Monday, April 13, 2009

Growing up by example

This column ran today in the Greeley Tribune:

My wife pretty much always dreamed of being a mother. I think she had other dreams - something along the lines of living in a romantic chick flick, preferably one staring Matthew McConaughey - but being a mother ranked pretty close to the top of her life list.

On my list, being a parent was somewhere ranked between “hike to Everest base camp” and “get to Level 34 at Dig-Dug.”

Needless to say, I didn’t want to grow up. I didn’t get married until I was 30 and when I did get married, I gave up exactly nothing. I started my goal - started, not wrapped up - of climbing all the 14ers in Colorado. I bought an X-Box and played it enough for Kate to occasionally refer to it as “The Mistress.” I read books and watched lots of movies and kept up with every new rock band. 

I was 30, but my mind still pretended I was a teenager.

And then Kate got pregnant. Now I make it sound like it was not planned. Oh, it was planned. We were trying for six months. But let’s be honest. Trying to get pregnant is really fun. It’s easy to forget about the ultimate goal behind the trying when you’re trying as often as we were, especially when you’re brain is still 17.

But all that trying eventually worked, darn it, and Kate was pregnant. When she told me, I acted happy. I was happy in a sort of, “Well, this will be cool, let’s try this out.” I went along for the ride. I helped pick out furniture for the nursery, argued with Kate about my son’s name (she won, of course) and went to birthing class. I even drummed up some nerves, as if my brain realized that it was going to have to accept some responsibility for this baby, nerves that were not calmed until I took Boot Camp for New Dads at North Colorado Medical Center.

Then Jayden arrived, and things, of course, changed. But they didn’t change as much as you might think. Kate got up most of the time. I still played video games - I remember him taking a nap on me once while I blasted aliens  - and I finished the 14ers that year.

When the twins arrived, playtime was over, and I really struggled. I got up with Kate every two hours, for months and months and months, because we both had to feed a baby. I learned how to do things with one arm because the other was always nestling a baby in its crook. I did not climb much at all that year, ran only a few races (and nearly quit one 5K because I was so tired) and focused all my creative energy on making an iMovie of the twins’ first year.

The thing was, I didn’t want to give up fun time. I still went to bed around midnight. I spent a lot of time with my kids but, at times, slightly resented it. I was always looking forward to the next Kansas basketball game or the next movie or, yes, the next level of whatever video game I was playing.

I loved my kids dearly. I just didn’t want them taking over my life.

As a result, I ignored the subtle hints. Kate would throw a huge pile of laundry on the floor and sigh about how hard it was to get it done and cook dinner and vacuum with the kids everywhere. I would nod in agreeable sympathy and talk about how yard work was the same way. 

Finally, one day, Kate broke down and, through tears, said she was overwhelmed. I’m not sure if it was the tears or the words, but a small part of my brain kicked the rest of it in the shin. 

The problem with twins and a toddler is you can put in a lot of work and not really make much of a dent in what needs to be done. You can, for instance, play with one child and have Mom chase the other two around and still believe you’re doing your part. I thought I was being a good husband and father, and I was, by some fairly weak standards. It wasn’t nearly enough.

So - insert the “Rocky” music here - I volunteered to do the laundry. I started cooking dinner at least one night a week. Most of all, at night, after dinner, I was getting wet during the kids’ baths and playing with them until it was time for bed. 

I also shoved Kate out the door so she could spend time with her friends, even if it meant I had all three kids alone. It turns out that Kate, like me, needed her freedom as well. I even recently watched all three for four days when Kate took her first trip away from the kids (to Las Vegas, appropriately). 

The girls turn two in May. People ask me if it’s easier. It’s easier in some ways. Jayden’s settled down, listens to us a lot more and is turning out to be a smart little guy. The girls sleep through the night (usually), can entertain themselves at times and can talk to tell us what they want.

Jayden also still needs more attention than we realize, asks us “why” about a billion times a day and insists on doing everything himself, even if it creates a big mess. The girls still scream loud enough to break the sound barrier and do it way more frequently than I would like.

All of them, however, say “Daddy!” when I get home. So in many ways it’s not getting easier. It’s just a lot more fun. Even those four days with the kids, alone, was fun. No, really, it was.

I am now taking a perverse satisfaction in the fact that I’ve washed more clothes to cover all of the 14ers I once climbed. I am coming up with new recipes to delight and confuse my wife at the same time (she’s still not sold on citrus carrots). I am loving the times when Andie climbs on the couch to roughhouse and am amazed at the punishment she can take (and dole out).

I’ve also given up video games, go to bed by 10:30 p.m., and I’m such a veteran, I teach that Boot Camp class a few Saturdays a year. 

The cool thing about all this is not that my kids are growing up. It’s that we’re growing up together.

3 comments:

Lauren said...

How great that you realized your wife needed more of your help and you rose to the challenge. That is more than a lot of men would do. My fiance is a great father and I don't know if I would have survived the last 6 months without him. Twins take so much work and I couldn't imagine having them and a toddler. You all are warriors!!!!

Krissy said...

BEST POST EVER!

Nice job, Dad.

The Wife said...

You're a good egg, Peaker. But I know its tough . . . its even tough for moms. I distinctly remember having to really convince myself hard to try for number 2 . . . I didn't want to give up the little bit of freedom I thought I had regained . . . six years later, I have two beautiful boys that still make a lot of work for me (us), but make it all worthwhile.