as a joke, thinking I’d read it to them once and they’d hate it, but now they love it more than the real thing. Then we all sing Shema together, and it’s time for bed. For two of us, anyway.
7:45. The surviving adults grab a quick dinner. Leftovers from her personal-chefing. Food has never tasted this good. I mean, yes, this is amazing gourmet stuff, fine organic grains that are an explosion of taste in your mouth and mushrooms I don’t know the names of, and partly because it’s actually just two of us, actually sitting down, actually alone together. We don’t talk. We don’t trade stories or complaints about how our day has been, or the water-cooler jokes or the Facebook pics we’ve seen. We just exist. And that, for the moment, is really all we need.