Yummy Animals vs. Buried Animals

Yesterday we buried our cat Jack. We talked to the boys about death, and about how Jack would become part of the ground, and how the flower seeds we planted on top of him would gain nourishment from him.

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Thankfully, we’d seen “The Lion King” in 1994, so we were prepared for discussions about the circle of life.

 

Today, I took them to Fresh World, an international market (read: not so much an American grocery store). We go there from time to time to look at the live seafood, find rare produce, or pick up other items I just can’t find at Harris Teeter.

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“Sorry, we’re fresh out of guinea pig.” – sarcastic meat department workers in an other store

Today, as we walked through the meat department, I pointed out to the boys a pile of beef hearts. Miles asked if it hurt the cow to have the heart taken out. I said no, the cow was dead when the heart came out.

What follows is a summary of the next hour and a half or so’s conversation between the two of us, edited for time and clarity:

Me: The cow was dead when they took the heart out. It didn’t hurt.

Miles: Was the cow sick like our cat?

Me: No.

Miles: Was he old like our cat?

Me: No.

Miles: Than how did he die?

Me: He was killed.

Miles: What’s “killed?”

Me: Someone made him die.

Miles: How?

Me: I’m not sure. They probably hit him on the head really hard and or cut him with a knife.

Miles: He got a boo-boo and died?

Me: Yes.

Miles: And they took out his heart?

Me: Yes.

Miles: Did you take out our cat’s heart?

Me: No.

Miles: Why?

Me: Because we loved Jack and we buried him.

Miles: Did anyone love the cow?

Me: I don’t know.

Miles: Why didn’t anyone bury him?

Me: Because we don’t usually bury cows. We eat them.

Miles: Why don’t we eat cats?

Me: I don’t really know.

Miles: (asks me what a pack of pig ears are)

Me: (tells him)

Miles: How did the ears come off?

Me: Someone cut them off.

Miles: Did it hurt the pig?

Me: No, he was already dead.

(we go through how livestock dies again)

Miles: What other animal ears do we eat?

Me: I don’t know.

Miles: Do we cut off gorilla ears and eat them?

Me: No.

Miles: (runs through every other animal he can think of that has ears)

Me: No.

Miles: Why do we only eat pig ears?

Me: I don’t know.

The next hour or so was spent with him asking me whether or not we eat various animals. Cats? No. Dogs. No. Well, yes, in some places. Goats? Yes. Ducks? Yes. (Pick an animal. Any animal. We went through them all.)

Miles: Why do we eat some animals and bury some animals?

Me: I don’t really know, exactly.

Conrad (seeing a sparrow out the car window): Do we eat those birds?

Me: No.

Conrad: Why?

Me: They’re too small.

Conrad: Are cats too small?

Me: No…

Conrad: Why don’t we eat cats?

Me: We just don’t.

Miles: Because we love our cats?

Me: Yes.

Miles: Does anyone love cows?

Me: Yes.

Miles: Why do we eat cows then?

Me: (brain explodes like an android given a logical paradox)

*a few hours later*

Me: What do you guys want for dinner?

Miles: Hot dogs!

Conrad: Bacon!

 

I’d been more or less prepared to talk to the boys about death. I was even more prepared to talk to them about the death of our cat. I was prepared to talk to them about how we kill animals to eat. That the hot dog they enjoy was once a cow and pig and chicken and turkey and chipmunk and orang-utan and whatever else goes into hot dogs.

I wasn’t really prepared to grapple with the questions I have myself. Why don’t we eat this animal, but eat that animal? Why eat horses and not cows? Why do some people eat horses? Why do we have pet birds but also eat birds?

I don’t understand this myself. I figured I had a couple more years before the moral gray area of meat consumption became a topic of conversation for my kids.

I’d love to push a more plant-based diet, but since these guys cringe at any vegetable that hasn’t been rendered unrecognizable and/or deep-fried, I worry that getting an appropriate amount of nutrients into them would become impossible.

Plus, I have to agree with them: bacon and hot dogs for dinner is awesome.

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Goodbye, buddy.

I haven’t done a blog post in quite a while for a variety of reasons. I have twenty or so drafts saved, at varying levels of doneness. Maybe some of them will be posted soon.

I’m writing this post and actually posting it right away because it was something I needed to get out, and it was more than I could squeeze in to a Facebook or Instagram post. I felt like I needed to post urgently, both for the sake of people curious about our little family’s status, as well as for my own mental well-being.

A couple of months ago, our cat Jack was diagnosed with kidney failure. The diagnosis was basically that of all living things: he could live for days, or he could live for years. “Months” was most likely, and a couple of months is what we got, despite hiring the best medical care we could afford.

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The best medical care we could afford.

We got Jack and his litter mate Malibu in 2004. They went from our college apartment in Virginia, to Orlando, to Washington, and back to Virginia. We lost Bu two years ago to cancer. Jack soldiered on.

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He was like a SEAL, really.

Jack did for cats what deep-frying does for vegetables: he made the whole genre more palatable. Even people who aren’t crazy about cats admitted to enjoying his company.

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Pictured.

He was a people cat, and enjoyed even the sometimes over-bearing attention of our boys. When the boys started talking, if you asked what noise a cat made, they’d hiss, because while Malibu was a sweetheart, she didn’t suffer pokey toddlers lightly.

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Jack was down for whatever.

After all the pokes and prods and dogpiles and pulled tails and ears and squeezes and everything else the boys threw at him, Jack never hissed, growled, yowled, bit, or took a swipe at them. If they bothered him, he’d just move to another part of the room. For his patience with the boys, I will always be grateful.

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Seriously, buddy, wherever you are: thank you.

When we got the diagnosis, the vet told us that he’d probably stop eating (which he did) and start hiding away from us (which he didn’t). To the end, he wanted to cuddle, sleep on our bed, and have the boys poke him in the eye.

When we made the decision that it was in his best interest to put him down, his (extremely relative) illusion of vitality made it difficult. But he’d finally started to be a little stand-offish, he had stopped eating altogether, and was positively skeletal.

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This is the last picture of him. Bright-eyed, alert, and hanging on by a thread.

I’d been very worried about how the boys would handle the loss. I looked at the library for books about passing pets, but didn’t find any that were a good fit.

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Everything they had was either for older kids or involved “cat heaven.” We figured we had enough questions to answer without adding questions of theism and feline incorporeal existentialism.

Miles said many times that he’d miss the cat, said that he was sad, and right after I put the last shovel full of dirt on Jack’s new forever home, he gave me the best unprompted hug either kid has ever given me. Conrad was mostly concerned with whether or not we could get a unicorn now that that pesky cat obstacle had been removed.

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In all fairness, Jack and Miles had a bond going way back.

As far as we’re concerned, we won the cat lottery. When K posted about his passing on Facebook, I realized from the comments people were leaving how many people met Jack over the years and recognized his uniqueness and sweet personality.

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“Hey girl.”

Our little family is better for having had Jack as one of its members,  but we (or at least I) are feeling his loss deeply. I’m trying my hardest to focus on that first point. I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about “mindfulness” lately. It’s all about living in the now. It occurs to me that pets are the most mindful thing in many of our lives. We know that one day, we will be saying goodbye, but we don’t think about that. We just enjoy and love our pets, we curse them and clean up after them, we look forward to spending time with them and then take that time for granted.

Pets are just on loan from the universe.

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After Jack passed, the vet took him to put him in a box for me to take him home in. While she was gone, I noticed this sign in the room. It was…ironic?

The picture that probably best sums up my relationship with Jack is below. Watching Adult Swim and reading comics, together, as if he knew what was on the page or the screen. He just wanted to be with us. Be one of us.

Love you, buddy.

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NIAW

It’s that time again: National Infertility Awareness Week is here. NIAW is a time when focus is brought to the issue of infertility, an all-to-often overlooked medical concern that afflicts roughly one in eight couples. It’s often considered so personal that it doesn’t get brought up as often as it should, with the exception of multi-millionaires rubbing their success in your face.

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Congratulations, ass-hat.

Honestly though, I can’t connect with this issue on the same level as my wife, so I’ll let her do the talking:

“This year, in honor of National Infertility Awareness Week, I wanted to let people know that infertility doesn’t just end if/when you add a child to your family. There can be a misconception that once someone is successful in pregnancy or adoption, all the stress and negative feelings that you experienced while going through infertility should just fade away. While I am eternally grateful that we were successful and have our twin boys, I am still and always will be infertile. It still stings to know that I will never have three children in my family (the number I always envisioned being the right size for us). Seeing a pregnant woman still makes me feel a twinge of jealousy. And it is stressful that I’m still paying back a loan to afford IVF, two years after my children were born. Infertility will always be a part of me; it doesn’t just end when children are welcomed into your family. Visit Resolve.org to learn more about infertility.”

Different couples have different means, goals, and timelines, so I’m not going to sit here and tell you to try everything, or hang in there, or you’ll get there, or God forbid “you just need to relax.” But like she said above, Resolve is a great resource, and can even connect you with support groups if you want to have a more personal, shared experience. I will say that you aren’t alone, and keeping this problem on the radar is the only way it will start to get the mainstream attention it needs.

 

 

Sickos

**READER ALERT: While no graphic descriptions are given, there are references to bodily functions that you might want to avoid even picturing. You’re picturing stuff right now, aren’t you? You know what kind of bodily functions I’m talking about, and you can’t help but imagine what could be so horrific that I have to warn you, even though I won’t be giving details.**

We’ve hit a major milestone in our life as a family with kids: the lot of us all got sick as hell at the same time.

Yes, a stomach bug (most likely rotavirus) came upon us like Donald Trump in the election: It came out of nowhere, and every time we thought it would pass into obscurity, it would immediately resurface, leading to vomiting and an overwhelming sense of despair.

Poor little M was the harbinger. He [bodily function deleted] on a Friday morning, and continued [bodily function deleted] all over me and the living room for most of the day. His spirit remained as high as possible, which is to say his spirits were pretty low, but he soldiered on.

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Pictured: Stoicism

That night was interrupted by more [bodily function deleted], and by morning, he was pretty wasted. That morning his brother started to display symptoms as well; it became a bit of sibling rivalry, really, with C seeing M’s [bodily function deleted] and raising him severe [bodily function deleted].

Not to be outdone, M became lethargic and weak, and we decided to take him in to urgent care. Kat took him, and in the six or so hours they were there, he received three IVs for dehydration and meds for nausea.After less than two days, he had lost four pounds. I remained home with C, who had largely stabilized.

When Kat got home with M, he was in fine spirits and went right to bed with no fuss, in spite of his terrible night.

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One tough mofo right there.

Sunday saw both boys suffering, and we spent more time than usual cuddling with them on the couch. It was also the beginning of my new hobby: Cleaning [digestive expulsion deleted] out of said couch.

It was Monday when the boys started to feel and act better. We gave them nausea medicine when we needed to, they ate more of their regular diet, and [bodily function deleted] and [bodily function deleted] were at a minimum. It was also Monday when those little [unkind personal expletives deleted] generously shared their germs with me. I’ll briefly sum up Monday night be saying it became practical for me to bring pillows and a blanket to the bathroom. It was a rough night. At some point during that night, I emailed Kat (who was in the next room, but I’d been keeping her up enough) and told her I would need her to stay home from work on Tuesday if it was at all possible.

It was possible, and she stayed home to tend to the three men in her home who were usually burly stalwarts of strength and power.

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Like this, but not funny. So just like this, I guess.

I was down and could hardly handle taking care of a pair of sick two-year-olds, who at this point were having a resurgence of symptoms.

The good news was that Kat was able to stay home to take care of us. The bad news was that that day she got hit too. It was the first time that all four of us were sick at the same time. It was kind of a low point. I had been looking forward (if you can call it that) to having her handle the boys while I recuperated, but with her trying to steal my sick-parent thunder, the two of us were on equal footing, both trying to balance feeling like death while trying to take care of twin toddlers who also felt like death. Of course, we didn’t refer to it as “feeling like death” in front of them; we told them we were all getting ready to go to a wonderful farm where we could play and chase rabbits and be happy forever.

While K and I felt better after a couple of days, the boys carried on with their illnesses as if they were trying to win a competition. A call to the doctor’s office was met with the comforting advice “give it seven to ten days” before we made another appointment. By this time, the boys were managing to keep down enough water to remain hydrated, but the overwhelming percentage of things they took into their bodies ended up [insert nightmare].

If you don’t have kids, it’s hard to get how bad it feels when your kids are sick and you can’t do anything about it. I’ve always hated the “if you’re not a parent you don’t know” crap (and still do, mostly), but dammit man, it’s tough to have someone who counts on you looking at you, wondering why you won’t make the suffering end. I imagine it’s like every meeting the Jackson Jaguars have with their owners.

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M, the poor lad who started it all, continued being sick into the next weekend. C wasn’t doing great either, but was clearly recovering. Finally, almost exactly 10 days later, all of us seemed to be mended. It was a relief in every way.

I have no idea if we were lucky to have had this nightmare take place two years after the boys’ birth. Were we ahead of schedule for the worst family adventure ever?

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Was this more or less the average point in time where entire family units are crippled by rampaging RNA strands?

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You capsid-wearing bastard.

Either way, it sucked. Some people say that when you have multiples, the best thing to do when one gets sick is to make sure the other one/s is/are exposed as much as possible, thus becoming sick as well. This way you have to deal with more than one sick kid at a time, but it’s over relatively quickly, rather than having kids be sick end-to-end, drawing out the time you’re dealing with it. That’s probably still good advice, but when the parents are sick too, you start wishing you only had one kid whose [bodily expulsion deleted] you have to worry about.

I’m ready to return to a simpler time when the boys only got sick because they ate Cheerios they picked out of a puddle in a parking lot.

Elmocation

Before the boys were born, I was the best dad ever. My kids were never going to eat anything but homemade, organic, mostly vegetarian food. They’d never know who Ronald McDonald was. I would take them to kid gyms and classes every day. They would never watch TV.

Turns out, constraints on time and finances relegated some of those to the “A guy can dream” file.  The last one, though, was something I thought I could pull off. I couldn’t, and it’s actually made me pretty bummed.

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I’m next month’s centerfold.

Granted, I knew the kids would watch some TV. We do watch TV in our house, and this is a world of screens, so winding up looking at moving pictures on a screen was, of course, inevitable. That said, I feel like we’re in dangerous territory.

When the boys were newborns, I could throw stuff on in the background because they could barely see, let alone realize I was watching campy ’80s slasher flicks in their presence. When they got older, we allowed some Caspar Babypants music videos (if you haven’t checked him out, do yourself a favor and do), but that was about it.

Somewhere along the line, a certain little red monster from Sesame Street made an appearance on our TV. Yes, Elmo was here, and we’re the ones who invited him in.

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“Ta-da, bitches!”

There are a lot of compelling reasons why Elmo appeals to toddlers while making parents want to throttle the Muppet until the puppeteer’s wrist snaps. From his bright red color to his child-like speech patterns to that piercing falsetto that is something akin to the Son of Sam talking to his neighbor’s dog.

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“Burn it all down, Mr. Robb.”

Suddenly, the kids demanded more and more Elmo. Elmo was one of C’s first words (well, okay, he says “Ello”), and sometimes the choice between watching Elmo or riding out the tantrum fell on the side of peace. Naturally, the kids went all Pavlovian on us and can throw some epic tantrums in order to see their favorite little red beast.

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The fact that he swallows kids whole like a python doesn’t seem to put them off at all.

So, is it so bad to have a couple of tots watching an “educational” program for, at most, a couple of hours a day, a few days a week? It depends who you ask. You can find plenty of opinions saying that it’s totally okay, like this, this, and this, but you can find at least as many opinions stating that any TV before your kids are old enough to write a college thesis on what they’re watching, like this, this, and this. Hell, even publications like Psychology Today can’t agree on whether or not TV will turn your kids’ brains into mousse, or into a flexed bicep of intelligence.

When we switched to toddler beds due to the boys’ penchant for going all Houdini in their cribs, they stopped taking naps, as to leave them alone in their room meant a total disassembling of the same. It was easier to simply handle them for 1-3 hours a day rather than invest time and money into converting our guest room into a second nursery or watching them turn their present room into a cinematic tornado cliché.

This means that I (SAHD, here) have 1-3 hours or so of extra time with the boys. Yep, 12-13 hours a day alone with just the lads. That’s a long time to spend with anyone, let alone two-year-olds.

I’m a human. I have responsibilities as a “homemaker” and a (minute) wage-earner. I also like to sit down by myself for a few minutes to relax or fire off some emails or eat without being spotted by my kids and having to hand over my food. Sometimes just having the boys nap for a half-hour bought me enough sanity to make up for whatever else I’d been put through during the day.

When naps went bye-bye, I looked for other ways to keep the boys occupied while I did the things that I needed to do outside of being 100% involved with them. What I needed was a nanny.

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“Mr. Robb is looking for talking plush toy with no concept of pronouns? Elmo is Mr. Robb’s monster!”

More and more, Elmo was tossed on in the background merely to keep the kids occupied while I washed dishes or made lunch or curled up in a ball and wept about my failure as a parent. Soon, as with most drugs, an hour’s worth of Elmo didn’t cut it any more. Suddenly, I was putting on the Little Baby Bum and Mother Goose Club videos of children’s public domain songs. When these grew old, Monsters, Inc. went into the DVD player and became a staple in the stable. I tried introducing various Disney movies and other kids’ fair as a sort of cinematic methadone, but to no avail. We always wind up back with Elmo.

So for now, we’re sharing parenting duties with an admitted monster and various other programs. I absolutely don’t begrudge people who have their kids watch more TV than I do, and I I know that TV is okay in moderation.I also know that Elmo is actually fairly educational, but dammit man, I feel like I’m doing the boys a disservice every time I turn on the TV in order to buy an hour or two of non-toddler time..

 

Building Blocks

The boys turned one year old a couple of weeks ago.

Holy crap.

I’ve already talked about my evolution as a dad, but it’s even more startling when I look at them and see how much they’ve evolved, from gross noise-beast pupae to intelligent, walking, talking* mini-mes. Gobots to my Transformer. Micro Machines to my Hot Wheel. Tiny capsules soaking in water to my already fully-formed sponge dinosaur.

No, you’re dating YOURself.

No, you’re dating YOURself.

These guys have opinions, likes and dislikes, habits, skills, and annoying individual traits.

I have been watching them grow over the last year, delighting as they told developmental roadblocks and hurdles, one by one, to suck it. Since one boy or the other usually did something new first, we’d begin watching and prodding the other to start doing that new thing. Then we’d bring up all the stuff this baby did first, and remind ourselves that we shouldn’t worry that he isn’t doing this or that yet, constantly reassuring ourselves that the boys are each where they’re supposed to be at developmentally. Confused? I am. I had always expected a much more orderly, predictable progression of development for babies.

Turns out I read the wrong guy's baby books.

Turns out I read the wrong guy’s baby books.

That said, I have this new perspective. See, we (Humans. Every single one.) look at growing kids like Lego sculptures, getting more and more fleshed out as each block is added.

They say God is something of a...*puts on sunglasses*..."maniac".

They say God is something of a “maniac”.

There’s a quote (attributed to Michaelangelo but probably not by him) that I’ve always enjoyed which goes something like “When carving [a sculpture] I just chip away everything that doesn’t look like [the subject].”  Now that we’ve come along a bit, that’s how I see the boys; they have everything they need to become the men that they’re going to be. They each learn things when they need to learn them, and their genes are locked and loaded. The things that aren’t them – like hourly projectile vomiting and falling face-first into every [insert noun] they go by – are slowly but surely being chipped away. Assuming I don’t screw them up, they’re on course to be pretty well-rounded people.

My best unicorn impression!

My best unicorn impression!

Our kids might be in trouble…

*babbling incoherent nonsense**

**still more coherent than a lot of people I encounter on any given day

If I Knew Then…

Surprisingly, after all we went through with IVF, I was not the stereotypical “Hollywood” dad in the delivery room. I was emotional and everything, but – like I detail here – I didn’t feel like I had that instant papa-bear epiphany of new-fatherhood. I didn’t instantly become Ward Cleaver* blended with RoboCop…

Dispensing sage advice...and street justice!

Dispensing sage advice…and street justice!

…immediately fusing wisdom with a fiercely protective nature.

And cranking out little RoboBeavers.

And cranking out little RoboBeavers.

Between the stress, exhaustion, and other variables, it took me some time to bond with the twins. That may sound heartless, and in a way it sometimes feels that way to me. I feel a lot of guilt over not receiving the babies, cutting the cords, sobbing, handing out cigars, and arriving home to a begin a series of wacky, new-father shenanigans.

One of the great things I’ve found since becoming a dad is the existence online of an educational, helpful, and supportive community of fathers (and mothers) of every stripe. Linking in with other parents around the world – reading their stories and sharing mine – has been indescribably helpful to me.

One of the sites I discovered was dads.co, a relatively new site that saw fit to publish my thoughts/concerns/stress/relief during my early days of fatherhood; I’m looking forward to some follow-up content between us.

Spoiler alert: Being with and doing things for my boys is all I want now.

And a crossbow. I also want a crossbow.

*I was originally going to use Heathcliff Huxtable. I hate this new world.

Work

Before I went in for my third and fourth days (respectively, non-consecutively) back at work this week, I wasn’t sure what to expect. My two days back the week prior had been fairly miserable due to a blend of exhaustion, wanting to spend time with my (then) two-week-old babies, and an overwhelming resentment of the job itself.

Before I took time off, several people at work told me that between crying newborns, lack of sleep, and family in town, I’d be begging to come back to work. (Author’s note: these people clearly don’t know me in the slightest.) My first days back I was anything but excited to be there.

By the time I went back again this week, I was more tired, the crowded house was beginning to wear on me, and I was ready for a change of scenery.

Would the prophecies come true? Would I be happy to be back at my job? Would my least favorite place on the planet become a refuge?

As it turns out, no. I spent two days performing up to my usual level of awesomeness (I’m not even bragging, I’m pretty good at my job) despite being more or less entirely checked out. I’d rather have spent my time with two fussy newborns, a cluttered house with visitors, and my even-more-exhausted-than-I wife.

I’ll continue looking for PT work (or even FT work that I don’t mind leaving the twins for every day) because income is needed, and of course I’ll scrub out sewer pipes for a living if that’s what I needed to do to give the boys the life they deserve. In my mind, though, part of that life would ideally involve a dad who isn’t completely burnt-out and who is able to leave any work-related stress at work. It isn’t just my opinion either; you can a better idea of what I’m talking about here, here, and here.

“But Robb,” I hear some people saying*, “Most people have to go back to work after having babies! Even your wife will be going back soon! Why are you trying so hard to get so much time at home? That’s what daycare is for!” True, and aside from the fact that I’d like to have our kids get as much face-time with their parents as possible, there is the fact that once you subtract daycare for twins and commuting costs from my current salary, there isn’t a whole lot left; roughly a PT job’s salary. So to continue working would simply cover the cost of daycare with a little left over, and if I’m just paying for daycare, why not eliminate the middle-man and make less and be the daycare provider until such time as the kids’ ages and our tax dollars align and we can drop them off at school?