I’m staring at myself in a mirror. The thing attached to my face – the thing I call a beard – has been dyed black. I lost a bet. I look like Abraham Lincoln. I make a note to find a top hat and take a picture of myself. Honestly, the Black Beard looks pretty ridiculous. It looks like I’m “trying”. Trying to be… what? Young? Hip? Presidential? Doesn’t matter. You make your bets, you win some, you lose some, you pay your dues. The dye washes out, the hair grows back, etc. etc. Things will return to how they were.
I walk into the living room and sit down in a chair. Quinn holds a tiny camera up to her eye and says, “Smile!” and I do because I’ve never seen her do this before. She clicks the button at just the right time and I ask her if she got a good one? “Smile!” A few moments later I sneeze and she says, “Bless you!” and I truly am. Blessed. It’s the first time she’s said this as well.
Who are these children living in my house? Sleeping in my baby’s cribs? Eating my cereal with my spoons? Where are your sippie cups? I get ready to leave for work and Quinn says, with yogurt dripping down her stomach, “Bye bye, Papa”. “Bye bye, little Quinnie! See you tonight!”
When I return, Rory is standing at the desk playing with the mouse, scooting it this way and that across the screen. He’s on his tip toes and is wearing Superman underwear. UNDERWEAR. These aren’t diapers. These aren’t pull-ups. These are full on cotton undies. I ask him where Monster is and he turns to me, looks around the room and then holds both hands out and says, “I don’t know,” so I say, “Where is Monster? Is he in your room?” and with that he goes and checks. A few moments later he comes waddling out with My Pet Monster, an enormous blue stuffed animal that is bigger than he is and probably weighs nearly as much. He sets Monster down and gives him a kiss on his long, green nose. He says, “Nooooze.” He says, “Eyyyyyyez”. He says, “Hooooooornz”. And I say, “Yes! That’s right!” He counts all the way to seven. Quinn says her ABC’s INCLUDING the entire “Next time won’t you sing with me” epilogue. Sure, it’s choppy, but it’s there. The three of us have a secret handshake that I can’t really talk about but it goes something like this…
Jade and I put them to bed and when we close the door, we hear Quinn begin to scream. Rory has taken to sharing her bed and she has taken to screaming about it. We let it ride. They both sleep curled up together, sharing blankets. Soon, they’ll each have their own room. Soon, they won’t want to sleep in our bed with us. Soon, they won’t run to us when we come home, they won’t want to sit on our laps and fetch simple toys to show us.
They won’t want to play kitchen for much longer or cuddle on the couch while we watch He-Man. They will be too old to potty train and it will all be gone. Parenting is so bittersweet it hurts, horribly and viciously. Every night that I put them down to sleep is another night that slips away… and I know I’ve said as much before but it never gets easier. They’re so big and I love them but they will never return to how they were. By the time my beard turns back to how it was, they will be new creatures, broken free from the cocoons of the children I love.