A year already? Life lessons from the first year of fatherhood

Posted on Posted in Family, Lifestyle, Parenting

How can 365 days fly by so fast, especially after the first 6 weeks took so long? It feels like no time has passed since I stood in the operating room in the hospital next to my wife and was quickly handed not one but two greenish, slimy, fragile looking potatoes with spindly limbs. It would take a few more hours for it to sink in that I was a father now. Actually, it might have been three days later on Father’s Day that I really started to feel like a dad. Now, just over a year later, I can’t believe a whole year has passed and my little boys aren’t infants anymore but are officially toddlers. 

It took a while to feel like a dad

The first few months were so focussed on survival that it didn’t really sink in that these were people’s lives we were shaping. All we had time and the brain power to worry about was keeping them alive and a basic level of sanity for us. Only about 6 months in did I realize that my actions and the ways I carried them out were slowly defining who the boys would become. The first time one of them mirrored what I was doing, or gave me a funny look after I made a face at them, I realized I’d have to be more aware of not only what I did, but how I did it. It can be easy to lose track of the influence we have directly and indirectly as a new parent.

It’s a blur

To say the first year was a blur would be a huge understatement. Maybe it’s a bit of PTSD or just the sleep deprivation early on, but there are parts I just can’t remember from this year. Sure, I remember the winery we took them to one week out of the hospital and our first overnight trip away from the house to the shore. I remember our long weekend trip to Mystic with friends and visits to the zoo, botanical gardens, and aquarium. I remember all of the firsts like their first time sitting up. The first time they finally fed themselves from the bottle so we no longer had to contort ourselves, and of course their first solid food. I barely remember their first night sleeping through the night because I could hardly believe it. Besides the firsts though, it doesn’t seem at all possible that an entire year has passed since our lives changed so much because so much is hard to recall.

We learned how to parent quickly

The first six weeks with the twins were an absolute crash course on parenting. With two hungry, sleepy, rapidly growing creatures, we had to quickly figure out our approach and how we would adapt to the new world we were in. We got lucky with many things with the boys. We never had major sleep problems, though, with two, we didn’t get a full 7+ hours of sleep a night until several months in. After about 6 weeks though, we did at least get to a fairly stable point where we got a solid 5 hours. This was one of the first things I learned, that I could survive and make due on far less sleep than I had thought. The other aspect of this was learning just how impossible sleep deprivation makes life. There’s a huge difference between a night or two of not enough sleep and several straight weeks of it. This lack of sleep made us irritable, sluggish, and slow to make decisions. Finally getting enough sleep to really function after a couple of months made a huge difference.

I can’t remember parts of it

Now, a year later, it’s hard to remember those times and how hard it was to just barely function through a full day. I don’t remember going back to work well and can barely imagine how I both got through the day on so little sleep and made it through knowing that my two incredible dudes were at home waiting for me. I’m so thankful I was able to take six weeks of paternity leave with the boys after my wife went back to work, but can’t reconstruct what we actually did during this time except for a lot of walks to keep them calm, rocking two seats with each leg, and constant feedings. We were such slaves to feeding schedules that we essentially scheduled our entire day around them. With two boys to feed by bottle before they could hold themselves up, it’s possible I spent the entire leave feeding them. I do remember a few great moments like big smiles when I managed to get them both outside for a walk and the dog too. I am so glad I got to spend so much time home with them at this early age and only wish I had more time to do so. With them growing so fast, every minute I spend away from them now is incredibly difficult.

With the amnesia that seems to come with parenting infants, I also tend to forget or at least de-emphasize the hard parts. Days spent entirely on the couch with one being fed and the other being rocked by foot all kind of meld together and are easy to forget.

It gets easier

The lack of sleep and constant nighttime warfare they seemed to enjoy waging just to keep us on our toes, like the psychological warfare used to torture enemy combatants also fade into the distance in the past. For the first 9 months, we couldn’t believe any parent would have more than one child. Now we’re starting to tell ourselves it wasn’t so hard. It’s a lie many parents tell themselves. Perhaps it’s an evolutionary adaptation that allows us to forget and move on, otherwise, our species would never grow.

They become so much fun

The number of things that have become more fun over this year has grown as well. For the first few months, the boys were basically bags of potatoes we carted around everywhere and didn’t have to worry about moving, after all a bag of potatoes is pretty much going to stay exactly where you left it. Now, they are mobile and insane. They don’t stay put. They make journeys to the kitchen, expeditions to the hallway, and disappear while spelunking under cribs and tables. When they learn about how to play real hide and seek we may never find both of them. They love to bounce around in the jumper like they are in the front row of a Motley Crue concert. They sing along to songs and if mommy and daddy dance around like lunatics too, they will crack up giggling and bouncing as well. They will sometimes clap their hands along with us or just as often look at us like we are the lamest, weirdest people on the planet. I guess it’s all to prepare us for older children.

They also love bath time now and we don’t have to bathe them individually in a hospital bed pan or whatever the overpriced plastic tub handmade from some old woman in Sweden or whatever it is we have is. Now, both are quite happy to share the bathtub and bounce around splashing like the second worst synchronized swim team ever. The first was the ill-fated Swiss team of 1928.

Everything is a projectile now

Their favorite game is to test which combination of toy and flooring material makes the loudest sound when they throw it. So far plastic balls on marble win and we lose while our handyman also wins. The best part is that they are more active now and nap less. We’ve learned the hard way that naps are not optional and a schedule needs to be followed, but it still means they are up more with us and playing around. We get in a few rounds of “knock down the tower daddy built” and “what’s stronger, wood or glass?” each night.

Having a life gets easier

With this change in schedule, we’ve also become less slavishly devoted to food and sleep schedules. We still impose a fairly strict regime on them as babies, especially twins, need structure. But, we are also willing to compromise or flex plans a little to accommodate our own lives. We don’t rush away from everywhere just to be home at 7:00 exactly anymore. We let them sleep in the car if needed and quickly run them upstairs while asleep. We always bring food with us when we leave the house, but we more often depend on it as a backup now and let them eat what we are eating many times.

Food is less stressful

Our second night with them was a stress filled one in the NICU with one who wasn’t eating enough right after being born. I recall having to sit for nearly an hour trying any way I could to get him to take just one ounce of formula so his levels would go back up. I tried twisting the bottle around, taping it, burping him frequently, rubbing his belly, and many other manners of voodoo to get him to eat. Now we can’t get them to stop eating. They both throw their bottles across the room in frustration when they are empty. Woe is the parent who runs out of food to feed them during the day. They eat everything we eat, with spice, and demand more. It’s great to see their growth and healthy appetite, but it makes me completely forget the little peanuts who would barely take a sip of formula.

Crying gets nuanced

One downside to them growing up is that crying is much more sophisticated now. At first, crying was always hunger, dirty diaper, or tiredness. A quick cycle of diaper checking, bottle, and rocking would most often soothe it. Now, crying is more often a sign of tiredness. Or hunger. Or diaper. Or too much sleep. Or too much food. Or boredom. Or anxiety. Or needing attention. Or tooth pain. Or gas. Or the other one stole a toy. And they don’t speak so it’s impossible to know. We try to let them figure it out on their own sometimes, but it can be so hard to know when they just want attention and when it’s a genuine need for something.

They are real people now

The best part of raising twins is seeing them develop their own personalities. Each is becoming more and more distinct. Axel is a total goof and will crack up if you even look at him silly. Sometimes he’ll just look up, stare at you super seriously, and then let out a huge raspberry, tongue flailing. He then waits to see if you laugh before he starts giggling hysterically. Anders is more serious and has earned the nickname “camp counselor” at daycare as he likes to supervise the other kids outside. He’s also a very crazy dancer with a limb-flailing commitment to the music not seen elsewhere except maybe in Flea, the bassist for the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. He also loves to hide. He hasn’t quite figured out how to hide beyond throwing a blanket over his own head, but one has to admire his dedication to the game.

They love each other

The absolute best thing they do though and one that melts our hearts and makes us so glad to be parents is when they look across, make eye contact, remember that the other one is there, and start laughing uncontrollably. This often happens in the bathtub, followed by fits of splashing. It also happens more often at night, after we “put them to bed”, and we catch it on the monitor. They can now stand up in their cribs and will actually reach over to grasp hands. It’s equal parts adorable and frustrating when it happens at night.

Sure, they can be a handful and are increasingly becoming difficult to keep control of, but there are so many rewarding parts of being a father of these guys. The more their personalities develop, the more fun they get and the more teaching them about the world and how to behave is worthwhile. Much of the first year was all survival mode, and now in our second year together, we get to start working on the people they will grow to become. It’s an incredible opportunity to teach and shape their lives and the journey is a blast. It doesn’t get easier, there are just new challenges, but after the difficulty of the first few months, I think we can make it through anything now. I, for one, can’t wait to see what these crazy kids do in the next year. If they’ve changed this much this year, I can barely imagine what the next 12 months will bring.

My life has changed so much in these last twelve months and became rewarding in ways I would never imagine. Having two little impressionable mini-mes has a great number of challenges, but is just incredible. The joy I feel when one does something independently that I know I’d do similarly, or when one does something totally unexpected is immense. I suppose becoming a father isn’t just something that happens overnight, it’s a growth process that takes years. Like any journey, it isn’t a straight line, but a series of ups and downs that we learn through. I’m so glad I’ve gone down this path though and can’t wait for the next set of challenges and opportunities.