I guess it’s become my tradition on the weekend to pull from the “mailbag” and post a response to an interesting email from the week. I thought I’d switch it up this time around and go with something that isn’t nasty, vulgar hate mail.
This guy is a future father of twins, and so I feel a certain camaraderie with him:
Sorry, I don’t mean to bug you. I know you are very busy and probably get a lot of email (that’s an understatement lol). Anyways, I found out a few weeks ago that my wife is having twins! Yeah, pretty crazy but I’m really excited. I’ve been reading your blog for a long time even back before your blog was famous. I know you have twins also and so I thought I’d reach out to see if you had any advice to give me?
Can you tell me about you experience as a father of twins? People only ever tell me nice little things and they make it seem like it will be the easiest thing in the world. Give it to me straight. What was the hardest or worst moment as a parent for you so far? Is it the fact that you don’t have any freedom anymore? My friends without kids are always going on trips and vacations and now they sort of make fun of me that that’s over for me now. So I’m just curious if you can tell me what you’ve been through?
Anyway, if you use this on your blog just don’t include my email address please. Thanks man! Love your stuff!
This scene occurred about three months ago:
It was ten at night, my wife had just finished breastfeeding and she looked exhausted. I told her to get in bed and get some sleep. I said I’d stay out in the living room with the babies. See, for the first few weeks after the kids were born, we had various family members coming in to help. But they were all gone and we were on our own finally. My wife reluctantly took me up on my offer, and now this would be my first long stretch of time handling the kids alone. Well, I wasn’t alone in the house, but I was alone in the room, which seemed like a significant step.
I had it all worked out. How hard could it be to take care of two infants for a few hours? I’m bigger, smarter, faster, stronger, I have the ability to walk and speak; the deck is stacked in my favor, I figured. I had a plan: put a sleeping Luke and a sleeping Julia in their little swing thingamajigs, then sit on the couch with a beer and watch the History Channel. Wife sleeps, babies sleep, I relax — everybody wins. Perfect plan. What’s wrong with that plan? Nothing. Nothing should be wrong with it. It was a good plan.
Things started to go downhill rather immediately. In fact, as soon as I plopped on the sofa, took one sip of my favorite stout, and let out a relaxed “ahhh” sound, Julia decided to voice her displeasure with the evening’s agenda. Alright, put down the beer, pick up the kid. She stopped crying right away; I guess she just wanted Dad to hold her. Very sweet. Melted my heart. Then Luke chimed in. Ok, put down Julia, pick up Luke. He stops crying. Cue Julia. Ok, pick up both of them. I don’t know why they wanted out of their swings in the first place. I mean, these are really cool swings. The seats vibrate, it plays music; they’ve got, like, mobiles of fish or giraffes or whatever dangling above. I’d love to sit in a swing like that. You have to pay 3 grand at Brookstone for the adult equivalent of something like this. Anyway, good luck explaining that to newborns — Lord knows, I tried.
So I’m holding them both. The beer is a lost cause. It’s losing carbonation by the second. It’s gone, Matt, let it go. Let it go. You had a long day at work and all you want is some peace and quiet? Too bad, bud. The babies don’t care. I resign myself to this reality, and I smile as I hold both of my children close to me. Suddenly, the tender moment is interrupted by the angelic sounds of Luke crapping himself. Oh wonderful, it’s leaking out of his diaper and getting on my arm. Man, it’s everywhere. Good thing he’s my kid because I usually wouldn’t tolerate being covered in other people’s excrement. Julia must have been inspired because she decided to take a bathroom break as well. Fine, hey, when nature calls, right? Put them both down, take off their diapers — where are the new diapers? Now the babies are screaming again. Hold your horses, kids; Daddy’s gotta run and find the diapers and the wipes. Where does she keep them? Where are the diapers?! The clock is ticking — oh no, he’s peeing on the carpet. Oh hell, Julia is still pooping. Pooping on the carpet. Hold it, kids, just hold it! Screaming and peeing and pooping; it’s chaos. WHERE ARE THE DIAPERS? GOD HELP ME, I’M GONNA CRY. Oh, they’re right here in this basket labeled “diapers.” Ok, change both of them. Damn it, I put Luke’s on backwards. Fine. That’s fine. Whatever.
Whew. Both kids changed, poop cleaned off of me and the kids, the sewage on the floor will dry eventually. The carpet is brown anyway, so no harm no foul. The babies aren’t crying anymore, thank goodness. I’m sweating and I’m out of breath, but it looks like all is finally quiet on the Walsh Family front. Oh look, Pawn Stars is on and someone’s trying to sell John Wayne’s autographed boxer shorts or something for a million dollars. This will be interesting to watch. Never mind, Julia starts screaming again. Best I can tell, she’s upset that she keeps hitting herself in the face with her own hand like a mental patient. I tried to address the issue verbally, using my conflict resolution skills. “Julia, that’s your hand and that’s your face, stop making the two collide.” No luck, she’s not listening. Ok, put Luke down and give her the straightjacket swaddle. But now Luke is crying; I think he’s gassy. Next thing I know, I’m wrapping Julia in a blanket with my left hand while burping Luke with my right. Oh Jesus save me, now they’re both screaming like banshees. I can’t hold them both and burp them at the same time. Let me try to lay them on my knees and pat th– oh crap, Julia almost fell out of my lap. GOD, SHE COULD HAVE BEEN SERIOUSLY INJURED. I’M A BAD FATHER.
They’re still screaming. What can I do? What do you want, babies? TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT AND I’LL GIVE IT TO YOU. They aren’t hungry, they aren’t gassy, I just changed them. Why are they crying? Do babies cry for no reason? Where’s Alissa’s baby books? Let me look that up. Never mind, it’s no use. Please babies, stop crying. HAVE MERCY ON ME.
And so far, exactly 13 minutes had passed since my wife went to bed.
Finally, after two hours, I brought the kids back to my wife for their next breastfeeding session. She got one look at me and she could tell I was frazzled and beaten. They broke me. They broke me in like an old baseball glove. First round knock out; there was no getting around it. As my wife started to feed them, I went back out into the living room and, simply out of principle, I drank my flat, warm beer. I realized I still had some poop on my arm, but I didn’t care. I just sat there with my room temperature beer and my poopy arms, and I laughed, because what else can you do?
I don’t know if this is the WORST you can expect, Kevin, but I imagine you’ll have a similar story soon enough. The learning curve is tough, but you catch on much more quickly than you think you will, especially with twins. I still have a long way to go, but I’m happy to report that I’ve since taken care of the babies individually many times, and they haven’t again gotten the best of me to that extent. I’m not the Parenting Superhero that my wife is, but I do my damndest. I like to think I’m an asset, at the very least.
I know you don’t want anyone to blow sunshine in your face, but I also don’t want to paint my parenting experience to be nothing but one poop-covered disaster after another. The problem is that anyone can easily describe the stressful things; the good things, on the other hand, are much more difficult to illustrate. Difficult only because they’re so deep and transcendent and immeasurable. I can tell you about the love, and the joy, and the beauty, but even those words fail to contain how I feel about my children. After all, I’ve used “love” when discussing my favorite steakhouse, and “joy” when talking about the Ravens winning the Superbowl last year, and I even said “that was a beauty” yesterday when I successfully banked a ball of paper off the wall and into the trashcan from halfway across the room. I’ve wasted all of these words on food and sports, and now I’m left with nothing in the English language that can even come close to communicating what it means to me to be a father.
I can tell you that what people say about “losing your freedom” is bull crap. We’ve got a pathetically shallow notion of freedom in this country, and that’s perfectly reflected by this common claim that you lose it when you have kids. Sure, if “freedom” is merely “the ability to go places and do things with minimal hassle,” then, yeah, you’ve lost that. You haven’t lost it permanently, but for a good long while. This is a flimsy, flat, flaccid view of freedom. I believe there’s more to being “free” than vacations and financial flexibility. I’ve seen both sides of this; I lived completely alone for the first half of my twenties, so I know about this sort of freedom. I know about it, and I can honestly tell you that I feel more free now than I ever have before. If I didn’t have a family, I could go on a cruise, or move to Vegas, or see Paris if I so desired. In fact, I could go pretty much anywhere on the globe. But I’d only be “free” to travel laterally. Now, I can travel deeper. I’m free to go deeper into human existence and experience things that are much more life changing, enriching, transformative and exciting than a thousand vacations to a thousand exotic locations. The greatest freedom we have as human beings is the freedom to change. I’m not talking about changing the scenery, I’m talking about changing ourselves. Having children is TRULY life changing; having free time is not. This is not meant to be an attack on people without kids and spouses; I’m just clarifying a point. They are not more free than you.
Real freedom comes only from love. When you have your kids, you will have a love that you’ve never before experienced, and never could have experienced, and that will be the truest sort of freedom.
And that’s about all I can tell you, man. I’m sorry to disappoint you. I can tell you about my limited experiences, and I can offer my meager insight, for whatever it’s worth. But I can’t give you any advice. I mean, I CAN give advice, but I won’t. I don’t think I’m quite credentialed enough to start writing parenting advice columns. Maybe after I build my Daddy Resume a little more, but right now I’m just too raw. I’m a rookie, Kevin. I’m only four months into this thing. I can’t tell you how to climb a mountain when I’m still six feet from the base myself. Besides, giving parenting advice is a lot of responsibility and pressure. What if I give the wrong suggestions, and you follow them, and because of my bad advice your kids grow up to be drug dealers, or terrorists, or ventriloquists or something? I can’t walk around with that guilt on my shoulders.
Don’t worry, there are plenty of people out there who will be MORE than willing to give out parenting advice. Pretty much anyone, actually — parents, non-parents, politicians — they’ve all got ideas as to how you should raise your child. Just walk into a room and say “I’m going to be a parent,” and immediately the Peanut Gallery will rappel down from the ceiling, climb in through the air ducts, break down the doors, and swarm around you to give a billion different conflicting perspectives on how you should handle every single solitary aspect of parenting.
We are a society short on wisdom but flush with advice. We’ve got a scarcity of knowledge and understanding, but a surplus of “this is how you should do it” opinions. I recently went to a bookstore looking for a particular book by a theologian named Dietrich von Hildebrand. Much to my surprise, the store didn’t have a theology section — but it did have five rows of advice and “self-help” books. As a matter of fact, it didn’t have any shelves dedicated to astronomy or poetry or philosophy, either. But it had advice. Lots and lots of advice.
Far be it for me to add my paltry voice to that dog-pile.
The only advice I will give is this: be careful whose advice you heed. Just because somebody is a parent doesn’t mean they have any business teaching a class on the subject. Similarly, just because you own a car doesn’t mean I should necessarily ask you how to fix my transmission. You don’t have to be a mechanic to simply acquire an automobile, and you don’t have to be a competent parent to reproduce. Personally, in whatever arena of my life — parenting, broadcasting, blogging — I’ve found a very select group of seasoned individuals, whose talents, experience and authority in these fields I respect, and I’ve intently listened to (but not necessarily followed) their guidance and instruction. To everyone else I give a polite nod, and then promptly ignore everything they say.
Of course now I’ve presented a paradox of giving you advice that you shouldn’t listen to advice. I don’t know. Maybe you ought to take that advice and apply it only to me. Like I said, I’m far from an expert.
Lord, now I’ve given you advice to not take my advice about not taking advice. I’m going to quit while I’m ahead. (Too late, I know).
Congratulations, Kevin. I bet you’ll be a great dad.