On June 9th, my twin sons will turn two years old. I'm in the zone. I'm riding the blur. I'm a master diaperer, a passable storybook reader, a stealer of naps, a soother and a screamer. And I marvel at the supersonic yet viscous passage of time. In short, I've become a parent.
When my husband Lin and I first stepped onto this path, about four years ago, we had high hopes, a lot of questions and zero first-hand experience at parenting. It would be "hard" -- people told us this and we believed them unreservedly -- but what were the contours of this thing, we wondered.
It's only slightly less opaque after two years, but I've made an observation or two, some of which apply to two-dad families and some of which apply to most anyone...
For the other new two-dad families out there:
1. Get use to weird looks, especially at the beginning. Our boys spent their first 18 months in Brooklyn, bastion of all that is enlightened and good and kissed by the goddess of artisanality. And almost without exception, when we ventured into the world as a family in those first few weeks and months, we got triple-takes that seemed to distractedly say, "What the hell is going on there? " And while I'm convinced that this was 99 percent guileless, instinctive curiosity that manifested physically before the inquisitor could check his reaction, it became tiresome at times. We joked that we got to know how it might feel like to be slightly famous, or to have a glaring physical abnormality. But see it in the most generous light, or as generously as your sleep-deprived self will permit; people are basically good and every stranger we've ever talked to about our boys and their story was jazzed for us beyond our expectations.
2. Mothers will offer you unsolicited advice in public all the time. This is just a fact. And occasionally it's welcome, but most of the time it's not. Perhaps it's cosmic payback misdirected at us for the way that women are endlessly condescended to in our culture, but man, it really doesn't feel good. But you smile, or maybe smirk, and tell yourself that this too is guileless and thank your lucky stars you're not half as clueless as she thinks you are.
3. You're not a mom, and you don't have to be. I've harbored a dark fantasy that at some point someone will be uncouth enough to openly remark on how unfortunate it is that our boys don't have a mother. To which I archly reply without missing a beat, "But think of all the money they'll save on therapy!" No one has ever given me the chance, though, I suspect no one ever will. But it's good to remember that though neither of us is female, we are caring and nurturing and loving, and that's what matters. Kids need these things from whichever parent they can, and sadly many get it from neither. I count our kids as lucky for being so very wanted, and so cherished.
For all y'all:
1. Listen to other parents' advice, but try not to swallow it whole. Weigh it against your gut, tease out what you find useful, and leave the rest. The best advice we got from other parents always came with an acknowledgement that theirs was a unique experience and may or may not apply to us. And avoid advice that seems to have been drawn from the latest parenting neurosis being flogged to death by the media that month.
2. Get out, early and often. If you have family help or can afford a babysitter, get out of the house without your new bundle of joy with some degree of regularity. Parenting is forever and it's 24-hours a day, every day regardless of where you are, so you may as well leave your baby in capable hands and go out and have a nice meal and a drink or two. It's good for you and good for them, I'm sure of that. And they won't notice you're gone, trust me.
3. Housework is interminable. It just is. Trying to stay 100 percent on top of it will drive you crazy. Occasionally, let things go until either life or limb seem at risk. And if you can afford to have someone come in and clean once in a while, do it. Ride that bourgeois pony.
4. Read All Joy And No Fun by Jennifer Senior. In an era of drone parenting, where every action or inaction spurs feelings of guilt or inadequacy, this book allays fears and buoys the spirit. You're doing just fine.
Parenting isn't something you ever feel you've mastered, I suspect. There's a deep learning curve that's complicated by endless flux, balled up into a singular, unrelenting, rewarding reality. I wondered in these pages more than two years ago whether I was maybe too selfish or capricious to be a good parent. And I still wonder that daily when my patience is quick to wane, when my voice rises before I've made a real attempt to understand, when the last thing I want to do is get out of bed, or change a diaper. But overall, I think I'm doing okay, and I couldn't be more deeply happy that we made the decision we did. Happy almost birthday, boys!