One Dad's Two-Month Paternity Leave

November 3: Day 1

I'm starting my leave with a list of 16 or 17 things to do, almost none of which are Audrey-related. Staying at home -- whether you're a mom or a dad, it seems -- has as much to do with housework as it does with parenting. I know I have laundry to do, I'll have to go to the supermarket, and I'll have to cook dinner. I hate all of those things. Resigned, I open Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything -- a sensational beginner's book -- and choose turkey chili.

The first thing I do as I leave for the supermarket with Audrey is lock us out. Oops. Luckily, my neighbor has keys and lets me in. Take two: Audrey and I make it through the market, but just as we reach the front of the checkout line, I discover I've left my wallet at home. Back to the house we go. Clearly, I'm a little nervous, wondering how long it will be until she starts bawling or -- my big fear here -- finds out she's being cared for by a complete amateur.

My first real parenting dilemma surfaces a little after 2 p.m. I realize that Audrey napped for only 45 minutes in the morning. She doesn't seem interested in napping now. Do I push a nap on her or toss her in the stroller and visit my friend Dorre, a mom on maternity leave with her 6-week-old, and risk bringing a cranky, overtired baby into a house that's already filled to the brim with cranky, overtired people?

I decide to brave the journey and grab my wife's diaper bag, only to discover that it doesn't really fit me; it's built for smaller shoulders. So I grab a backpack and stuff the diaper bag inside it, the makings of a new system. Audrey sleeps 30 minutes or so on the way to Dorre's and is happy during the visit.

We get home just before Audrey's bedtime. She's not cranky in the least and falls asleep easily. My decision appeared to be all right, which is good, because I have no prayer of even thinking about cooking until Audrey is asleep. When Kirsten comes home a bit dazed from reentering the working world, she gives me high marks for the chili, but admits she's sad that Audrey isn't awake. "I wanted to cuddle her at work," she says, "but I couldn't."

I, however, feel like a hero. I handled my first day with aplomb. Then Audrey wakes up crying. Maybe she's overtired? My decision doesn't seem so great after all. Kirsten gets to cuddle her all she wants now, but I am puzzled, trying to find an explanation as to why Audrey's up. Then I realize that there may be no explanation at all.

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