My Mother, who for as long as I can remember, has catalogued the lives of my siblings, as well as my own, through the once-thought miracle of photography, giving us the ability to relive every childhood memory in vivid clarity. Birthdays, Christmas’s, school plays, sporting events, the list goes on and on. This never seemed all that important until recently, while changing out photos of my boys with updated ones from our most recent summer.
If there’s one thing that the last two years has taught me, it’s that parenting is messy; but, that it’s the chaos that makes a house a home. And I don’t just mean the Fruit Loops under the living room sofa or the feint odder of urine from an ill-timed trip to the potty. I mean the imperfect way in which life creates organically perfect moments. Moments that seem insignificant at the time, but later represent memories that, when reminded of, bring a sense of completeness and warmth; But, with that comes, also, a somber reminder of the truth of how fast it all goes.
One of my boys will position himself in such a way that if he thinks I’m about to get up from the couch, he can quickly throw a leg over my shoulder and hitch I ride to wherever I’m going. I cry a little each time, often exhausted from the previous graveyard shift, and the mere idea of pouring juice for what feels like the thousandth time that morning seems nearly soul-crushing, even without the added forty pounds. At least until I remind myself that tomorrow, he may be too big to enjoy these shoulder rides from Dad. Or worse, decide that I don’t enjoy them and simply stop making the attempts altogether. Either way, they will be over way too soon and I will never be able to go back and relive these moments.
When the two of them first arrived, nearly two years ago at the time of this writing, one of my boys had a cold. To manage the irritation of his symptoms, he would tighten his upper lip around his front teeth. That face became his distinguishing gesture. And, for a time, was one of the only ways I could differentiate between the twins. That is until my family and I began mimicking the face and both boys would mirror the expression for effect. This simple expression was one of our earliest interactions. One of our first family memories. And that experience is now gone, other than for one photograph my mother happened to catch of both boys making this face at the exact same moment, side-by-side. Absent which, even the memory of that may have been lost forever. A memory which, at the time, seemed insignificant. Until one day it no longer happened. It had been replaced by new interactions and new expressions.
When I think back over the amount of work the past two years have been, it’s easy to understand why some people choose not to participate in the parenting ritual, electing instead to avoid the added complication altogether. The truth is, I can hardly remember what my life was like before I had children; Truth is, I seldom ever want to remember. Because, for all the self-centered occupations I found myself once engaged in, a million tiny moment of connecting with my children have replaced them. And, years from now, lying awake in bed at the end of my life, those are the moments I am going to reflect on in remembrance of a life well lived. And I’m going to miss the weight of my growing boy pressing down upon tired shoulders, egger for his ride to the kitchen. I’m going to miss them spilling juice all over the kitchen floor because they’ve reached the age where they’re wanting to be more self-sufficient. It’s tiresome, but pales in comparison to the joy of watching them grow and learn and thrive. Or, feeling the frustration of arguing with their newly forming opinions of how things should be run around the house, but smiling inside as new facets of their personalities begin to emerge with each assertion.
Because those tiny moments, that is the good stuff. That is what makes life worth living. One day I may again fly airplanes and ride motorcycles. I may travel for business conventions and get fitted for a Brioni or Tom Ford Bespoke tailored suit. Or maybe not. I knew what this venture would cost me, and I have never felt like anything less than a con-artist, trading fate my meaningless pass-times and possessions for the simple joys that being a dad has given me.
For me, becoming a dad took planning and patience as I learned to navigate the unorthodox and emotionally taxing journey through the foster care system. But, even now I can’t see my experience as anything less than blessed. The number of things that had to line up for me to enter into the licensing process and exit out the other side at the exact moment my boys entered into the system; And now, to be staring down the finish line, only months away, with adoption paperwork only weeks from being filed with the state. Even for someone as self-assured and confident (bordering on cocky) as the culmination of my choices have led me to be, I can’t help but feel humbled by the experience and recognize the evidence of divine intervention at work. As though every negative experience in my life were all engineered to drive me to the point where I was ready to burn the ships and forge a path through terrain I’d never imagined for myself.
Two years ago I opened my heart and my home to twin 18 month old boys and the two of them saved my life. For all the successes and failures in my adult life and the amazing things I was able to accomplish and experience, none of it meant anything to me beyond the initial thrill accomplishment brings. I struggled at times with depression. I smoked, drank, and sought the wrong company in an attempt to dull the reality that there was more to life, but it seemed to allude my grasp, and no amount of power, influence, or money ever brought me any closer to attaining it. I was never suicidal. To quote Raymond Reddington from the hit TV show, The Blacklist, “Suicide is an act of terrorism, perpetrated on those closest to you…” But, I definitely wasn’t fulfilled. To quote a friend of mine’s recent and insightful assessment of my state during the time leading up to this decision, I was “cabin-fevered by my current life.”
I would never put the responsibility for the burdens I carry or the demons I face on my children. They are most definitely not responsible for my happiness. But they are absolutely to blame for it. The void that I felt has been filled with an abundance of chaos, which is both messy and unpredictable, but somehow fixed things in my life I never knew were broken.
So as a parent, unqualified to offer parenting advice to anyone: Be present; Be in the moment. The days are long but the weeks are short and the months fly by. Before you know it, they are gone and can never be recaptured. Don’t take a single second with your children for granted. No amount of money can rebuy the time you’ve lost trying to put them in a pair of Jordan’s.