The scene of this blog posts opens with me, standing outside on our front porch, in the rain, trying my best to catch my breath. Inside, two boys were in their cribs, where they would be unable to find trouble, screaming at the top of their tiny lungs. While these lungs were tiny, they were quite capable of filling the house with sound. Unpleasant sound. Screaming for relief for some ailment that I could not identify. They had eaten. Their diapers were dry. And still they screamed.
In the first few months of life, there were a lot of nights like this. When Sarah and I were home together, it was mostly manageable. Man coverage, to borrow a sports metaphor. We could divide and conquer quite easily. But the problem was Sarah and I were rarely home together. I was constantly away for classes at seminary, or at work, or writing papers. When I wasn’t doing those things, I was home alone with the boys while Sarah was at work. This was where trouble lived. When one boy cried, I would pick him up and feed him and try to calm him down. But even at just a few months old, our boys were able to see when their brother was getting the attention they felt they more richly deserved. So boy #2 would cry. And then boy #1 would cry harder. And then Daddy would cry. Screaming became a constant friend.
The worst was any time we would be out on a long road trip. I remember vividly once coming home from my parents' house while Sarah had been at work. I had just exited the parkway and was sitting in bumper to bumper traffic on the Liberty Bridge (the one that caught fire…that one). This was when Joshua woke up and apparently hated the Liberty Bridge traffic as much as I did. So he screamed. And screamed. And screamed. I couldn’t help him. I was behind the wheel of a car. I needed to remain behind the wheel of a car. I couldn’t feed him. I couldn’t comfort him. He couldn’t see me, because of the rear facing car seats. It was a mess.
It took a while, but eventually I figured out a way to deal with the screaming before it started. Be with my boys. You see what frustrated me most about the endless screaming and diaper changes was that it was taking me away from whatever I had wanted to do in that moment. I wanted to be writing a paper, because it was due tomorrow. I wanted to be watching TV, because I had just finished writing a paper. I wanted to eat a snack, because I hadn’t for hours consumed any food. My agenda was on the line, and these boys were stealing time away. But when I came to my senses, I realized that my agenda was meaningless. Ever since that moment, I have a new agenda when I am with the boys: be present with them.
This agenda has gotten easier as they figure out how to do more stuff. Crawling was a big leap forward in the kinds of games we can play. But for me even in those early days, it was important to set aside the things I wanted to do and just be with my newborn twins. Before they could even roll over, I would lie down on the floor next to them and stare at the ceiling fan. I would get really close to them and make goofy faces, and laugh hysterically when they tried to make them back. And the naps, oh the naps! Every once in a while one of the boys would fall asleep on me, and instead of putting them down I would sit on the couch and watch him sleep on my shoulder. It was heavenly.
Now of course they still scream every once in a while, but a funny thing happened when I was present. They scream less. And even when they do, I seem to have an easier time calming everybody down. I’m sure a big piece of it is them growing up and learning to sooth themselves, and even me gaining a few fatherhood skills along the way, but I think a lot of it has to do with just being with my sons. I hope that is my posture for the long haul. These guys are pretty fun to be around.
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