Baby Fever



Neighborhood: Cobble Hill

Baby Fever
Photo by Beth Darbyshire

My wife and I live on the ground floor of a brownstone in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill. Freak luck. I’d never last the brutal NYC housing quest, let alone land in such a choice spot. But just when we resolved to move out of my brother’s spare matchbox bedroom years back, a friend with connections gave us an inside line on the apartment.

And so in one of those storied New York miracles, we stumbled smack into a dream rental: affable family upstairs, a quiet apartment for us, plus a patio with forking birches, even tugboats hooting atmospherically in the harbor. There are a couple small hitches. The place is a bit on the dark side, but it feels protected, like a cozy bunker. And hopped-up little birds brawl in the quince bush just outside the bedroom window, always when you need to sleep a load off. And the butcher around the corner is irresistible, no matter the cost, financial or colorectal.

And the neighborhood is heinously procreative; a mother lode of babies. Every man, woman, and child appears at one end of a harness or the other, with babies strapped to the babies dangling from baby-bandoliers. Visitors think Cobble Hill is a designated breeding zone or tyke quarantine, where the city sends children for spoiling and fattening.

The profusion of babies has taken a toll on the place. The curated cafes have become romping rooms, the airier bars a forum for new parent support groups, kid-friendly eateries replace restaurants, boutiques hock elasticated waistlines, papooses, Brooklyn-themed onesies, and toys fashioned from old growth mahogany and beeswax. Family dentists, tutoring centers, post partum yoga studios and pediatricians wage an internecine turf war. The mind swims to consider the megatonnage of diapers the zipcode cranks out daily.

There are as many strollers choking our streets as mopeds in Hanoi. And the Razor scooters! I regularly see whole families coasting in formation down the sidewalk, parents serenely following their clattering offspring. Helmeted goose, padded gander, and gawky goslings, each more grievous than the next.

Is there a saturation point? A baby ceiling? It seems not. And no Pied Piper of Hamelin is coming to town to correct the situation. But then, rather than bellyache, shouldn’t I cash in on the commercial opportunities? Among the lords and ladies of Cobble Hill, wet nurses would go like hot crossed buns. But my talents don’t run in that direction.

Sometimes, made brave and worldly by gin, I think I can handle fatherhood and its ennobling toil. But then morning comes, and babies just seem a drag, their grabby future a worry, their all-importance a torment. I’ve never seen a Dad in midstream with tots and thought, damn, that’s the tits. I might not have kids but I certainly don’t feel like a have-not.

And just when I’m really hitting my mid-thirties stride, getting good at balancing dinner parties, streaming movies, and hungover racquet sports, adulthood intrudes. My wife and I are in the thick of our baby-making years and tolerable candidates for the role, give or take. But am I ready to go from Cobble Hill pariah to child-toting poster-child?

I dread kids, but can’t say I actively despise them. There’s also the fear that if I embrace childlessness too fervidly, the fates will punish me by refusing me the cretins altogether. Let’s be honest. I’ll be 36 next year, wait much longer my stones might conk out. I quail to say it, but it’s high time to bite the bullet and spawn. High time we join that trail of tears leading to the swings, the junglegym, the scooter depot. Gone the sport, books, slumber and conversation; cue the pointless strolls, the terminal chores, the provider anxiety.

At bottom, I want kids. In about 20 years. Or I want to have had some when I’m old and moribund and taking stock of my life. I’m sure that nothing ultimately compares to parenthood and perpetuating the line. I mean, even Bill Clinton calls Chelsea his greatest accomplishment, and that guy played saxophone on Arsenio Hall.

Unlike Slick Willy, I don’t have an engrossing or high-stakes calling to redeem my existence. I will not be sacrificing great art or good works to fatherhood. When my childless life is over, all its consuming frivolities banished, the loss will be in terms of pipe-dreams, solitude and hedonism.

Therefore, strangely, my mediocrity demands progeny. If I’m just navelgazing, might as well be a son’s or daughter’s rather than my own linty nest. But for the fleeting meantime, I will revel in being a have-not, sitting late at night by the birches and sleeping it off through mid-morning, ears plugged to the warring birds, eyes shut tight to the diapered goblins.

Samuel Howard is a reporter (for Law360, a legal newswire) in NYC, eager for a sideline.

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