I became a new parent last July—twice over, to fraternal twins, Jack and Eli.
I’d been warned, by long-time parents, “You’ll forget the whole first year.” The life of a new parent, particularly with twins, devolves into a timeless haze of diapers, breasts, bottles and burp cloths. I decided to write a column as a way of preserving some trace of my memories, so on Be Well Philly sister site, the Philly Post, I’ve written on topics ranging from breastfeeding and miscarriage, co-sleeping and circumcision. My favorite column remains the one in which I advised a great many people—maybe even you—to shut up.
Now, each week, I’m bringing my posts here to Be Well, where I hope you’ll join me on this new journey. And I also hope you’ll pipe in every now and then with your thoughts and advice—even if we completely disagree with each other.
The standard chatter I hear from most parents and even one particularly vitriolic nonparent is negative. One woman who found out I had twins said, simply, “They will break you.”
It might be that they have. I know I probably cried more in the last six months than I did in any other given year. But there has been another steady theme to the last six months: unbridled joy. And frankly, I’m surprised at how relatively few parents spoke to me about that. So, in an effort to sum up essentially my first six months as a parent and clear the decks for the many columns to come, here is some happiness with which to start the New Year—a story I’d imagine reflects a natural high common to parenthood, though no one warned me about it.
What time is it? Hard to tell. The clock says it is 3 p.m. My body says it is Never O’Clock, a land beyond time I arrived in, Through the Looking Glass-style, by virtue of sleeping, for many months, just long enough to stave off a hallucinatory breakdown.
My wife holds a boy, Jack.
I hold a boy, Eli.
The boy is fussy. He whines, his voice like a rain of straight pins. He yells, his voice like a box cutter. I walk, holding him in cradle position. I rock, holding him like a football. I clutch him to my shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Nothing helps. Never O’Clock, it seems, is a timeless space built for whining and crying.
“He fights it,” Lisa says, meaning Eli cries his way toward sleep. “Make him fight.”
So I sit down in a makeshift fort of pillows: Eli in my left arm, an iPad to my right. He cries. And I jiggle my boy. Not sure what I am trying to mimic here: A car. A swing. The motions he felt in the womb.
He wails and groans like I am torturing him.
Then he quiets.
I try to jiggle with no more enthusiasm than before. But inside, I am thrilled at Eli’s silence. I begin to read a book on my iPad: Why Does The World Exist? An Existential Detective Story by Jim Holt. The book ponders a central question of philosophy: why is there something, rather than nothing?
I’m reading it because it relates to my own book, Fringe-ology, and suddenly I am … reading. I am lost, pondering the mysteries of existence. When I turn back to my left there is a small, perfectly sleeping boy nestled in my left arm. His lips are full and pink. His eyelashes are terrifically long, telescoping out like the tendrils of a flower. He sleeps. I turn back to my book. Holt is in Europe, pondering the Big Bang, a universe that is slowly expanding. I feel myself coming back together.
The man who pondered and read. The new dad who loves to stare at his boys. I watch Eli sleep—vivid, no atmosphere clouding his round, glowing moon face. And more than an hour passes like this, till it is no longer Never O’Clock.
It is 4:40 p.m.
I will finish reading this book, even though I already know how it ends: Why is there something rather than nothing? Oh, Jim Holt. For Eli.
Steve Volk is Philadelphia magazine’s senior writer. A new dad to twin boys, he blogs about the ups and downs of modern-day fatherhood each week here on Be Well Philly.