So, you want to peek inside a baby-boomer's cocoon? Step right this way.
Well before my wife's labor contractions started, we began serious preparations for a two-month stint of concentrated cocooning, the resurgent homing instinct first labeled by New York trend-spotter Faith Popcorn.
Cocooning, Popcorn told a Times reporter earlier this year, is "a rapidly accelerating trend toward insulating oneself from the harsh realities of the outside world and building the perfect environment to reflect one's personal needs and fantasies." She first observed the home-focused phenomenon in late 1984 and said she expected it to continue for another three years, at least, paralleling the "mini-boom" childbearing cycle of the baby-boom generation.
Frankly, we had few harsh realities to insulate ourselves against. Our interest was more in spending time with our first child than in creating a perfect environment, and we soon found that baby preparedness is a lot like earthquake preparedness. We stockpiled reference books, sweat clothes, our favorite convenience foods, lots of pillows and, in almost every room, a piece of furniture that rocked--although for us the latter required bringing in some patio furniture.
I arranged to use accumulated vacation time for a two-month leave, and my wife stopped accepting free-lance photography assignments. Months in advance, we hired a contractor to enlarge our modest nest with a nursery, deck and carport, with a guarantee that the work would be completed weeks before my wife's due date. Our income tax preparer agreed to make a house call, and I even persuaded a friendly Santa Ana home computer salesman to come to our house to set up my first system.
No social butterflies to begin with, our greatest concern before entering the cocoon full time was that we would be cut off from the culture, as well as from our small circle of friends. Since American culture, such as it is, is largely a function of television and the movies, we gorged ourselves on newly released movies, scoped out local videotape rental stores and signed up for cable TV.
The transition from the world outside to the world inside was relatively easy. It helped, I suppose, that those early weeks coincided with a period of rain and wind storms, gray skies and cold weather, making us even more content to cuddle together in our cozy home.
Of course, not everything worked out as planned. The construction is still not complete, and the word processor was not as "user-friendly" as I had hoped. As many of our friends warned us, even without having to go to work each day, a new baby left us with little time to think about anything but child care in the first few weeks after bringing our son home from the hospital.
One of the first things we learned was how to eat fast and with one hand. But we also found that just because your hands are full your mind doesn't have to be empty. With less time for newspapers, magazines or books, we could still watch Cable News Network from a rocking chair, regardless of the hour, with or without headphones. For the more engaged, KCRW-FM radio begins broadcasting its highbrow "Morning Edition" at 3 a.m. at 89.9, and the afternoon "All Things Considered" begins the first of several cycles at 3:30 p.m. on CPCC-FM at 89.3 and on KCRW from 4 to 7 p.m.
With no jobs to go to, we tried to adjust our sleep cycles to the baby's, modifying our natural circadian rhythms. We enjoyed the luxury of not having to dress, or at least not having to dress up each day, and in my case to shave. Neither of us missed the daily feel of wheels on concrete beneath our feet. Halfway through the cocooning, we began to lose track of what day of the week it was, with only television shows and the weight of the Sunday newspaper to remind us.
So we began to venture outside, at first mostly on foot and in stroller for short walks. Later, we became bolder, taking our son to movies at MainPlace in Santa Ana and in Huntington Beach. We took out a family membership in a Fountain Valley health club and visited our favorite delicatessen in Los Alamitos.
But a strange thing happened--almost the opposite of cabin fever. When we had errands to do, with or without our son, we tended to group them together, to minimize our time away from home and each other. When we ventured out with the baby, to the movies, the restaurant or the health club, we tended to choose less busy times like weekday mid-mornings or early afternoons, to avoid encountering other people. If the baby seemed fussy on the way to eat, we would automatically go to the takeout counter.
There were any number of unexpected benefits and drawbacks to life in the cocoon. Friends-- even from as far away as LOS ANGELES!--seemed much more inclined to drive down for a visit, at least with the baby as bait. On the other hand, eating almost all of our meals at home, we accumulated a lot of garbage. And, as people in competitive professions, both of us felt some concern about losing our place at work as a result of our stay at home.
After two months I was about ready to get back to work, although I still feel a wrenching when I leave each morning, and I hurry to get home in the evening (often stopping to pick up pizza or Chinese food) before the baby goes to sleep for the night.
My wife decided to stay at home for another month or two before returning to work part time. Since then, we have continued to live a modified cocoon existence, staying at home most evenings but strolling around the neighborhood during the day. We try to keep the weekends clear to be together. Last week we all traveled in a moving cocoon--a jet--to a family wedding in Florida with no untoward results.
Looking back, I have no regrets about the experience. Whether or not all this time together enabled my son and I to "bond," as the psychologists say, I don't know. It was fun and satisfying and I wouldn't trade it for anything.
Mark I. Pinsky, who covers religion for The Times, lives in Long Beach. His son, Asher, is now 15 weeks old.