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.

sad dad

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.

elmo

“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.

elmo

“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.

elmo-plush-deluxe-infant-costume-bc-38699

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.

elmo2

“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..

 

Advertisements

The Best $4.68 I Ever Made

…I might have another option. Maybe. We’ll see.

If you missed my last post re: us not being in the 1%, I’ll sum it up briefly: I need to pick up some extra work to add a little padding to our finances in case of those unforeseen expenses that tend to pop up exclusively when you don’t have padding.

computer hit

It’s called “Murphy’s Sucker-Punch.”

This would mean missing weekend time with the family – basically the only quality time all four of us spend together – but sometimes necessity trumps preferences.

That said, at some point in the past you might have read or heard me mention a transcription “job” I had been “hired” for. I took some tests for a transcription company and became a contractor. This allowed me to choose audio transcription jobs that they post, and work whenever and wherever I want, and earn a little walkin’ around money. It’s a much better way to earn extra cash than the last thing I tried.

abuse

Now I’m married and a father, so I do this for free.

You also might have read or heard me lamenting the fact that I could never scrounge up the time, energy, or wherewithal to get rocking and/or rolling on this transcription job.

I took this test roughly two years ago, and almost immediately, my eyes had a faraway look, dreaming about busting out transcriptions throughout the day, filling in spare time by earning money for the fam by doing something I enjoy. The (then) forthcoming babies would be strapped to me as I worked, sound asleep through the day, soothed by the clickety-click of me typing hundreds of words per minute and the soft glow of the computer monitor.

But then…

computer hit

This guy again!

Getting started proved harder than I thought. I had new twin babies, I was still working at the store four days a week, my “free time” was actually spent cooking, cleaning, running, questioning my life choices, and trying to keep up on this blog.

When it became clear that we’d probably need to add a secondary income, the obvious choice was to have me get back into the grocery/food-service/retail game. Frankly, I’m a bit tired of that game, but you do what you gotta do.

I had a bit of a now-or-never moment and decided to at least be able to say I’d given the transcription thing a shot. I logged in to my two-year-old account, re-read some tutorials, and plunged in. I took the shortest job they had. I didn’t make a lot of money for that first job – just $4.68 – but it was the first job I’ve been paid for that wasn’t in some sort of customer service field. Other, than, well, the customers of the transcription service.

Who knows? Maybe I can turn this into at least something to add a few bucks here and there to the budget, and have a job I enjoy. In case you skimmed over the title of this post, it was the best $4.68 I’ve ever earned.

Of course, this whole post is basically just a footnote now, because…

Back to Work

When we uprooted our lives to move to Virginia for Kat’s new job, we knew there was a possibility – probably a strong possibility – that we’d need to reassess the “stay at home dad” situation at some point. When we looked at our new income versus outgo, we found that it was going to be tight. The cost of living here is higher than Washington (believe it or not), and we knew it was going to be a pretty thin margin.

We recently decided that, unfortunately, the time has come to look at me going from full-time SAHD to a full-time SAHD and a part-time employee somewhere. I’ll be trying to find something in grocery/food/retail, since those are apparently my only marketable skills ever since that accident sidelined my skating career.

They called me "Belle of the Ice."

They called me the “Belle of the Ice.”

I’ll still be home with the boys during the week, and ultimately (“hopefully”) the plan is for me to work a shift each day on weekends. I of course don’t mind doing whatever I need to do for the security of the family, but for the last few months I’ve called no man mister, and it’s been nice. It’s also nice is some time off from morning-to-night responsibility, and filling up all seven days with full-time work of one kind or another will probably be a little tiring.*

We talked about day care (too expensive), a part-time nanny like we had in WA (expensive and hard to find), and getting an au pair (a young woman [or man] would be living with us), but those parentheticals outweighed the notion of having me go to work during the week. Just like when I was part-time at Met, it doesn’t make sense to work a job just to pay someone to watch the boys so that I can work at that job.

This leaves working weekends, and that should at least be enough to have some cushioning and still be able to afford to send donations to Peter Popoff.

The first taste of Miracle Spring Water is free, but sooner or later everyone comes back to the Popper.

The first taste of Miracle Spring Water is free, but sooner or later, everyone comes back to the Popper.

While I’ve (mostly) always taken pride in a job well done, the SAHD job is the only one that has ever brought me true fulfillment. I also like to think that I’m really awesome at it.

That, and delivering moving soliloquies.

That, and delivering moving soliloquies.

I might be missing out on family time on the weekends, but I’ll have that time during the week, and I’ll feel good about contributing to the family in a more tangible way again.

That said…(continued here).

*I know a lot of parents out there struggle much harder than we have to, and I don’t want to understate my respect for those who do; I know a little something about it. I’ve just been fortunate enough to have lots of time with the boys and weekends with the whole family, and I’ve gotten kind of addicted to it. That, and Miracle Spring Water.

Grandma!

The boys’ grandma (my mom) managed to survive another year standing between a whiteboard and a kloib* of middle-schoolers (not to mention surviving Kansas, in general) to make it out here to Washington for a visit. It had been a year since she last made it out, so from the first visit till now the babies went from screaming poop beasts to screaming poop beasts that can walk. Luckily, besides pooping and screaming, they now also know how to laugh and hug and say “hi” and manipulate their environment and wave and stuff, so that’s nice.

Don't forget looking badass.

“We also know how to look badass.”

No, Skyping just isn’t the same as actually holding your grandkids or, conversely, being held by your grandma, so we were all glad she could get back out here. One of the problems with having family spread across the country is the difficulty in getting together more frequently, so we cherish the visits we receive and that we get to make.

The boys are in that awkward age (read: 0-3) where they’re too old to just kick it in the living room all day, but where it’s challenging to find things we can do with them that meet the following criteria:

  • stay in line with nap/bed times
  • don’t involve over-exertion for any parties involved
  • are affordable
  • don’t require attention spans or comprehension skills greater than those of a cicada

“Hey, that’s not very…um…ooh, a fence post!”

This can be tougher than it sounds. Luckily, for one day Grandma took us to the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium as an early Father’s Day gift to me, and the boys actually had a pretty good time, considering they think every animal is a kitty.

“Meow.”

We also got some time in at a nearby “spray park,” something that was new to me when I heard of them but which are kind of a big thing around here. You know running through the sprinkler in the yard? That, but if it was at Dr. Seuss’ house.

Splooshtambulous!

Splooshtambulous!

M got blasted in the face by water the last time he was at this park, so he was a little hesitant to play in it this time, but C was all about it.

“Yeeeeeaaaaagh!”

“Peace!”

“I am AMPED, braugh! *pant pant* That was a choka macker; thought I was gonna wipe out there *pant pant*, but…oh, I gotta get back in there, those waves are choice!”

“Can we please go?”

She also managed to do on her second day here what we’d been putting off since the boys’ birthday: assemble their Radio Flyer scooter bike things.

bike

We tried them out in the driveway for the first time, and the boys did about as well as you’d expect (or maybe better) for one-year-olds on scooter bike things for the first time. Honestly, every time we get in the driveway or front yard, we spend a lot of time stopping one or both of them from running into the street, which seems to be most desirable place to be ever. They also got to wear their scooter bike thing helmets for the first time. As you may recall, M has that big old round hydrocephalus head of his and we needed to go with a helmet meant for kids twice as old, and it still fits a little awkwardly, but he seems to actually enjoy having the thing on. I think they get a little proud when they accessorize.

2015-06-10 05.58.59 2015-06-10 06.00.03

“Hey girl…”

I had to work one day, so my mom and Kat went to a nearby Wiggleworks franchise. Wiggleworks gyms are basically hybrids of playgrounds and padded cells (or maybe Dr. Seuss’ home gym), and the boys absolutely love it there. The timing also worked out because the place sort of stresses me out, as the boys are little enough that you still have to chase them around, which is hard and awkward in this place.

"Go up to this land that flows with milk and honey. But I will not travel among you, for you are a stubborn and rebellious people." - me about Wiggleworks/God about Israel

“Go up to this land that flows with milk and honey. But I will not travel among you, for you are a stubborn and rebellious people.” – me about Wiggleworks/God about Israel

"This Millennium Falcon is going to be epic."

“This Millennium Falcon is going to be epic.”

We all got out of town on Saturday and headed for Fort Worden State Park and Port Townsend on the peninsula in the upper-left corner of the state, a couple of hours away but worth the drive even with two toddlers. The park’s pretty interesting, a former military base that stood guard over the entrance to the Puget Sound, but which now offers great views of the Sound and mountains, has a museum, marine science center, trails, campsites, woods, “ruins” of gigantic cannon turrets and other concrete and steel kill-structures, and buildings that have been converted into everything from rentable cabins to rec centers to votech classrooms. Port Townsend, the cute little Victorian town nearby, was also having their big farmer’s market that day and the sun was shining throughout our trip.

The boys didn’t care about any of it except for the gun batteries, and only because we let them run free (more or less), so that pretty much made their day.

At a gun battery in Fort Worden State Park.

At a gun battery in Fort Worden State Park.

"I can totally make this. I just need to wait until they're not paying attention."

“I can totally make that distance. I just need to wait until they’re not paying attention.”

"In my new life I think I'll be a haberdasher."

“In my new life I think I’ll be a haberdasher.”

"Tra-lee, tra-la, I love strolling through the grass on a sunny day."

“Tra-lee, tra-la, I love strolling through the grass on a sunny day.”

"Short grass!  Short grass! I like strolling through short grass!"

“Short grass! Short grass! I like strolling through short grass!”

Between distance, scheduling, practicality, and finances, we don’t get to see family as often as we’d like, so it was really special having my mom here for a week, and even if the boys don’t remember, I’ll get to enjoy the memories of watching them squeal and laugh with their grandma.

*Science FACT: A group of middle-schoolers is called a “kloib”.

Things Are Awesome

Been a while since I got any sort of update for the family and friends and anyone else who’s paying attention. I’ll try to keep it brief yet concise and stick to a reasonable amount of pictures.

So, yeah, the boys turned 1 on the 12th of April. One. Wow. It seems like only yesterday that we were exhausted, panicky messes questioning our ability to raise two healthy, well-adjusted boys. Wait…actually, that was yesterday, but it was also a little over a year ago.

We made it, though, 365 days of ups and downs, like ships in a stormy sea of parenthood. We’ve come a long way – all of us – from those early days, when we had no clue what we were doing and sleep was a novelty. We now consider ourselves among the parenting elite, celebrating each milestone the boys reach and waving them in people’s faces like a “Good Job!” sticker on a second grade book report.

Since last we left our heroes, they’ve started waving (sometimes grunting out possible salutations), pointing at things (that’s the finger referenced in the title), getting around almost exclusively by walking, getting down steps, running toward the street the second our backs are turned, refusing to eat, showing defiance, screaming and weeping over their mother when she’s in the room as though she’s going off to war, doing things they know are bad just to get a reaction, and often producing gross giant man turds instead of gross baby slop-shit.It’s la vida dolce, at least compared to a year ago.

Anywho, I think the most judicious way to describe the goings-on here is with pictures and the boys’ own words:

2015-02-14 16.19.55

Swings are awesome.   2015-02-14 16.20.09

2015-02-15 12.13.27

Pickles are awesome.

2015-02-16 12.48.06

Chairs are awesome.

2015-02-16 12.52.20    2015-02-16 12.53.44

2015-02-22 11.05.06

Piggyback rides are awesome.

2015-03-14 17.56.11

Tupperware is awesome.

2015-03-15 18.40.20 2015-03-15 18.37.34

2015-04-12 15.11.31

Riding toys are awesome.

2015-04-12 18.14.11-2

2015-03-17 09.06.29

2015-03-29 18.53.57

Mommy’s sippy cup is awesome.

2015-03-30 18.26.44

Mommy’s awesome.

2015-03-30 18.27.26

2015-04-19 11.30.30

Water tables are awesome.

2015-04-29 10.23.41

Hiking is awesome.

2015-04-29 10.29.53-1

Killing it at peek-a-boo is awesome.

Killing it at peek-a-boo is awesome.

2015-04-30 17.04.53

Lawn chairs are awesome.

Rocking horses are awesome.

Rocking horses are awesome.

IMG_8278

Tulip festivals are awesome.

    IMG_8297

IMG_5974[1]

Mega Bloks are awesome.

2015-05-12 13.38.33

Sharing is awesome.

2015-05-06 12.41.19

Snack cups are awesome.

2015-04-12 11.54.37

Cupcakes are awesome.

2015-04-12 12.06.21

Not really, no, they’re not.

2015-05-07 13.27.18-2

Blowy balloon cage things at Wiggleworks are awesome.

So are these things.

So are these things.

2015-03-15 11.23.00-1

2015-05-05 14.04.20

Never mind, chairs suck.

2015-05-07 07.06.24

I’m going to sit on foot stools instead. Foot stools are awesome.

2015-05-10 13.00.13

Getting to wear dad’s hat is awesome.

Wrasslin' is awesome.

Wrasslin’ is awesome.

2015-05-12 06.06.20

Mega Blok storage bags are awesome.

Family is awesome!

Family is awesome!

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

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changing…

…turn, and face the graffiti-covered stall door.

A problem faced by parents of multiple children (born at once or not) is juggling multiple babies when one needs to be changed in a public place. Before the boys were born, if you had asked me what I expected regarding changing them in public, I would have admitted that it sounded like a challenge, of course, but that if I could do it at home, or in a van in a rainy parking lot, or anywhere else, I could certainly manage a Safeway restroom.

gross

It’s a grocery store. They sell food there.

It's a grocery store. They sell food there. Also sold: trash bags, paper towels, and cleaning products.

 Also sold: trash bags, paper towels, and cleaning products.

I had absolutely no idea of just how challenging this can be. Any women reading this and nodding and chuckling about how true this is, slow down; I can only address this from a man’s perspective, but I promise there are different – not necessarily worse, but different – challenges. This was, again, something I wouldn’t have thought of before actually having to do it. Changing tables are changing tables, restrooms are restrooms, and changing multiples just means being able to hold on to one child with one arm and changing the other child with the other arm. Piece of cake, right?

Anyway, I wish I’d sought out or gotten more information about the hazards of changing multiples in public venues, especially by dads. That said, over the last year, this is what I’ve learned:

1. Shopping carts can’t go in.

Assuming a public restroom can physically accommodate a shopping cart, you’d be a jerk to bring one in, and if it’s full of unpaid merchandise, stores frown upon you doing so anyway. This might not sound like such a problem, but if you have both children in a shopping cart, even if only one needs changing, you are faced with the task of bringing both into the restroom by hand. Some restrooms in baby-heavy places like Babies-R-Us have special seats you can buckle the third wheel into while you take care of business, but your run-of-the-mill can will only have a changing table and an air of dread. Now, maybe your kid is to the point of standing or even walking on his own, so you might be thinking that a toddler leash is the way to go. They’re great, but…

2. …men’s rooms are obstacle courses of grossness and awkwardness.

If you aren’t familiar with the layout of a gentlemen’s  w.c., they range from very small, with nothing but a toilet, to a bit bigger with a urinal added, to large, with multiple stalls and urinals. Leash or not, your kid’s going to be able to reach something you’d rather not have her touch, which means keeping her out of toilets and urinals, from crawling under stalls, from grabbing onto the leg of some poor sap who’s trying to relieve himself, and from just getting on the floor in general. You have no idea how gross a men’s room floor can be; I’ve been doing unspeakable things to them for weeks just to drive this point home. Having all those urinals and toilets so close to the changing table is almost unavoidable because…

3. …a lot of men’s rooms had those tables installed after they were designed.

OK, this is true of a lot of women’s restrooms as well; changing tables didn’t enter on the scene until the mid-80s, so restrooms built before this (and many after) don’t make any space accommodations. This is why you find a number of them in the large handicapable stalls; there’s simply no room anywhere else. In a men’s room, odds are that you’re on the wall opposite or right next to the urinals, and given the tight spaces, you might practically be rubbing back-to-back with guys trying to do their business. Women’s rooms might be pretty tight too, but you aren’t dealing with dudes with their members in hand urinating into what your kids see as shiny white water tables. Such limited space means you could really use a hand, but…

4. …men aren’t as prone to help.

Yes, in spite of a new enlightened age of stay at home dads, mannies, and other male caregivers, a lot of guys are less patient about things like infants shrieking in their private spaces and men taking up room with toddlers and related accessories. It’s really as if Full House taught us nothing. Now, in full disclosure, I have had a guy offer to hold one baby while I changed the other. He was a twin himself, and had twins himself, so there was some camaraderie, but still; most guys are hesitant about helping. Some still look on it as “women’s work,” some might just assume that you’ve got handled or that they’re bruising your ego if they offer to help, and some are worried about coming off as a child molester. Of course, doing it by yourself is even harder when…

5. …there isn’t a changing table at all.

Now, to be clear, I have encountered exactly one men’s room that didn’t have a changing table, and after a cranky Tweet to the proprietor, they had one installed. That said, I understand from some of my fellow dads (and Ashton Kutcher, I guess) that many men’s rooms still don’t have tables, apparently assuming that the women will be changing babies while the men smoke cigars and discuss big game hunting or whatever. Again, I can’t speak much to that – maybe the Seattle area is ahead of the curve on this – but I can’t imaging having to muscle my way with multiple babies in to a restroom, only to find lavatories and stink.

I don’t pitch petitions much, but please take a minute to sign this one asking restaurants to install changing tables, if for no other reason than to avoid parents changing their kids on the table next to yours while you eat. Don’t make us resort to that.

Three Pictures and Some Pants

A few months after the boys were born, I wrote a piece about fatherhood from my perspective that the awesome site for awesome dads, dads.co, was kind enough to share. At the time, I was still coming to terms with the changes that were happening in my own life and hashing out how I felt with regards to the two new lives that I was responsible for.

Now, looking back from their first birthday, it’s amazing how much I’ve changed since not just since the boys were born, but even since I wrote that post.

Yes, I’ve decided to make their first birthday all about me.

I don’t want to talk about the past several months by yammering on about growth and the triumph of the human spirit or whatever. To that end, I am going to sum up my feelings with three pictures and two pairs of pants.

Babies are babies. Our babies are like your babies are like their babies. For a large part of their first few months they are basically dazed-looking, crying balls of human excretion, resembling a Play-Doh playset filled with swamp mud. Babies are, by and large, loud, gross and dumb. Get mad if you want to; you know it’s true.

Our babies certainly fell into this generalization, and the farther we get from their birth, the louder, wrinklier, spewier, sleeplessier, and generally ickier we remember them having  been. I’m not trying to insult the lights of our lives, but I guess I have to call a poopy spade a poopy spade; they were mostly cranky and squirty, regardless of how much love and adoration we had for them.

This notion of the boys was mercifully retired one day when the boys were a hair over a month old and I took a few pictures as they lay next to each other in a Twin Z pillow. There was nothing extraordinary about it; just some more baby pictures among the thousands I’m sure I’d taken by then, but this picture really impacted me.

Partly this pic had such an affect on me because of the look C is giving his brother, and to the fact that they’re holding hands. I know, I know, at their age in this picture, it takes a bit of anthropomorphizing to read much into this. The hand-holding was coincidental, and C was glancing all around him with that same look; he could have been staring at a teddy bear or potted cactus for all it mattered. No thoughts in those heads but the entrance and egress of food.

Bros.

“You look like a very young Winston Churchill. Oh, and I just pooped.”

Yes, the boys are adorable here, but what really struck me was the juxtaposition of these two kids. M is mellow, sleeping, peaceful. C is wide-eyed, alert, awake, and anxious-looking. Before they were born and continuing to today, that has been more or less their respective “personalities”; M is the more calm, relaxed, thoughtful of the two, while C is more the go-go-go, alert, excitable, and “look before he leaps” type.

That said, it was in this picture that I first saw our sons as people; real, honest-to-God, fleshed out people. It’s hard to explain, but there was something in me that switched from viewing these babies as just babies, or as screaming crap dispensers, or as the reasons sleep was becoming a distant memory. Suddenly I saw them as “people”, as my boys, as individuals who didn’t just need to be taken care of, but that needed to be nurtured and raised to be good men.

If the boys’ personalities hit me in that photo, they clobbered me in this one:

4 months

“Your naiveté is silly, Daddy!”

There was no epiphany this time, it’s just…look at those smiles! I had never in my life seen (or at least noticed) any person look as overflowing with pure, unadulterated joy. I fell in love with these guys all over again. There’s a difference between seeing a person as a human and seeing a person as a person. Smiling and laughing because their old man was acting the fool behind their mommy while she took so many pictures the camera’s memory card was praying for Judgement Day, I saw these guys as full-blown little boys, and reveled in what was (and is as of this writing) the only example of anyone ever laughing at me when I was trying to be funny.

Because chronological order can go screw, this last picture is from the very early days after we brought the babies home.

Kat and I have known each other since 1997. We’ve moved in together, gotten married, been on adventures, overcome struggles, and gotten pregnant, but this, THIS, is the happiest I’ve ever seen her. She’s not grinning ear-to-ear or holding her sides from guffawing, but trust me, she is at the maximum threshold of human happiness. After our ordeals with infertility, miscarriage, and the deterioration of my emotional and physical health during her pregnancy, here she stands, holding her new babies and old husband. Her smile in this picture is beautiful and sweet and.it totally says “Screw every single other thing in the world. Screw all the struggles and problems, screw worries about the future, this is all I’ve ever wanted.”

Or she might just have fallen asleep...

Or maybe she just fell asleep…

Winding back the clock even further, while Kat was pregnant I was having some health issues, and they made it hard to know exactly how to feel about – or at least how to deal with – the pregnancy and impending role as a dad. When I found myself in an REI one day, I looked at children’s stuff and came across little convertible (zip-off lower legs) hiking pants. They were tagged as being for six-month-olds, they were more money than I should have spent at the time, and hiking pants are basically useless for babies. But we love hiking and I wear convertible pants when we do, so against all logic I bought two pairs:

Look at 'em. Yep, takes an awesome looking guy to make convertible pants look good.

Pacific Northwest slacks

The boys are a year old now, yet those pants still fit in what is apparently a sort of “five-small-barley-loaves-and-two-fishes” deal. On paper, I shouldn’t have bought them, but they stand as one of the only “wrong” decisions I made during that time that ended up being OK. The boys have been wearing them double the stated age, and, like their old man, they look awesome in hiking pants. I bought these pants in a sincere if ill-advised moment of impulse shopping, but they wound up being a great purchase from a practical standpoint and one of the few “silver linings” that came out of an otherwise pretty terrible time.

It’s such an oversimplification to try and sum up this past year with a few photos; we’ve had so many ups and downs, we’ve watched the milestones come and go, we’ve been humbled, we’ve been empowered, and we’ve both been given purpose in some different ways. Our boys won’t remember this year, but we’ll never forget*.

Bonus picture:

Pictured: personalities at 1

Pictured: personalities at 1

*Except actually we’ve forgotten big swaths of the first few months.

Stereotypes

Pictured: What Ward Cleaver always wanted to do.

Pictured: What Ward Cleaver always wanted to do.

Since becoming a father – and a father who spends most of his time with or near his kids – I have come to find that a number of stereotypes exist about fathers. I suppose that if I’d thought about it I might have guessed at this, but as a fatherless guy myself, I never gave it a second thought.

It’s pretty obvious that even with more and more women in the workplace and more and more stay-at-home-dads, the doting housewife cliché is still shockingly ubiquitous, even while having less and less merit. I had never really considered the fact that there are stereotypes for fathers too: the buffoonish, slovenly, football-watching to the exclusion of responsibility, scheming guy who still somehow manages to be the main bread winner has been the standard sitcom trope since Mike Brady rode off into the sunset. And even then, fathers just a generation or two ago would not be the types of dads to babywear, let alone wear super-hero costumes while shopping.

Enter my people: the Generation Xers, Yers, and the Millennials. Yes, when not busy arguing that vinyl sounds better or buying back our He-Man action figures on eBay, we (for the most part) are busy breaking stereotypes and redefining gender roles. Stay-at-home daddery is at its highest level ever, and I see more dads involved more intimately with their kids than even a decade or two ago.

That said, I was a bit taken aback by the comments I started receiving pretty much the first time I set foot outside with my twin boys and sans wife.

“Giving your wife a day off, huh?”

“It’s nice to see a dad out with his kids/I wish more dads were like you.”

“Where’s your wife?”

“I bet they like getting to hang out with dad once in a while!”  

I admit, I’ve never seen a guy out with his kids and wondered any of that. Fatherhood stereotypes aside, these kinds of comments don’t take into account single dads, widowers, gay dads, mannies, cousins, uncles, godfathers, or wizard/apprentice relationships.

At first, I started to get offended, both on my behalf and my wife’s. Why would people automatically assume we fit into clichéd gender roles? When I’m out with the boys on a Tuesday afternoon and someone asks if I’m “giving my wife a day off,” are they assuming that not only is she a stay-at-home mom, but that I’m taking time off of work to relieve her? Do they think we’re both unemployed? That my wife is so in need of rest that she had to twist my arm to get me to relieve her of her babies for an afternoon? Does having a day off mean she also doesn’t have to have a martini and fresh-baked pie ready for me when I get home?

What little offense I did take subsided pretty quickly, and for three reasons:

  1. There are years and years (like, all the years ever) of gender roles to work against. People – especially people over a certain age – have certain ideas in mind about who does what in a family. Their friends and families are all that way, and they might not have their fingers on the pulse of today’s modern family.
  2. It doesn’t hurt me. Racial stereotypes, sexual stereotypes, educational, class, income, physical – these are actually harmful. Even the stereotypes regarding what a woman’s role in the home is harmful, in that they are reducing a woman’s job to housewifery and mothering. Assuming that I’m not the primary caretaker (or that I’m taking the day off work or off of watching football to spend time with my kids) might be outdated, ignorant, and annoying, but it doesn’t hold me back or (in my opinion) even devalue my caretaking. If, as a dad, I correct someone and tell them I spend most of my time with our boys, they will most likely applaud me for being an involved father. At the worst, they might think I’ve been emasculated, but I know I haven’t been so who cares. However, if a woman says she is away from her kids most of the week to work, takes up time and space at her job to pump, or “makes” her partner stay home, she is often viewed as a poor mother. Women in the workforce without kids take enough crap from men, and even other women, as it is. When they have children and continue to work, (terrible) people just see them as failing in every aspect of a woman’s role. Those are harmful stereotypes. Thinking that I can’t put together outfits for my kids because I’m a guy really doesn’t ruffle my feathers.
  3. They’re partly true, at least in my case. I can’t put together outfits. I pretty much forget one thing (see blog title) every time I leave the house with them. And frankly, I flat-out don’t know as much as my wife does about babies, kids, and parenting. I’ve read some books and watched some videos and even been to a couple of classes, but wife has read ALL the books and seen ALL the videos and been to ALL the classes (except a babywearing class; only I’ve done that, what what!). She has thought about being a mother since she was a kid. She babysat and voluntarily held babies when the opportunity presented itself. Being a mom is in her DNA, while I didn’t think seriously about what having babies actually meant until we decided to start trying.

I never would have thought that this issue would warrant heated Internet debate, but it has because of course. We have one side that thinks any joke at the expense of dads is rude at best and setting a terrible example for our kids at worst. Then we have the “calm down, it’s just a joke” side. Commercials in particular are a hot-button item; there’s a great neutral article on both sides of TV commercial gender role issue hereyes, women are often portrayed a certain way in ads, too, and that way is usually as a modern Donna Reed.

For me, being a dad is rolling with the jokes while working to defy the stereotypes and raising my boys with their mom and me as their role models; not sitcom and commercial characters.

Letting Go

One thing that has been surprising/not surprising since even before the boys were born is the massive influx of “stuff” that a new baby – let alone two – causes. Seats. Bouncers. Toys. Diapers. Swings. Cribs. Stuff for the walls. Dishes. Food. About five minutes after the first positive pregnancy test our house began filling up with more things to keep babies warm, cool, entertained, fed, safe, clean, stimulated, relaxed, awake, asleep…

Naturally, the “butterfly effect” kicked in. Bit by bit, our stuff started to get displaced. The office and guest bedroom became one. Closets were emptied. Kitchen cabinets were consolidated. Bags and boxes were taken to Goodwill. Closet contents went into the garage.

Still, we had too much stuff. It seems like every nook and cranny is filled, so much so that some of that new baby stuff is in cardboard boxes taking up floor space. There have just been too many things we “couldn’t” get rid of. “We’ll need that someday. That has sentimental value. It’s just too cool to get rid of. If we get rid of it and decide we want it again, we won’t be able to replace it.” We (read: 90% I) couldn’t stand to get rid of enough stuff.

Now, eight months in, I realized that I am more or less over any attachment I had to a large percentage of our stuff.* I think it happened when I suddenly and without trying made peace with the fact that with babies in our lives, I needed to be ready to lose things, and to practice patience and forgiveness when it happens.

Once that had settles in, it wasn’t long before I realized “hey, if I can be OK with a baby breaking something I care about, why have I been lugging some of this crap that we never use from house to house?” I’ve finally started to see what K sees, cabinets and closets and what have you overflowing with stuff we can easily do without. I’m keeping a mental list for whenever we have the time and wherewithal to put together a garage sale. If it doesn’t happen before our next move, the thrift shop is going to get quite a load of stuff.

I’ll probably shop for more baby stuff while I’m there.

*calm down, K