Yes, the only plant that was able to thrive in my Kevorkian-like grasp was a cactus – a plant which finds peace in the dead and barren wastelands of the desert.
This does not bode well for you, Rory and Quinn. This does not bode well for you at all…
When you first came into my possession, I didn’t know what to do with you. You were mine, that was clear enough, but what did that mean? Mine. Ours. Feed you, water you, change you. Did I mention that all of my fish die prematurely as well?
There was a moment in the very beginning – you weren’t even an hour into this world – when I sat in a chair in the recovery room holding one of you while the nurse cleaned up the other. Then the nurse came over and switched with me, handing me the first and taking the second and you’re both just little armfuls, all pink skin and squinty eyes and blankets. I stared at you and it was just like a waking dream. The moment was, and remains, surreal in my memory. I just kept waiting for someone, some “authority” to walk in and take you away with a polite, “Thank you, sir. I think we’ll take it from here”. The nurse came back with the second clean baby and tried handing it (he / she? Who was it??) to me and I, in turn, tried handing the one I had back to her, sort of a, “Oh, we’re trading again?” and she said to me, “No…you keep them both. They’re both yours”. And it was then, in that moment, that everything clicked into place. My right arm was filled with a baby and my left arm was filled with a baby and they were both mine and this is where they would stay. There would be no one walking through the door to take you away. It was just the four of us and we had become a pack, a unit, a team, a family. You changed me. You turned me into a father, both in title and manner.
But you weren’t done. Over the next two years the two of you would wiggle your sticky fingers into every aspect of my life, changing me and altering me in ways that I never anticipated. You’ve taught me patience, vigilance and have opened my eyes to a new kind of love that brings me closer to understanding God’s view on me. You have taught me how to shut out all noise and meditate; having two organic air horns punching you in the kneecaps and chanting the word, “Waffle” over and over like some aborigine savage with a hankering for Belgium delights will do that to you.
Today you both fight for your place in my lap, crawling over one another to get front and center for our nightly episode of He-Man. It’s during these episodes that Quinn will regularly shout, “I have pow-err!”, which I’m sure translates to Prince Adam’s catch phrase, “I have the power” and she’ll also belt out “HEE-man!” when it comes up in the theme song. Rory, forever the techie, you have figured out how to auto-play He-Man by ejecting the DVD from the computer using the button on the keyboard and then pushing the disc back into the slot. You’ve also figured out how to unlock and operate our iPhone’s, navigate through them, find games and play them.
We’ve gotten rid of your cribs and purchased you one enormous bed that you are tentatively sharing. The latest struggle has been curbing Rory’s thievery of the blankets. Once we leave the room, he snatches all of Quinn’s blankets and bundles them around himself, burying his body in a cocoon of fabric. Quinn, understandably, goes buggie (did you like that? How I used the word “cocoon” and “buggie” in quick succession? Try to keep up). Last night, after saying our prayers, your mom left and I decided to just lie in bed with the both of you for a while.
…and then shifting…down by my feet…
…Rory starts to sit up and Quinn, completely driven by instinct, suddenly clutches her sheets in her fists and, her voice laced in panic, shouts, “No! No! My blankie!” before anything had even happened. The poor girl is like Pavlov’s dog. I have to wonder if there are nights where she just gives up and falls asleep in a little ball like some cold, orphan puppy. I know for a fact that there are mornings that I find her sleeping on the floor on her blanket, apparently opting for the hardwood safety of escaping Rory’s clutches versus napping in the lion’s den.
Being a parent hasn’t just been about teaching you to share or teaching you to be nice or polite. It’s also been about trying to instill a sense of spirituality in you, a lesson that comes full circle. At night your mom and I say the Now I Lay Me prayer and then we have you repeat after us by saying, “Say, Dear Jesus” and you say, “Dee-yoh, Jezoo”. “Say, thank you for Mommy,” “Tank you fuh Mohmmie,” “Thank you for Daddy,” “Tank you fuh Daddy” but sometimes you just start running your own course and we say, “Say thank you for puppies,” “Tank yu foh…….Mama June,” “Okay…say, ‘Thank you for Grandma Kathy,” “Tank yoo…..puppies”, “Okay, that works too. Say, “Love you, Jesus”, “AMEN!”
Once we had people over for dinner and opted not to pray… but you both quickly put us in our places. You both reached out and took the hands of the unsuspecting individuals sitting next to you, who were, reasonably enough, unsure of what to make of these children suddenly grasping at their fingers. “Well,” I said, “looks like we’re going to pray”. And that’s what I love. I love that I change as much as you do. You are not the small infant that I held in my arms at the hospital two years ago – far from it – and I am not the person (Man? Boy?) that I was holding you two years ago – far from it! Every decision I make every day has you in it. From the big stuff down to the minutia.
I ask myself, “What would my children say if they could see me now?” and my brain replies, “But they can’t see you now,” and my heart replies, “But if I act one way in front of my children and another way in front of the world, I would be an impostor and I would be a fake and there are few things worse.”
You, my children, my blanket thieves and screamers. My laugh-out-louds and stumblers. My book readers and ball throwers. I will change every time you do and we will grow together. You, my little children, are not a simple plant to enter my life and leave me unchanged and uncaring.
You are my pride and my joy and I pour all that I have into you. Life will be good and easy and life will be difficult but we will do it together because you, Rory and Quinn, are not simple plants. You are my cactus and you are here to stay.
Here’s the final deal. Our sweet and crazy little babies as they grew.
I’m staring at myself in a mirror. The thing attached to my face – the thing I call a beard – has been dyed black. I lost a bet. I look like Abraham Lincoln. I make a note to find a top hat and take a picture of myself. Honestly, the Black Beard looks pretty ridiculous. It looks like I’m “trying”. Trying to be… what? Young? Hip? Presidential? Doesn’t matter. You make your bets, you win some, you lose some, you pay your dues. The dye washes out, the hair grows back, etc. etc. Things will return to how they were.
I walk into the living room and sit down in a chair. Quinn holds a tiny camera up to her eye and says, “Smile!” and I do because I’ve never seen her do this before. She clicks the button at just the right time and I ask her if she got a good one? “Smile!” A few moments later I sneeze and she says, “Bless you!” and I truly am. Blessed. It’s the first time she’s said this as well.
Who are these children living in my house? Sleeping in my baby’s cribs? Eating my cereal with my spoons? Where are your sippie cups? I get ready to leave for work and Quinn says, with yogurt dripping down her stomach, “Bye bye, Papa”. “Bye bye, little Quinnie! See you tonight!”
When I return, Rory is standing at the desk playing with the mouse, scooting it this way and that across the screen. He’s on his tip toes and is wearing Superman underwear. UNDERWEAR. These aren’t diapers. These aren’t pull-ups. These are full on cotton undies. I ask him where Monster is and he turns to me, looks around the room and then holds both hands out and says, “I don’t know,” so I say, “Where is Monster? Is he in your room?” and with that he goes and checks. A few moments later he comes waddling out with My Pet Monster, an enormous blue stuffed animal that is bigger than he is and probably weighs nearly as much. He sets Monster down and gives him a kiss on his long, green nose. He says, “Nooooze.” He says, “Eyyyyyyez”. He says, “Hooooooornz”. And I say, “Yes! That’s right!” He counts all the way to seven. Quinn says her ABC’s INCLUDING the entire “Next time won’t you sing with me” epilogue. Sure, it’s choppy, but it’s there. The three of us have a secret handshake that I can’t really talk about but it goes something like this…
Jade and I put them to bed and when we close the door, we hear Quinn begin to scream. Rory has taken to sharing her bed and she has taken to screaming about it. We let it ride. They both sleep curled up together, sharing blankets. Soon, they’ll each have their own room. Soon, they won’t want to sleep in our bed with us. Soon, they won’t run to us when we come home, they won’t want to sit on our laps and fetch simple toys to show us.
They won’t want to play kitchen for much longer or cuddle on the couch while we watch He-Man. They will be too old to potty train and it will all be gone. Parenting is so bittersweet it hurts, horribly and viciously. Every night that I put them down to sleep is another night that slips away… and I know I’ve said as much before but it never gets easier. They’re so big and I love them but they will never return to how they were. By the time my beard turns back to how it was, they will be new creatures, broken free from the cocoons of the children I love.