1. You launder all of your clothes together -- you've long stopped separating colors. You find in the pockets as many hair ties, hair clips, and Rainbow Loom rubber bands as a lucky 49er on a good day prospecting for gold. You delight in each multicolored piece. Because you are drunk from the amount of time you spend doing laundry.
2. You routinely serve meals that require more plates and bowls and utensils and napkins than an entire wedding at Tavern on the Green. By the time the girls are done dining, which variously consists of eating, pushing food around their plates and onto the floor, spilling liquids, etc., you realize you have again participated in a selfless fast. There is simply no time to sit, let alone eat, when the Empresses Dowager take their meal. Somehow, you find this oddly charming. Because, no doubt, you are dizzy with hunger.
3. You commit, as one commits seriously to self-improvement, to watching Garfield's Pet Force on DVD (did you miss the theatrical release?)... two days in a row. You are persuaded by the arguers-in-chief that the experience of watching it "regular" must be empirically juxtaposed with the experience of donning the crappy 3D glasses. The three of you put this to the test, only to quickly push the cheap models up your foreheads, down around your chins, into careless parabolas onto the couch while the procession of blurry blobs called "Odie" and "Nermal" spill their red-and-blue slapstick for 73 long minutes. And, really, why bother stopping this blurry cartoon phase distortion, after all, when the girls seem happy and calm?
4. You are incorruptible at your job -- no one maintains a more dependable ethical vision. Yet, you can be persuaded to offer a marshmallow to your oldest, 7, if she would simply "take a few bites of her yogurt," for protein's sake. You start bargaining at the eminently reasonable "ten bites," but soon settle happily for "two." You consider this a win. Because you are in fact more bribeable than a turn-of-the-century Chicago politician.
5. You realize that you really do want to tame the piles of paper in your office, fix the hinge on the closet door (which involves simply remembering to bring a hammer upstairs), and adjust the picture that has slipped inside the frame... but are any of these actually going to happen at 11:00 p.m.? Because you still need to finish picking up the Legos from 17 intermingled sets.
6. You understand that if you let the girls take their own bath and "wash themselves, Daddy," that you are engaging in an unspoken agreement. You receive a few minutes of relative quiet to put away your unsorted laundry in the adjacent bedroom. The girls receive from you leave to dispense an entire bottle of shampoo. And you must also, at the close of the adventure, deploy at least three towels with which to wipe up the floor, the stool, and the bathroom walls.
7. You have provided the two goldfish, which cost all of 20 cents each from last year's school fair, over $150 worth of luxurious trappings: aquariums (3, each of increasing size), medications (3), scrub brushes (2), filters (3), artificial plants (3), living plants (2), castles (1) and playmates (1, a Pleco). You somehow sense metaphors swimming around the tank for the cost of having children. And you think on this, each morning -- bleary eyed -- as you drop flakes of food into the tricked-out tank of these well-cared for fish.
8. You smile with insane pride when the girls tell you that not everyone at summer camp knows they are siblings. Because one girl said to Kallista in disbelief: "You two are related?," only to have Kallista answer: "Yeah! My sister is adopted from China. And we are sisters." And you delight as Athena agrees and smiles too, nodding as Kallista relates the tale.
9. You spend hours -- nay, days -- searching for library books gone AWOL. Their topics, because they are Athena's, are always "dogs" or "penguins." These books, like their subjects, spread themselves into the most inconceivable spaces of your modest home: under beds, inside couch cushions, in suitcases tucked away in basement storage. Why? Because Athena loves these stories, and these animals must travel with her, through the patches of her wide and excitable mind.
10. Your youngest, Kallista (recently 6), stops you in the middle of a bike ride to share her most-secret secret, which only you, her Daddy, can know. No, it's not that she is really a spy -- that was the last secret, now fair-use public knowledge -- but another whispered glimpse into the imaginative heart of a girl whose thoughts are like sunbeams. And whose trust in you is like a shower of kisses.
11. You now accept that the girls will, at times -- to express their displeasure or their surprise or their joy -- shoot you with "invisible arrows" that they draw from a quiver tethered invisibly to their back. They are alternately Cupid, Artemis, Robin Hood, or one of the various figures from the Renaissance Fair just over the Wisconsin border, a place where they imagine themselves lost in carny mazes looking for gleaming gold coins. You do accept their arrows -- whether from love or temporary displeasure. And with your wife, you counter with your own game...
12. You together let the girls try to "block" your "romantic kisses" with Kelly, which turns into a group tickle-and-hug session, and which quickly causes all invisible arrows to fade into air. This reminds you of why everything your daughters do, and that you do in turn as a parent, no matter how odd, or wonderful, or frustrating, expresses itself through the thousands of small sacrifices that have transformed you into a person that once, before the arrival of these children and their arrows, you could have never even known.