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Fatherhood IV: Getting to Know the Girls

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A friend of mine once told me that the experience of the first two weeks made him want to have more kids.  This seemed an absurd proposition, so I asked him to elaborate.  He argued that everything that the baby did in the first couple of weeks was something that she wouldn’t do again; then she’d change again in a couple of month, and then again a couple of months later, and so forth.  Thus, your experience with your child is really ephemeral, and once you get through it the only way to experience it again is to have another child.  That you experience those moments while stressed and sleep deprived makes them all the more difficult to hold on to.

Another friend characterized the same experience in a slightly different way.  He told me that when you reach what you feel is the absolute limit of your tolerance, something changes.  The baby starts to smile, or to roll over, or to crawl, or to babble, or whatever.  This new reality has its own problems (suddenly you can’t leave the baby on the sofa, and you have to put the remote where she can’t reach), but at least it’s novel, and the novelty lets you get through a few more months.

These ways of viewing parenthood aren’t mutually exclusive, but rather are different aspects of the same experience.  The former is backward looking and tinged with regret, while the latter is forward looking and characterized by a combination of suffering and mild optimism.  Both perspectives have held some value to me, although I think the latter has been a touch more important.  Notably, the guy who explained the former never ended up having any more children, while the latter had his second child a few months before Miriam and Elisha were born.  For our part, Elisha and Miriam represent the entirety of our contribution to global repopulation.  I already appreciate, however, the grandchild impulse; I’d love to be able to experience some of those early moments again, ESPECIALLY if I can just hand the little monsters over to their mom and dad once I tire of them.

Through my life I’ve found it very easy to fall into routine.  Indeed, I seek out routine, and almost make it a routine to vary up the routines I create for myself.  It’s been relatively easy for me to develop routines of taking care of the girls.  The problem comes with the transitions.  I resist, probably more than Davida, changing routines as the girls change.  Since the girls change almost continuously (allowing for some plateaus) this means that my routines always feel threatened.  Just when I have the proper number of feedings down, as well as my method of convincing Elisha to drink her entire bottle, we suddenly have to start feeding them solid food.  Dealing with a moving target makes figuring out how to structure the rest of my life more difficult; the spending of time with my wife, the completion of work, and so forth.

I’ve also found myself obsessed with comparison.  I stare at babies that are strolled past, and often ask the parents about ages, and so forth.  I have, on many occasions, discussed the physical characteristics of other people’s babies in public places.  “Your baby has such a huge head!  It’s, like, twice the size of Elisha’s head!” is something that I exclaimed to a couple that I didn’t know at a Dewey’s Pizza.  At a recent baseball game, I marveled openly at the size of a baby’s thighs.  Both Miriam and Elisha are small, and Elisha in particular has a very small head.  I suspect that people think I’m insulting their baby when I comment on how fat he is, or how big his head is, but of course nothing could be further from the truth; I’m actually impressed by the size of other people’s babies.  I also remember the first time I noticed that other babies were smaller and younger than Miriam and Elisha, a phenomenon that, although probably predictable, kind of blew mymind.

Thinking about change and comparison, of course, reinforces just how much the girls themselves have changed.  It is… amazing… how much a baby changes in its first year.  It goes from a smelly, screeching, sleepy thing into something that still smells, screeches, and sleeps, but that also moves and has a personality.  I try to avoid projection, but it still feels as if Miriam and Elisha are so different from one another in outlook and reaction to the world.  Miriam seems so absurdly earnest about everything that she does, from babbling to eating to watching TV, while Elisha appears to have an ironic, mischievous approach to babyhood.  I know that those terms don’t quite capture what’s going on in their heads, and again that there’s some risk of projection, but nevertheless they characterize my thinking about the girls.

I’ll confess that I felt an immediate emotional attachment to one of the girls, while with the other it took a couple of months.  I’ll never say which (I suspect Miriam and Elisha will be able to use Google or its successor in fifteen years, if they wish), but it simply isn’t true that there’s an automatic connection.  I always felt responsible for the well being of both of them, but from the start I liked one better.  That’s not really the case anymore, though; although my emotional connection with each of the girls is different, I nevertheless HAVE a connection that goes beyond feelings of paternal responsibility.  I also think it’s a positive that my relationships with the girls are distinct, even at this age; I want to believe that it reinforces a budding sense of individuality.

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