Why Josh Gilbert Still Can’t Have It All (Or: The Baby Formula Taste Test)

Why is this man smiling?

“Is it still happening?” I asked. “Are you still on your own?”

“No,” he said, “She’s back.” He sounded happy about this but not overjoyed. I had thought he would sound like  the weight of the world had been taken off his shoulders. His wife had been on a work trip abroad and he had a solid week of solo parenting of his two month old son.

“How was it?” I asked. I hadn’t spoken to him since the start of the week, when he had sent some pictures.

Josh is a film maker. He has a knack for images.  In the photograohs his son looks like a wise old Mayan King, or maybe like a boxer.

“It was really nice, actually,” said Josh. “We had a really good time.”

“You sound remarkably peaceful,” I said.

“It was very peaceful in a way. Sometimes when he would fall asleep on my stomach or my chest, I would just zonk out. It was incredible. It was actually like a healing process, somehow. And when we go into town, forget it, he’s a celebrity in this town now.”

“You both are. People can never get enough of a dad with a little baby, doing it on his own. And that’s for an hour. You were out there on your own for a week. What did you did you guys do all week?”

“All of the major things,” said Josh. “Eating, sleeping, pooing. A lot of eating. Man, that boy can eat. I want to do a taste test. Like, on the street or in a supermarket. Like those old commercials. Earth First Organic, Gerber’s Baby formula, homemade baby food… Just to see which one people think tastes best. I mean, I know which one I think tastes best.”

“You tasted his baby formula?”

“Totally. I wanted to know how it tasted. Actually it tastes pretty good. In fact now and then I’d just have a little for myself.”

I paused at this, wondering if my friend’s unusual state of serenity was in fact a sign he had gone mad during his 24/7, 7 day stretch of baby duty.

“You realize that you what you did is heroic,” I said.  “I mean, an entire week alone with a two month old baby. You are in the top one percent, no, the top .5 percent of dad in terms of skill and stamina.”

“It helps to be unemployed.”

“That’s not how I would describe you.”

“How would you describe me?”

“You are in between projects.” Josh has worked on Hollywood scripts and made an acclaimed documentary (about an astonishingly nefarious manipulative creep who pretends to be a very mellow, jolly, dim stoned guy, really the most famous jolly but dim stoned guy of all time, you do the math), but he gets down when things are not percolating, as does everyone.

“I need to make money,” he said.

“You need to do your real work,” I said. “If you do the work you want to do, then your having done your real work will lead to things that make money. I’ve told you that.”

“That’s great advice. I’ve been meditating on it. But it’s just hard to put it into practice.”

“The funny thing is you are kind of in the Anne-Marie Slaughter zone. Can you work and take care of the baby at the same time?”


“Did you read that article or generally hear about the media frenzy?” I said. Then, before I could continue, I said, “Of course you didn’t read that article or hear about it! You have been taking care of a two month old baby all by yourself for a week! You’ve been in a bubble! You’ve been in the mommy bubble!”

“You’re right, it is a bubble!”

“You should write about it,” I said. Ever since I stopped editing a literary magazine, I swore to myself to not encourage everyone in the world to get their work done, and be more selfish and get my work done. Josh is a special case.

“Right now the work I want to do is a short video of a taste test on the street,” said Josh. “Gerber’s, Earth First, Homemade baby food. Asking people to taste all three, blind, and saying which they think tastes best. In fact will you participate? Will you pretend to be a wall street type in a suit?”

“Why do you need me to pretend anything? It’s a great idea. Just set up a little stand, ask people, shoot the whole thing. I’ll be your cameraman. Even if you just get a couple it will be great.”

“Yeah,” he said, drifting. He’s done a few of these video vignettes. They are really good. But now I could hear the enthusiasm and energy begin to dissolve upon coming into contact with reality, like a snow man in the sun.. Then he became very animated again and said, “But wait! How do I clean the bottle?”

“What bottle?”

“The bottle they drink from for the taste test.”

“They don’t need a bottle,” I said. “Just pour the it into Dixie cups. Or clear plastic cups, like they did on those ‘is it Coke or is Pepsi?’ taste challenges.”

“No, no, they need to drink from the bottle to get the true experience…. Oh, I know, I could change the nipple for each taste test!”

“You want them to suck on a nipple on the street?”

“Yes!” he yelled.

“That is crazy,” I said. “No one is going to stand on a street sucking a nipple.”

“They have to suck nipple!” He was excited again. He was picturing it.

I was picturing it, too. I hope he shoots it. He is so good good at these street scenes, the found moments.  In fact I have written this all down as a dare, a prod, a document of this fleeting firefly of an idea. And when do you see the fireflies? At dusk, when everything is fading to black and getting spooky. Freud remarked that writing, for him, was always inspired, in part, by melancholy. I wanted to communicate this to Josh–but I withheld. Not out of ungenerosity, but self preservation. I did what I could. Is that enough? The very question is passive aggressive.

That’s what these fleeting moments of inspiration are—a blink of light, a spark, often set against a kind of fading to dark feeling. You either get the firefly in the bottle or you don’t.

Whether the bottle  has a nipple on it  – what would Freud say?  – is a whole other matter.


Recent stories on The Examined Life:

Anne-Marie Slaughter on Having It All: Part 2

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