My wife returned to work three months after our son was born. She was not in a great hurry to return to the daily grind but 90 days maternity leave is all the Israeli law requires employers to provide. Since both our mothers were still entrenched in the work force and we had no secret Swiss bank accounts/ high paying jobs/offshore accounts in the Cayman Islands/a savings account/blood to sell we were left with several options, none of which were favorable:
Option #1: We could entrust our small bundle of joy in the caring hands of a private nursery and pay anywhere from 3000-4000 NIS a month. This amount was roughly the equivalent of our rent and represented about half of one of our paychecks. Since we didn’t own a car we narrowed down our options to a few nurseries in the immediate neighborhood and made arrangements to visit them.
The first nursery was right behind our house. The two story facility was state-of-the-art and jam packed with toys. D. was in heaven. It was spotless and shiny and smelled like lemons yet it was conspicuously empty. The two nursery assistants gave us the tour and lavished D. with hugs and kisses. When my wife asked why there were no toddlers running around playing they looked at each other and hesitated. Full disclosure. They had been forced to shut down by the city’s sanitation department after several (several!) health code violations. Everything was fine now, they assured us.
They refused to discuss the financials. Instead they directed to us an obese, cigar smoking miscreant in an adjacent office who claimed ownership. He laid out an iron clad, year-long contract and made it abundantly clear that no article in it was negotiable. When my wife’s asthma flared up as a result of the smoke we decided to part ways.
The second nursery was in a dilapidated four story building, the likes of which they no longer construct. She was a kind old lady. A Polish grandmother. She came highly recommended but lived on the fourth floor (no elevator) which made carrying the stroller a Sisyphean undertaking. Besides, several (several!) unmonitored toddlers seemed to be crawling the unwashed floors and eating morsels from various nooks and crannies while S. gave us the tour, intermittently stirring the rather foul smelling chicken soup in the deep steel pots on the stove.
The last nursery was promising. It emphasized a bi-lingual staff but when I called to set up an appointment I was informed that they were booked solid through 2014 and was told that I should have enrolled D. earlier. “Before he was born?” I ask them tongue in cheek. “Yes. A lot of parents plan their pregnancies to coincide with pre-school enrollment.”
Option #2: An au pair or a nanny. This option would have cost about 5000-7000 NIS depending on the amount of hours and work required of Mary Poppins, and would legally entail providing her all the social and medical benefits an employer is owed to their employee. In essence I would be working to support the nanny. Since this was unrealistic financially we were left with one option.
Option #3: My wife or I stay home with D. Now, it is essential that I relate to the reader of this blog some of my fatal personality flaws; I am extremely miserly (or frugal), extremely masochistic and, as it turns out, extremely stupid. Since I have a flexible schedule with an option to work remotely I volunteered to stay at home with D. for the next nine months until we could enroll him in a WIZO subsidized nursery (very limited space but only 1500 NIS). I congratulated myself on the brilliant, cost-effective maneuver and eased in to what I thought would be the simplest, most gratifying nine months of my life. After all, I was patient, resourceful and (so I believed) great with kids.
The transition to frustrated, embittered, fat, sex-deprived desperate housewife was as sharp as a samurai’s sword. Sleep deprived, I would zombie through most days in the park with the gossipy grandmas desperately hoping my phone would ring so I could conduct a ga-ga free two way conversation. Some days I wouldn’t open my mouth for hours. I would frantically time D’s. nap schedule so I could get an hour or two of work done, though by the time he finally fell asleep I was too tired to do anything but eat ice cream and watch Oprah or Ellen. I showered once every few days. Stopped shaving altogether. Changed clothes only when it was absolutely necessary. It didn’t really matter. Everything had stains or holes or didn’t fit anymore anyway. I felt fat. Bloated. My ass was huge. I would get mad at my wife, poor thing, if God Forbid she came home late for dinner. “I slaved over this oven for hours and the least you could do was call to tell me you were going to be late! It’s cold, now!” I would throw the apron in disgust. I would do load after load after load after load of laundry. I cried. I did. In front of my wife even. She was so shocked by it the first time but came to ignore the many emotional outbursts that followed. I started smoking. And drinking. At night in the beginning but gradually earlier and earlier. It was the lowest I had ever sunk in my life. I was clinically depressed. I was so overwhelmed by self pity, doubt, regret that I never once stopped to appreciate the unique, once in a lifetime opportunity that had completely slipped past me. It took me years to recover from this adventure.
A few months ago I met up with an old contact I hadn’t seen in years. He had a son roughly the same age as D. He told me that he had been ascending the ranks at one of Israel’s most prominent High Tech companies. He leaves for work at six am and comes back at eleven pm. He only sees his son on the weekends and had missed many of the milestones but he and his wife just bought a new house and were getting ready to vacation in Thailand. As he went on and on about his accomplishments (his new car, new phone, new watch) I couldn’t help but think how fortunate I was to have witnessed with my own bloodshot eyes my son’s first smile and laugh. His first steps and his first words. As hard as those nine months were, they were the most gratifying days of my life. As we were getting ready to part ways he told me that his wife was pregnant and asked me when we were planning on having another one. “When we can afford it.” I said and walked away.