When I started Instafather, I was sitting bedside in the hospital, my pregnant-with-twins wife not allowed to leave her bed as doctors ordered her on bedrest for a few weeks, although she very much liked to ask about loopholes.
We had no idea what was about to happen to us — truly, if you’ve met someone with twins, they will all inevitably say that nothing prepares you for multiples.
Every day after work, I’d drive 20 minutes home to pick up my son from my house, where my in-laws were watching him, and take him to see his mom.
Elliott was about a month shy of his second birthday at that point.
Each night, he’d sit hospital bedside and eat dinner with his mom. I can remember that image clear as day, despite the indescribable fatigue of keeping up a household and a job and a toddler and the stress of awaiting twins (and I was only waiting for them… my wife had to actually birth them!). I remember how we set him up right beside her bed so that he could still feel like he had some normalcy, and then he’d cuddle up with her in the bed, carefully moving around the ten billion wires monitoring everything going on inside my wife’s stomach.
And then I’d drive him home so I could tuck him in — again, trying for normalcy — and hold his hand until the tiny eyelids closed on that little boy who was about to become a big brother.
I’d then drive back to the hospital and sleep on one of those famously comfortable hospital couches.
I’d get up early in the morning to drive back to the house, hopefully before my son woke up so it would appear I never left — a kid’s truth is what they see — and get him ready for daycare, then drive him there, then go to work, and the cycle would start anew.
Those were taxing days. Character building days. Starbucks-fueled days.
For about five years, I’ve been picking up and dropping off my son. I remember dropping him off at daycare for the first time. If you haven’t yet taken that step, trust me when I say it is harder on you than it is on your baby. Your baby will cry for five minutes and then be fine. Say a quick goodbye and head out, because the longer you linger, the worse it gets.
Soon enough, I wasn’t bringing in a car seat to pick him up anymore. And then he was walking down the steps on his own. And then he was able to start holding some of his own things.
His sisters came along, and all of a sudden I was carrying two car seats in one arm and him in the other; I do not recommend this to anyone, but dads are nothing if not stubborn about proving how many things we can carry at once. Fill my van with groceries and in one trip I will carry in all the groceries as well as the van.
All of a sudden, he wasn’t the only focus at pickup and drop-off. All of a sudden, he was the older kid in the situation, the veteran, the been-there, done-that, Elliott-can-you-walk-a-little-faster-Daddy-has-to-grab-your-sister-oh-God-why-is-she-near-the-steps?!
Then his sisters went through that same progression, and before you know it, all of them are helping to buckle their own seat belts, hold their own lunch, and run down the halls (unless their legs don’t work. It’s amazing how often my kids’ legs “don’t work.”) Elliott moved to a booster seat this summer, and now he’s fully buckling himself in.
And then he wrapped up daycare for the summer.
The next parenting phase
And now, this week, my boy, the little guy who peeked into the clear plastic bassinets for a glimpse of his premature sisters, the baby boy who would get furious on long car rides and need me to sit in the backseat with him so he could wrap his tiny hand around my index finger to calm down, the growing-like-weeds child who some days thinks pants are just a suggestion and underwear is overrated, that blonde-haired, blue-eyed, empathetic-and-curious-and-funny boy, is starting Kindergarten.
Kindergarten is not unlike daycare in that it’s going to be much harder on his mom and me than it will be for him. He’ll adjust quickly. He’ll have exciting things to tell us about what happened at school. He’ll get used to the full-day schedule and the heavy focus on learning how to read and add.
And we’ll, much more slowly, loosen our emotional grip on his childhood that, perhaps just a few hours ago, was just starting with late-night rocking sessions, with tear-filled visits to the lactation consultant as we tried to get his weight up as a newborn, with Michelin Man leg rolls and tiny giggles and the high-pitched, joyous way he would say new words like “apple” and “baby” like he was just as excited as you were that he caught on to a new sound.
The kindergarten drop-off and pick-up schedule doesn’t align with my work schedule anymore. My wife will be able to take him to and from, which will be nice for her to have that solo time with him; I’ll keep dropping our now three-year-old twin girls off at daycare.
But that means that I will no longer get to hold his hand down the hallway until he bursts into his classroom. Or play “The 12 Pains of Christmas” and the “Chipmunk Christmas Song” for him well past December just to hear him laugh at the lyrics at 7:15 in the morning. Or take the daycare drop-off photos I’ve periodically been taking for five years, first by happenstance and then on purpose as a way to chart the growth of the beautiful kids that my wife and I somehow created.
This is the thing about being the new mom or dad of a baby.
Eventually, that baby isn’t a baby anymore.
You’re not so new. They aren’t either.
And the next phase begins, one brand-new Lego Batman lunchbox at a time.
There’s a saying about parenting that you don’t know when the last time is until it’s already happened.
I rocked him to sleep… until he didn’t need me to anymore.
I would lay beside his crib at midnight holding his hand because he couldn’t fall asleep… until he didn’t need me to anymore.
I took him to daycare… until he didn’t need me to anymore.
The next needs will gradually be revealed.
But I’d like to hold onto the old needs a little bit longer.