Buried in babies: A Father's Day reflection

CINCINNATI -- We brought our newborn twin girls home from the hospital just before Christmas, and I thought it would be a good idea to get our 3-year-old son working for the team.

"Sam, do you want to help give Lydia a bath?"

"Oh, sure," he said in a singsong voice. "I'll get the soap that stings our eyes."

Welcome home, Liddy.

Having taken a circuitous path to the love of my life, Carrie, I had made it to 40 before Sam, our first, was born.

For the previous 20 years, I went to movies and restaurants when the spirit moved me. I ran marathons. I nursed hangovers.

Now, I nurse one or two beers lest I nod off while a friend describes a new movie that I'll be able to watch on Netflix next year. Once or twice a month, we break camp like nomads to eat out, spreading our car seats, diaper bags, toys and burp cloths across tables and chairs while wild-eyed patrons gird themselves for a baby meltdown. If there's a candle, Sam sings a quick round of happy birthday and blows it out. The mood is set.

Exercise, like print journalism, is a distant memory, replaced by chasing Sam around the house by day and wearing a path between our bedroom and the twins' by night. (Okay, my sainted wife covers most of the night shift so that I might be semi-conscious at work, but that's for a Mother's Day column).

Friends without kids buy three-day passes to Midpoint Music Festival and Bunbury and have actually heard of some of the bands that are playing. Friends who started their families in their 20s and 30s go to watch my beloved Reds while I watch "Dinosaur Train," having given up my Reds partial season package after struggling to make it to a handful of games last season – pre-twins. I'm cautiously optimistic I'll make it to a game this year.

And sleep. Oh, the memory of eight hours – Seven! Five!!! – undisturbed by screaming demons masquerading as cherubs.

Rest, bar hopping, long runs, disposable income. It's gone, all gone.

And what do I get in return?

This.


And this.


And this.


And especially, this.

Sam the tornado who remains in motion from dawn to bed time, a knowledge sponge who could guide tours of the Cincinnati Natural History Museum, the self-described nature detective who identifies deer tracks and idolizes Thane Maynard, who enjoys insipid cartoons like "Jake and the Neverland Pirates" but cuddles up to appreciate Donald O'Connor's acrobatics in "Singing in the Rain." A boy who floods the bathroom floor because he likes the feeling on his feet, who also gathers dandelions to bring to his mom. And he loves goetta at Hathaway's.

Elise, who has the sweetest disposition of anybody I know, smiling through watery eyes when she has a cold, who watches me cook with rapt attention, who quietly observes for hours at the zoo but can roll 15 feet at Formula 1 speed. 

Lydia, who always lets us know where she stands by dramatically raising her eyebrows and flailing her arms and legs to greet us, whose displeasure about being left in her bouncy seat for a minute too long is known to all within a mile radius through an indignant squeal.

The girls belly laughing at Sam making funny faces for their entertainment.

If there is a more serene time than the hour after the girls wake up for the day, lying next to each other on a blanket, thrilled at the fun of it all, I haven't found it.

If there is anything more satisfying than seeing Sam progress from painting scribbles to careful shapes and going from self-absorbed play to forging his first friendships, I'm blind to it.

I dream about a future in which our guys not only sleep through the night but grab their own cereal on a weekend and let me sleep in. My running half-joke is declaring "2032" – the year the girls can go to college – to anyone who reassures me that the sleeplessness and chaos will subside.

But I'm not fooling me. For a good 18 months, Sam insisted on "helping" me make my morning coffee. What had been a 90-second process stretched into a five- or 10-minute journey. He stood on tiptoes to place the measuring cup under the water dispenser, pressing his hands against mine. We smelled the freshly ground coffee. "Mmm," we would agree. We performed our rehearsed reverse-psychology exercise ("Whatever you do, don't flip the switch on!"). Drove me crazy, drove me to buy a cup on the way to work some mornings. And then, one day this spring, I braced myself for the ritual to hear him say, "You can do it all by yourself." And my heart hurt.

Each hour of sleep, each afternoon to myself, each reclaimed piece of autonomy, will come at a heavy price. Take your time, 2032.  

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