Stocking Up (May)

When a child is on the way, the last months can seem agonizingly slow. So does it help, when you’re finally ready, to have your mother suggest you and your wife are ambivalent about the whole baby thing?

Home from my travels at last.

Frank runs up to me and dances like the lunatic dog that Gran says he is. I kiss PL long and deep. Her stomach is huge now, and I whisper into it and feel the little goon squirm and punt. Did he wonder if I’d gone for good?


* * *

While horsing around in our bed, Frank accidentally hoofs Patti’s belly. The Peanut immediately kicks right back and then falls silent. For several sort of anxious hours, we wonder if he had been killed or knocked unconscious in there. Around lunchtime, he starts kicking again, demanding food; this first attempt on his life has been unsuccessful.


* * *

Time to get more paraphernalia. We visit a couple of stores, one manned by a flamboyantly gay guy, the other by a curt misanthrope who sounds half in the bag.

We decide that we will not need a changing table ($600) or an elaborate pram ($450) or even a full crib at the beginning. For a while we consider one of those rocking devices that Betsy had shown me with additional plug-in options like a bassinet and a mini chair. The grim man says the add-ons are necessary if the baby is colicky which we don’t know because a) we haven’t seen the baby yet and b) we’re not sure what “colicky” means, exactly.


* * *

We have dinner with Pipsi, who is very weird and awkward when it comes to discussing baby stuff and is of the opinion that we shouldn’t really buy anything at all.

“You just need a ‘bahsket.’ Even a drawer will be fine.”

“We have no ‘bahskets’ or empty drawers, and they don’t sell them at the baby store. We’re probably going to buy a bassinet.”

“Fine, indulge yourself as usual. Why do you even ask me?”

I didn’t tell her we are also going to order a glider chair and, to be extra fancy and yuppy, will provide our own cowboy fabric instead of the wretched stuff the manufacturer offers. We have to order it now as it takes six to eight weeks to put together.

As for the rest, we’ll probably just wait until the Peanut goes shopping with us. When we were in the store, there were several couples with fresh little wrinkled, monkey-faced babies in tow, and their search seemed a lot more fruitful and specific than ours. While we looked at huge oak cots, they picked out diaper genies and special pillows to shove under the nursing tot.


* * *

PL tells me that Mike Kahan approached her in the supermarket and said, “Congratulations,” and stuck out a hand as if to touch her jutting belly. She said she just pretended she had no idea who he was and moved on. It’s like he was trying to lay on a curse or something, the freak.


* * *

Whenever PL isn’t around, I sneak through her address book and scribble down names and numbers for the shower; I have more than two dozen now and fax them off to Miranda and to Pipsi. We have about three weeks, just before the due date. I hope PL isn’t too mad at me for my collusion in this conspiracy.


* * *

I’m still, after all these months, not used to it. PL begins to take off her shirt and I swivel around lustily and then, wham, I see her big belly cresting over her waistband and am totally shocked.

For half a second, I’d totally forgotten.


* * *

A colleague brings his two-year-old into the office and I am far more interested than usual. He’s a sweet but very solemn kid. His parents seem to believe that they must explain absolutely everything to him and that he must understand and agree with their every decision. If he doesn’t, they look at each other and, say, “Well what do we do?” What do we do? And these people have been parents for a couple of years? Granted, the kid is very precocious and amusing but that sort of indulgence seems excessive. Setting the kid up to believe that the world actually works that way seems a cruel hoax.

Maybe his parole officer will tell him how it really is.


* * *

We tour Beth Israel, the hospital where PL is going to deliver. The building is ringed by police because the 90-something-year-old Rabbi Schneerson is a patient within. He is the head of the Lubavitcher movement and his followers believe that he is the Messiah. I have a fantasy: Our baby is born the instant the Reb dies and there will be a transmutation of their souls and the Hassidim will chase Jack for the rest of his life, trying to get him to reveal himself as their new and rightful leader, the great Ya’akov Grigorivitch.

There are about 20 other couples on the tour, of all classes and descriptions, most surprisingly advanced in years. Maybe younger couples are totally irresponsible and unprepared and don’t do square and respectable things like taking prenatal hospital tours, what with being out boozing and doping at those damned rock and roll concerts all nights long and not being to crawl out of bed for an 11 a.m. appointment. They probably figure on just jumping on their old man’s Harley at the last possible moment and careening into the emergency room to pop out the young ‘un. Well, if they think they can just cut in line ahead of all us responsible greybeards, they have another thing coming. Damned whippersnappers.

Once the baby is born, he is popped into a baby warmer, a sort of high-tech fry bin with heat lamps that help bring his body temperature up, and he is footprinted, booked, and tagged. He can stay with us the whole time, leaving baby snatchers little opportunity.Anyhoo, the hospital turns out to be a very flexible and not scary place. The doctors are really the ones who decide how the whole birthing thing goes down, while the hospital is more of a staging site for the event, one with the necessary resources to deal with an emergency should one arise but it won’t, they swear, it won’t.

As soon as PL feels her water break or her contractions kick in, she is to call one of the Drs. Garber, who will tell her whether to get over to the fourth floor of the hospital or not. If everything goes as planned, PL and I will not be separated during the whole process.

Patti, to my embarrassment, asks if I have to wear one of those vile scrub suits and was told that I could wear an Armani suit for all they care. The nurse says, “The vagina is not a sterile area, you know” and I reply, “Well, you don’t know my wife,” not knowing what I mean exactly but thinking it sounds sort of Henny Youngmanish and therefore worth sharing.

When they determine that her labor is sufficiently advanced, PL will go into a labor/delivery room which is more like a small suite at the Days Inn than a hospital room, what with all the simulated wooden paneling and cheesy original oil paintings on the wall. The bed is very elaborate: The back rises and falls, and the bottom slides off and two stirrup thingees hinge out. There are also strap-on fetal heart monitors and contraction counters, both of which can be monitored from any other room on the ward.

We’ve booked a private room which costs $200 extra each night (reasonable for a Manhattan hotel) and has room for me to stay over. I ask how the $400-extra deluxe room differs from ours and they tell me it is a wee bit bigger, has a VCR and fridge, and, most of all, costs $400 more.

Once the baby is born, he is popped into a baby warmer, a sort of high-tech fry bin with heat lamps that help bring his body temperature up, and he is footprinted, booked, and tagged. He can stay with us the whole time, leaving baby snatchers little opportunity.

After reading all about these places in our books, it’s a relief to actually see a birthing room for real, to understand the basic mechanics of it for the first time. It’s essentially a matter of opening the hatch, a little shoving, and then you have a kid, natural as apple pie. Patti, however, seems a little shaken after we visit the scene, wondering how grim the whole thing will be. Don’t think I’m being cavalier though; I can’t stand the idea of PL being in pain and pray labor is as smooth and fun as conception was.

Next we visit the nursery and see several surprisingly big and beefy newborns. Some wear little striped ski caps like so many Nirvana fans. We liked one in particular who is lying under a warming lamp, completely flat on his back with an extremely Zen expression and fresh footprint ink on his baby soles. We both feel powerfully drawn to these little babies in a way we’ve never felt before. They are all so sweet and vulnerable. The one with the inky feet seems to be saying to us, “Don’t worry, it’s worth all the worrying and waiting. It is.”

Suddenly I am overwhelmed with impatience, sick of this whole damned endless pregnancy and just wanting our baby already.

PL says, “Seeing as we’re here at the hospital, why don’t we just ask them to induce now so we could have him today?”

Instead, we go out to lunch.


* * *

I take a bunch of Polaroids of PL’s stomach for my mother-in-law. They all turn out to look like crime scene photos or nothing really at all. After seven or eight shots, we give up.


* * *

It’s Memorial Day, and PL has been booked to work on a movie. Miranda and I spend the morning addressing invitations to the baby shower. Pipsi joins us later and tells stories of her own labor and delivery and how she screamed so loudly that the nurse had to tell her she was disturbing the other patients. Pipsi screamed back that she didn’t give a shit. I can’t imagine Pipsi screaming, what the sound would even be like.

Then she gives a typical Pipsi speech about how she had no intention of giving us any gifts for the baby shower, how it violates her deeply held belief system, and how unfair it was of us to press her in it. I point out that none of us had pressed her at all and frankly nobody gave a damn if she gives us anything at all. She made a similar speech when we got married and then showed up with a beautiful ancient Persian rug, so go figure.

Part of her antipathy comes from Ninny’s old taboo about preparing for a baby in case it is still born. But Pipsi also continues to be ambivalent about the baby and to refuse to get enthusiastic about any of our plans, saying Americans make too much of a fuss about it all. She also likes to ride me, telling me time and again that she thinks PL is ambivalent about having a baby and that I am in denial.

To toss fuel on the fire, I tell Pipsi and Miranda about a lovely dream I’d had a couple of days before in which our Israeli cleaning lady showed me how she could slip our baby into her own uterus with ease and we had seen the baby’s face through the thin skin of her stomach. Pipsi immediately said that this dream signified my deep desire for a Jewish mother for the baby. Miranda and I both burst out laughing.

“Of course,” Pipsi protests, “Dorit is Israeli, and you know Gran would prefer if the baby’s mother was Jewish.”

“Oh, for God’s sake. I think of Dorit as our cleaning person, as household help, not as a Jew. And anyway, in the dream, I was hardly enthusiastic about Dorit stuffing my offspring up her quim. I got all panicky and nervous and insisted that she put the baby back where it belonged.” What I didn’t say was that I think if the dream means anything it signifies my conflict between wanting PL to be a liberated woman who can pursue her career, and on the other hand, not wanting to give up the baby to someone else to look after.

As usual, though, Pipsi tries to make her own peculiar point of view the universal one and, also as usual, even though I’m getting gray hairs of my own, I got all hepped up about what my mummy thinks is right and wrong.

When will I ever fucking well grow up?


* * *

We visit our neighbors, Jody and David, and they offer to sell us their crib. Not the kind homies chill in on MTV but something far more hopelessly domestic. Jody tells Patti that she originally had something Victorian but discovered that the government banned all iron cribs with widely spaced bars because the baby was liable to stuff his head through them and garrote himself. They immediately rushed out to buy the $700 Bellini crib which we are now being offered for half price. The crib is nothing special and takes two hands to open, which Consumer Reports has told us in a no-no, because it is impossible to work while holding a sleeping baby. They also have an ugly oak changing table which Jody hastens to defend. She had originally rejected all traditional baby stuff and been very groovy. They had a 1950s chrome and Formica bar to use as a changing table and a handwoven rush basket as a bassinet; then the kid outgrew both pieces and went on to the Dickensian Crib of Death. Now their allegedly formerly chic pad looks like a fire sale at Toys ‘R’ Us, filled with worn plush animals, dented cartons, and a very dull, stained sofa. I’m almost always depressed by other people’s cribs.

We return home, crib-less.


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