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Fatherhood III: Learning to Deal with the Little Monsters

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For the first few months, I was responsible for more general day-to-day child care than my wife.  She was working full time, and since I was teaching only one course per week, I had a reasonable amount of time to spare.  We were also fortunate enough to be able to hire a couple of nannies, one for three nights a week and one for three days.  Both nannies were fantastic, and we do our best to stay in touch.  Nevertheless, I theoretically had responsibility for four nights and four days a week, although in practice we were able to farm out the girls to relatives often enough that I didn’t usually work that much.  This arrangement allowed me to feel as if I were doing my part in contributing to childcare; I was still quite mindful of the difficulty that Davida had endured during the pregnancy.  Of course, I didn’t have to affix the screechy little parasites to my body, or take the breast pump to work.

During the days, my favorite part of the job was taking the girls for a walk.  They normally went right to sleep as soon as the stroller started moving, so we’d explore the parts of downtown/Inner Harbor Baltimore that were within our radius of action.  The walks were nice because they broke up the tedium, but also because people tended to be really friendly to a guy walking around with newborn twins in a stroller.  You tend to see fewer men pushing strollers, and you don’t tend to see a lot of double strollers.  It soon became clear that people were willing to cut me a lot of slack simply because I was a guy with two babies in a stroller.  Of course, anyone with two babies gets some sympathy, but I was a guy with two babies in a stroller.

This exposed the soft bigotry of low expectations problem. If I pop wheelies with the stroller, I get credit for at least being willing to take care of my kids. If I deliver the babies to day care with mushed-carrot-stained clothes, nobody thinks I’m a bad dad; at least I care enough to deliver them. If I do tricep extensions with a baby at 1pm in a sports bar while drinking a beer with my other hand, people just think it’s cool and funny.  While there’s a certain degree of genuine admiration for the guy who contributes to taking care of the kid, there’s also a fair amount of implicit judgment of the women who’s not doing them.  People judge my wife because she’s not the one changing the poopy diaper, while they think that I’m doing someone a favor by cleaning up after my own offspring. It’s a facet of the old “I’m a fuck up, and it was your fault because you trusted me” problem; my parental inadequacies became her responsibility, because of course what sensible mother would leave the father with such latitude?

The night was far less social, and much more challenging.  Managing newborn twins at night is, I suspect, a difficult proposition at the best of times.  Because the girls didn’t always sleep at the same time, it was difficult to sneak naps longer than a few minutes.  Our situation was complicated by the fact that Elisha was small and initially reluctant to gain weight.  We were told to feed her every 2.5 hours, which made it very difficult indeed to schedule any kind of sleep.  Miriam could probably have operated on a slightly longer schedule; she was a bit bigger and generally drank a bit more, but I don’t think that she could have made it to five hours without waking up hungry.  And so we pretty much had to go through the process of feeding every 2.5 hours, for both babies.  With the inevitable diaper change and the difficulty of getting back to sleep, this routine meant that effectively the night time caretaker got zero sleep.

I only got really angry once.  They were about three weeks old, and Elisha had just fallen asleep for the first time in several hours.  Miriam, however, wouldn’t stop screaming.  It was probably 3am, and I’d been awake for quite a while.  I became, quite suddenly, furious with Miriam.  Nothing happened; I managed eventually to get Miriam to quiet down, and at 6am handed her off to Davida with a curt “Take this baby.”  It’s fair to say, though, that it’s impossible for me to view stories of horrific violence against children in quite the same way as I did before that moment.  I don’t mean serial abuse; I think that there’s a big difference between a prolonged campaign of violence and a sudden act brought about by feelings of desperation.  When you’re in one of those moments, anything seems possible.  I should also note that the lack of sleep, the stress, and the general aggravation led me to be angrier in general.  This was the only time I can remember, however, in which the anger was directed at one of the girls rather than (unfairly) at Davida, or the TV, or some blog commenter, or whomever else crossed my path.

And so I had lots of time on my hands.  I watched Dexter, pretty much the entire series.  I also watched a fair number of old movies, and played some Wii. I did some blogging, and found that my capacity to do decent work at 3am without sleep was considerably less that I’d hoped.  Mostly I played Civ IV, which is a pursuit uniquely suited to wasting time while difficult infants try to fall asleep next to you.  It requires enough engagement to keep your head working, but not so much that sleep deprivation prevents you from playing.  Most of all, it uses up time; if you’re lucky, you can sufficiently lose yourself in the pursuit to capture one more city that you don’t mind overmuch the fact that you have to feed the babies in 15 minutes.

Now it’s a lot easier.  They sleep eleven hours a night (certain difficult nights excepted), and nap on a fairly regular schedule.  They’re both still small, but I don’t constantly worry about the number of calories that Elisha is taking in.  They can also entertain themselves to a certain extent.  I don’t know if it’s yet quite right to say that they play with each other, but they do seem more interactive than the “play around each other” construction.  One thing I’ve noticed is that they when they start crawling toward each other, they invariably overlap; each has aimed at where her sister used to be, and hasn’t bothered to course correct along the way.

I was told by several people that you don’t really remember those first few months.  That’s not quite true, as I remember them quite well.  What I have difficulty remembering is the milestones; I don’t quite remember when Elisha started smiling, or when Miriam first slept through the night, or the variety of other moments that herald a transformation in the relationship between a parent and child.  Oddly enough, though, I’m not really bothered that I don’t remember those things.  Maybe because I’m still in the middle of it, I still prefer to think about it in terms of transitions rather than in terms of endpoints.

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