I Abandon the Mother of My Child (April)

As the big day nears, anxieties grow sharper, and even a bad episode of ER becames fraught with symbols. Add in a business trip halfway across the world—can our almost-father handle the stress?

In a cab, Patti tells me a dream she had last night.

“I was in a place that had lots of rooms and I heard that there was a doctor who worked there who had a pet pig. I walked past her office and looked in through a big window. A woman was standing there and on the table there was a big bag with a pig in it. I went in and looked at the pig: It was very pink and juicy and fat. I asked the woman if the pig was hers and she replied that it belonged to the doctor.

“Then I noticed that the woman was incredibly pregnant, and that the skin of her belly was very thin so you could see the baby inside, its hands, its head, even its features. I thought, ‘Oh, God, am I going to get like that soon?’ The lady was sick of being pregnant and wanted the baby born already. She was waiting for the doctor who was going to induce labor.”


* * *

I am about to go to Japan for three weeks. I am a little frantic at having to leave with so little notice and will miss my family very much. The upside of this short notice is that I am just being whisked away without much time to think about it. Instead, I continue on my sewing project. It’s a little lumpy and asymmetrical (but that’s the look this season). All I have left to do is put the snaps on the crotch. PL thinks it’s very cute.


* * *

I leave very early in the morning for Osaka. I am really sad to say goodbye to my woman and hound and sadly touch the Peanut one last time through his mother’s tummy.


* * *

Between time differences and long-distance charges, we have resolved to communicate via email.

To: PL
From: DOG

I was lying here in my bed just a few minutes ago, having just awoken from a weird dream that involved my rushing against a tide of middle-aged black women on their way to work, when I thought about the fact that it is 5:30 p.m. in New York and I suddenly had this image of you standing with Frank on the southwest corner of Barrow and Christopher as the sun was beginning to set over Jersey City and the brick walls across the street reflected pink light on your face, and I realized that even though we are separated by half a planet we are really very lucky.

Sometimes our lives seem crazy and scary and overwhelming or static and aimless but the fact is we have so many things that no one else we know can come close to having themselves. Even the love that I may have fantasized I would find (when I fantasized about such things a million years ago, before I met you) was never as powerful and transforming as the one we share. Perhaps you have to stand 10,000 miles away to get sufficient perspective on our lives, to realize how special they are and how fortunate we are.

I am so excited that we are going to have a baby and so grateful to you for carrying him around all these long months; our love has made this little goober for everyone to see and we’ve got to make sure he stays marinated in love as deeply as we can. I miss you, of course I do but more than that I am so happy I know you and love you.

* * *

During a break in shooting, I go into town and buy the Peanut two Japanese mini-outfits. One is a little red sailor suit that has “Pupeye” embroidered on the pocket. The other is a tiny pair of mustard-colored overalls with three little pockets shaped like pup faces. It has characters that read “Pup Eye Character Company.”

While I seem bewildered and confused about most parental matters, on one issue I am adamant. I don’t want our kid to be a billboard. It’s so depressing when you see news coverage of Africa or the Far East and all these little brown kids are running around in Nike knockoffs and Schwarzenegger T-shirts instead of dashikis and shalwar kameez. In America, it seems people have totally stopped wearing clothes without words on them: cute sayings, band names, Coke logos, souvenirs…it’s just endless, and I am fighting back, one infant at a time.

However, I relax my standards when it comes to cool, cute Japanese gobbledy gook. It’s so cute.


* * *

PL goes to the doctor alone for the first time, though I had promised her I would always go to see how the baby was doing. I tried to make it, but unfortunately I am half a world away, feeling bad, failing at my first paternal commitment.

Fortunately, she emails me a report:

All is well and the Peanut is “growing nicely” he did say. Dr. Andrew approved my travel plan and told me stretching and anti-dehydration strategies for the flight. He used to work in L.A. and said Cedars Hospital has a good staff now and he gave me the name of their director in case I have any unexpected problems (he said to use his name, he knows the guy!) so I’m feeling cautiously confident about the trip!

* * *

Patti is in L.A. and her West Coast girlfriends are throwing her a shower. I’m just a Pacific Ocean away and we speak briefly on the phone for the first time. It makes me feel so damned far off. I can’t wait until tomorrow, when I finally will be able to hug my sweet baby and baby instead of this wretched rice bag of a pillow.


* * *

Home (or at least the Hollywood version of it) at last. PL meets me at the airport and then we collapse at the Sunset Marquis, she with her madly growing belly, me with the ravages of the world’s worst jet lag. We play house, showing each other baby stuff. At her shower she got baby outfits, red moccasins, a bunny, lots of little T-shirts, bottles, slippers, etc., and a giant juicer. Will this small person really need all this stuff?


* * *

Whenever PL and I are apart and then reunite, it takes a day or two for us to fit completely back into each other, like a not-quite-finished jigsaw puzzle. And, tomorrow, we will have to separate again as she heads home and I stay in L.A. to shoot some more.

I have grown so used to having her by me again in a few short days that I feel like I’m to have an amputation in the morning. I am again used to that strange belly of hers, all jumpy and aquiver. Now the Peanut is doing a sort of rolling thing inside; instead of just a quick kick, he seems to push and slide. Just looking at the skin of PL’s belly, I can see the movement inside, particularly before meal times when the Peanut get really agitated and wants Patti to get a move on. I can’t wait for him to come out and play so we can see him and feel him and show him how much we love him.


* * *

Patti is going back to work. She is booked through the next month. I am very proud of her, how hard she works and how well she is doing, but I’m sure she’ll want to wind down as the big day approaches. Though we’ve talked about it, I have no real idea how she’ll feel about work once the baby is born. I try to let her know that it will be OK if she wants to work less after he’s born, but I get the feeling that she thinks I am trying to pressure her into abandoning her job, as if it is a silly and meaningless thing compared to raising my son.

When I think about how Pipsi never gave up working, how that seemed to be the sign of a liberated woman, I can’t imagine encouraging Patti to give up her career. On the other hand, I want her to feel free to do what she feels is best without worrying about how I might feel if she is no longer bringing home a paycheck.


* * *

While in L.A., for the first time I get to experience what it’s like to be a parent, up close. I visit my college chums, Mark and Betsy and their seven-month-old daughter, Tessa. She is very sweet though quite serious and unusual looking, with intense blue-gray eyes. I had a chance to hold her a bit but she probably sensed my nervousness and whined a bit, so I handed her back.

It’s bizarre to see Mark, who wore my hand-me-down black suit for years, customized it with cigarette burns, and tailored it with duct tape and safety pins, now carefully deliberating between one frilly-collared pastel jumpsuit and another.All the while, I felt very self-conscious, as if I was under observation, being evaluated as a future parent by for the way I handled Tessa. I don’t know why Mark or Betsy would care how I deal with babies; more likely they were afraid I was going to drop her.

Mark is very good with her but it is clear that Betsy absolutely dotes on Tessa. She said it had taken her a few weeks to bond with the baby, that initially she had wanted to give her back.

Mark tours me through their warehouse of equipment: a gliding rocking chair with padded arms to protect the baby’s head while feeding; a walker that lets her roam around under her own steam. He shows me a playpen and advises me that babies have to get used to it before they are three months old or else they will feel imprisoned in its mesh wall and resent it mightily (as Tessa seemed to do). Mark is an enormous fan of one contraption; I swear he is getting paid to lure in new users. It is a little swing that prevents babies from crying; it rocks and soothes them with some sort of alpha-wave-generating movement until they clam up and conk out. He does warn me that the swing is highly addictive, but I’m not sure what that means—will the baby continue to require a crotch-grabbing bungee swing for the rest of its life, bouncing and cavorting through business meetings?

Next on the inventory list: a car chair that also doubles as a carrier so you can recline the baby on the floor or sit it up to eat. And a stroller that collapses and reconfigures for various scenarios.

Unfortunately, most of the gear is upholstered in hideous fabric with patterns designed to absorb any fluid and clash with any décor. Mark and Betsy’s house looks more like a garage for all this stuff than a nice home.

The baby dribbles incessantly: Betsy has to change her before we went out to lunch and again after we came home. She has nice outfits, far nicer than Betsy’s and Mark’s. In fact, the two of them were always fashion disasters and now they play dress-up all day long. It’s bizarre to see Mark, who wore my hand-me-down black suit for years, customized it with cigarette burns, and tailored it with duct tape and safety pins, now carefully deliberating between one frilly-collared pastel jumpsuit and another.

At the restaurant, Tessa behaves very well, never crying and contentedly packing away melon slices and a bottle of formula.

Mark and Betsy obviously have enormous love for the baby, and though she requires a load of work and expense, it’s clearly worth the hassle. And sacrifice. Not sure what they would do if it wasn’t, anyway.


* * *

After a brief phone call filled with the many things I can’t help PL with right now (insurance, dog washing, news of a very sick friend, etc.), I compose one of my last homesick emails:

Darling Pandyclothheadbabywoman:

Everyone tells me I have a lovely wife. They can’t believe that you are such a beautiful pregnant person and not all saggy and pimply and draggy and bloated and baggy-eyed and goobery like so many pregnantos are.

I think how lucky I am to have such a chipper beauty as my wife but even more that our baby Peanut will have you as his mom for his whole life. Just think, in 20 years when people come to his dorm room and see the three dimensional digital hologram in Sensaround on his dresser and ask, “Who is that hot girl? I didn’t know you had a girlfriend! Or is that your kid sister?” and he will reply, “No way, droid, that’s my maternal unit.”

I have been away from home so much that I forget what our street smells like, what Houndy’s yawn sounds like, what Mike Kahan in the gym looks like, but one thing crystal clear in my mind is you, the smell of your neck, the taste of your earlobes, the sound of your heartbeat, the peachy softness of your cheeks, the way a smile grows in your eyes, every square inch of you, and every pulse of your soul as it enfolds me.
I feel like I am with you when I think of you and that is the only thing that makes it possible to be away for so long. Whenever I feel low, the thought of you raises me up. You are why I do what I do and how I know I am worthwhile.

Thank you so much for letting me love you as much as I do.

* * *

Patti had an upset stomach when we talked tonight (maybe she got diabetes from my last email). She has a little rash on her stomach and wonders if she is having Braxton Hicks contractions; they are sudden, brief tightenings or hardenings of the abdomen that usually kick in during the seventh month. She is also worried that she will go into labor early, and how will she get in touch with me and what will happen if she does?

I tell her all the ways she can get in touch with me around the clock, list of numbers of everyone I work with, hotel people, friends, etc.

I tell her, “Let’s say you start to go into labor and you call me right away. I hop on a plane. In five or six hours, I’ll be in New York and by your side before the baby even starts to pop out. I’ll even have time to stop and pick up cigars.”


* * *

Despite my reassurances, I feel far away and worried. My anxieties become epic, literary.

Thursday night, on ER.

A tiled room that looks like a fluorescent-lit battlefield the day after. The floor is littered with bloodstained gauze and abandoned medical instruments. Hushed monitoring machines stand mournfully in a circle. An exhausted Dr. Carter bows his head by the examining table. On it, the inert form of a woman, most of her body blocked by the doctor’s back. All you can see are her splayed feet on one side and, on the other, her pale face, a ventilator tube still in her mouth. Carter rises wearily to his feet and says to Nurse Lockhart, “I guess I’ll go talk to the father”. She nods dolefully.

Gone with the Wind.

First, Scarlett goes tearing around smoldering Atlanta for help when Melanie goes into labor. The only doctor around is too busy amputating the limbs of half the Confederate army to lend a hand, so she turns to her slave, Prissy, who declares: “Lawsy, we got to have a doctor. I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout birthin’ babies!” Scarlett slaps her around and rips up some sheets, and the baby shows up.

Still, old Melanie stays pale and damaged for the rest of the movie and collapses when she gets knocked up again. Her son, Beau, clings to her bed sheets, whining, “Where is my mother going away to, and why can’t I go along, please?” Then Melanie says her last words to Scarlett and falls back onto the starched pillows, her bucket finally kicked, at which point anyone with a heart loses their shit.

David Copperfield. Poor guy.

He comes back to Mr. Murdstone’s house where loyal Peggotty tells him about his mother, who lies under a sheet in the spare bedroom, her newborn at her side. The delicate mother’s demise is achingly slow and melancholy; she sinks away day by day, clutching her baby to her shrinking bosom. She blesses her dearest fatherless boy and then, gently as a child slipping into sleep, dies in Peggotty’s arms and leaves Dave C. all alone in this cold, cruel world.

It’s everywhere. Birth = death.


* * *

Patti emails me that she bought Jack an outfit for the first time, a French jumper and some sort of underwear. I’m not sure if I like the idea of my boy wearing French underwear. What are we talking about, black mesh bikinis or what? I had hoped he’d be a boxer man like me.


TMN Contributing Illustrator Danny Gregory first learned to swim in the canal behind the Lahore American School, to kill ticks at Canberra Grammar School, to snap bras at the Kibbutz Givat Brenner, to light a match with one hand at Princeton University, and to mount sheep at the Northwestern School of Taxidermy. He is the author of several books and the obligatory blog and lives in Greenwich Village (with his first wife and son), where he does not attend NYU. More by Danny Gregory