Early last week my son figured out how to say the word “dog.” Well, really it’s more like “DUUUUUGHDHGH” or sometimes “DUUUHEEEEE” (“doggie”) but it’s easy to tell by his boisterous attempts to strangle our poor mutt what he’s going for.
He chases the creature around the room, dragging himself forward by his arms Lt. Dan style, squealing and laughing at the game which he is forcing on his four legged friend. Every minute or so she settles down, but he’s on her in moments, trying to grab her ears or eat her nose. Finally, after a few attempts at fending him off, she’ll settle down with a huff of resignation and reward him with a lick on his bald Charlie Brown head.
My elder (by 50 seconds) daughter loves to dance. She dances when she’s laying on her back, she dances when she’s trying to crawl, and she dances when she’s standing on your lap.
As soon as she hears music she starts bending her legs, bobbing her tiny head and swaying from left to right like a scarecrow in the wind. She is not graceful, nor is she rhythmic, but she loves to dance. If you dance with her, she will smile so large that her eyes almost disappear into her chubby face, she’ll start patting your arm with surprisingly regular rhythm, and she will love you forever.
My younger daughter finds the most mundane objects incredibly absorbing. Her ability to manipulate small objects with her miniature fingers is the envy of every craftsman, and she loves to inspect every seam, corner, and texture of her toys.
She loves to sit on my shoulders and comb her fingers gently through my hair, and sometimes, just to keep me on my toes, gives my beard a yank that almost tosses me to the floor. She points with great seriousness and deliberation. She wants to know what paper is made of. She doesn’t like how Christmas Trees taste, but she likes how the needles feel. She’s really into petting her brother’s downy head right now.
The part where I learn that time isn’t a straight line:
Time is weird. Everyone talks about time using the “hill” metaphor; first you go up, then you peak, then it’s downhill. The uphill part is slow, and the downhill part is fast. Even though time is one of the most boringly consistent things we could ever encounter it somehow seems so elastic, so fast and slow based on how we fill it. Time is a balloon, and our efforts are the gas that fills it. Now that I’m an adult, it never seems like I have “enough time”, and spend most of my day “finishing what I’m working on” so that I can get to the next thing. Finish designing that site so you can design the next one. Finish that book so you can start the next one. Finish that album so you can release it and be done. Finish the yard so you can plant that garden, so your plants can grow, so you can cook them and eat them, and then be done.
I remember in college my roommate and fellow theoretical malcontent Nathan would spend every Thursday night outside. We’d start the evening watching a movie from “The List,” a handwritten tome we had taped to a closet door, a guide to films that we should see while we were still young and bright-eyed. Once the TV had been turned off and our various guests had straggled home we made our way to the parking lot, where we would sprawl on the hood of my car and smoke terrible cigars while staring at what passes as stars in the middle of the city. We’d talk about the movie, and about life, and art, and sometimes girls. Just catch up, and wonder where we were going. Time seemed slow then. There was nothing ahead of us, nothing behind us. Just right then.
These days, I find myself thinking more and more about moments like that, as I watch my kids start to explore their environment. Brows furrowed, they try endlessly to crawl, to figure out how to clap their hands, or to stack blocks without knocking them over. These are moments. Time is a series of dots, of these moments. Not a fishing line, reeling us helplessly to our demise through a torpid ocean that we barely understand. Time is a constellation.
It occurred to me over the weekend as I watched the kids engaged in these various pursuits how little they understood the idea of “completeness.” They didn’t care when they were finished. They don’t understand the word finished. They can’t define success, or fear failure. They’re just doing what they’re doing at that moment. Stars.
That’s the first thing I’ve learned from my kids.
The part where I learn you are who you are:
This part is short, because now, in retrospect, it should be perfectly obvious. My wife read me a National Geographic article the other day about twins, and the extent to which nature influences their development, vs. nurture. While of course the environment in which a child is raised has a profound impact on his or her development, who a child essentially is seems to largely be in place from the cradle. As I alluded to earlier, I think a lot of new parents either live in fear that becoming a parent will “change” them or their partner, or, in the converse, place unrealistic expectations on their partners to change once the kid comes. Of course, some adaptation is necessary; if you come home from work and immediately turn on ESPN or go out with friends 3 nights a week then there’s probably some evaluation that needs to happen. But the fact is, whatever you valued before you become a parent is what you’ll value afterwards. For me, my concerns were wrapped up in how having three kids would affect my ability to be creative, and how my priorities in that area would shift. Would I still have the energy to think of and write down weird, abstract ideas in my sketchbook, or would I be spending that time changing 15 diapers? Would I still have time to play Paddock shows, would I even WANT to play shows, or would I slowly spiral into a gradually more exhausted husk of a man who really just wanted some “down time” where I could watch X-Files reruns in sweatpants?
What I’ve realized is that if something is important to you, if it’s built into your worldview and how you approach life, you’re stuck with it. If you have a desire to create, a desire to reflect, then the way you parent will function through that lens. As my wife recently told me, “I’ve learned that having kids doesn’t change who you are, it just means you have to work harder at some things.” How we interact with our kids is simply a facet of how we interact with the world. A lot of people get that backwards, I think. Being a parent is a very important and rewarding, but ultimately individual, piece of the complex system that each of us are.
We are puzzles, we are atoms.
On embracing the isolation of experience, and not feeling lonely:
When the kids wake up, they usually wake up one at a time. First we’ll be wrested from our slumber by the gentle warble of a single voice (usually the boy, who apparently has inherited his father’s tendency towards sleep disorders), who will sing for 10-15 minutes before we hear another voice chime in, this one a bit more contentious and annoyed (the girls have apparently inherited their mother’s desire to sleep without being woken up by annoying boys) followed by a third. We know that once all three are awake it’s time to gather the troops, and prepare to storm the barracks as a united force. Usually we’ll stand outside their door for a minute, rubbing sleep from our eyes, until one of us says “ready?”
We open the door quickly, and as soon as the kids notice our presence a wail like you’ve never heard bursts towards the rafters, each kid clamoring to be the first one picked up, each stating their case with a vehemence that is surprising for such tiny humans. Christina and I each grab one, leaving the third to be eaten by some sort of terrible crib monster (I assume, by his/her reaction) and scuttle them into the living room for feeding. As soon as one of the lucky two are settled in with a bottle we rescue the third one, sticking a bottle in his (usually) mouth, saving him from starvation in the nick of time.
Now, let’s count those babies. One. Two. Three. There are three babies, and two parents in the living room now, all laying on the floor in various states of disrepair.
The fact is, this is not a normal state of being. Most new parents will never experience this reality, and I’ve found that it’s important for me to remember that. The very nature of our experience separates us on some level not only from our single friends (who make up the majority at this point), but also from our married friends, and even from those parents who have a single kid. It doesn’t really have to do with the level of difficulty of having three kids; quite frankly, our kids all put together probably add up to one kind of barely-not-easy kid. It just has to do with the fact that there are three of them. There are things we just can’t do right now. There are places we can’t go, things we can’t spend money on. We can’t live in a loft in the city. We can’t drive to Austin on a whim for a show. We can’t own a Mazda Miata.
But that’s okay. Because we have three kids.
I don’t really feel the need to speak specifically to my relationship with Christina here, because frankly, it’s been awesome. It’s never been better. We are heart-bonded collaborators. But dads: don’t take your lady for granted. Your life change most likely pales in comparison to hers, and she needs support at every step. I feel strongly about this. Email me
if you want to talk more about this topic.
It’s difficult to not feel isolated in a situation like this. It’s difficult to have reciprocal relationships that grow when it’s even hard to find time to cook anything more complex than a turkey sandwich for dinner. Relationships take time. Relationships take energy. For the past 10 months Christina and I have had a lot of discussions about struggles we’ve had relationally with others, and how easy it is to feel disconnected from a world that has very little understanding about what it’s like to be you. There really isn’t an easy answer to this one. I’m still figuring it out.
Really, all I can do right now is figure out how to be okay with understanding the weird uniqueness of our situation, and take joy in the everyday, even if that means forming relationships outside of my family will be harder. This loops back to my thoughts on time, and how life is made up of moments. When I can, I want to use moments to connect and collaborate with others in a meaningful way, but those moments might just be further apart than they used to be, like a really well-skipped rock, periodically touching the surface of the water lightly as it travels on its journey. Those ripples are connections, and are imperative, but just different for me now than they have been before. Like a sunset, or maybe a sunrise.
On adventure, story, and regaining imagination:
I feel like this part of the post is a lot less about story than the first half was. I think that stories exist to give us context for reflection, a gently rippling heat wave that can serve as a mirror, something that interacts with our perceptions in a way that, together, create a painting in motion that we can somehow understand. When I think back on this year, I remember everything in vignettes, bits and pieces of fading, static sensations. I remember the icy road leading to the hospital early in Christina’s stay. I remember the questionable sushi from the cafeteria, and the sound of the light rail that passed right outside her window. I remember her struggle getting in and out of bed. I remember listening to their heartbeats twice a day, always with an elevated pulse of my own, never knowing what to expect. I remember tiny little fingers, and the first time they were wrapped around mine. Hiccups. Fake baby smiles. Crying, lots of crying. Late-night bottles and the constant hum of battery-powered swings. Then, finally, laughing. Recognition. Slowly, reaching for my face, fingers entangled in my beard. Playing with toys. Rolling over, then sitting up, then jabbering and teeth. Crawling. Standing.
Every moment is a snapshot leading to the next.
Christina and I talk often about how we want our kids to be adventurous. We want them to live lives that are worth retelling, and every day it hits home that it starts with us. This brings me to what my kids are teaching me today; that every day is new, and every day is an adventure. One side effect of having triplets it that there is no mundane. There is no coasting. Everything is pedaling, and everything is uphill. What I’ve learned to realize is that the most exciting part of the journey is the climb, even if it’s the hardest.
In summation, where my thoughts drift and I end poorly:
The challenge we’ve set for ourselves as parents is not easy. We’ve tried to nudge ourselves and our children onto a path of exploration, one that avoids the net of conventionality and ease, one that gives them a chance to make a path and understand their place. I’ve realized that it’s the very fact that we were pulled so suddenly out of our Normal into this world of Weird that has given us the freedom to relax, and know that nothing we do from here on out is “the normal way,” which just reinforces that we can approach everything creatively, with imagination. That’s what happens when it seems like you’re living in a surreal dream most of the time; a waking life where you can fly if you think about it hard enough, or eat as many cookies as you want and not get fat.
Or have three babies all at the same time. I think I’ll choose that one.
Time to turn the page I guess.