For the last six days I’ve felt a bit like a con man existing with a dual identity. The feeling was birthed on Monday, the same day my new daughter, Bryce Allison, was born. It began as sort of this second life feeling that I was living in the hospital with my wife and daughter; the three of us quietly lying in a room, eating soup that tasted like dirty bath water and toasting our new addition over Diet Cokes. It was this strange and private moment that existed just between the three of us; no grandparents, no siblings, no children.
Then sometime on Tuesday, my wife still in the hospital, I went home to watch my son and daughter so my mother-in-law could spend some quiet one on one time with The Baby at the hospital. Back at home, while my kids napped I sat in front of my computer, working on a few projects, feeling like an impostor in my own home, like I were somehow hiding a piece of me from the children.
Back in the hospital several hours later, I sit on the edge of the bed and stare at the sleeping baby in my arms and wonder how these two worlds will collide. I’ve heard horror stories about older siblings not acclimating well to new and younger children; striking out and hitting them or covering them in pillows or trying to pull their eyes out. Gasp, I hate to even consider it.
I spend hours thinking about it, hoping we’ve introduced them thus far properly; trying to decide how I can stitch these two existences together. For anyone that’s never tried to integrate a new child into their family, the best way to describe it is to say that it’s like stitching a new limb onto an already completely functioning body. You’re not sure how things are going to respond or work.
When we bring the baby home the children are both napping and so we take this opportunity to set up a large toy kitchen set (complete with food and utensils) as well as a wooden toy train set (complete with sliding doors) in our living room. When they finally arise with blurry eyes and pillow creased faces, Jade and I say, “HI! HELLO! WE’RE BACK! LOOK WHAT BABY BRYCE BROUGHT YOU! LOOK WHAT BABY BRYCE GOT FOR YOU! SHE KNOWS YOU LOVE TRAINS! SHE KNOWS YOU LOVE TO COOK! WASN’T THAT NICE OF HER?!” and we pause uncomfortably to see if the rabbits have taken the bait and, slowly, large (albeit shy) smiles spread across their seraph faces and they each go to work, Quinn making burgers and Rory wheeling in the beef.
Later that night Quinn is begging to hold the baby. The next day Rory is clawing at my face, demanding his turn with Bryce. I set the baby gently on his lap and prep myself for anything; the best, the worst. He slowly bends down and, while I debate whether he’s going to gently kiss her or bite off her ear, he presses his lips against her forehead and says, “That’s my sister. That’s Baby Bryce,” and then he smiles and I know everything will be okay.
From 9am until 8:30pm I lead my first life; the life of a Father of Three. I play with Rory and Quinn, pushing trains around on the floor and chasing them around the house, cradling a baby in one arm. I growl and hiss like a monster, threatening to snare them in my grasps, the baby barreling along with me, bored and asleep, a piece of the game without even knowing it.
I take Roar & Quinnie to the park, I walk with Quinn to the grocery store, I read a book about shapes to Rory. I change diapers and the children watch; Rory hands me wipes and Quinn hands me a diaper and they both ask, “What is thaaaat?” and point to Bryce’s shriveled up umbilical stem sticking out of her belly button like a dried root and… quite simply, it’s really difficult to describe what its purpose is, exactly, in a language a 2 year old will grasp. I say, “That’s her… belly button… uh… umbilical cord. It’s where she was getting food… she, uh… she ate out of it when… she was inside mommy’s tummy…” I stop talking. The whole thing sounds way too crazy to believe. Both kids stare at me like I’m trying to address the Sasquatch mythos. I try to change the subject by I telling Rory to pay attention because, “Someday you’ll be a Daddy and you’ll have to change diapers,” and he stares at me, looking kind of horrified but then lifts up a wipe and says, “I help you.”
We dress the baby, which, by the way, is tantamount to dressing a kitten in a sweater, it’s small limbs pushing the exact opposite way you’re trying to manipulate them, contracting and stretching at just the wrong time. We walk back out into the living room where Jade tells me that she and her mother are leaving me alone and I’m suddenly outnumbered three to one. Knowing the odds are against me, I fire up He-Man and The Masters of the Universe and curl up on the couch with the oldies but goodies. We watch He-Man save the day again and again, simply punching his way to success. When evil has been thwarted and the likes of Skeletor, Beastman and Trap-Jaw have been sent running, he transforms back into boring old Prince Adam until next week when fate calls on him to unleash his secret identify – his Second Life.
Bryce wakes up during He-Man’s second adventure and I lift her up and put her on my lap and stick my pinky in her mouth because I don’t feel like picking up breast feeding this late in the game. Quinn reaches over and pats Baby’s chest and says, “Shhhhh,” and Rory says, “Baby cryin'” and I say, “That’s alright. That’s what babies say,” and Quinn says, “Stop crying, Baby,” and Bryce does… then she sneezes and Rory says, “Say excuse me, Bryce,” and I actually look down at her to see if she’s going to respond, leaving me with a tale so bizarre no one would ever believe.
The episode ends and I walk into the children’s bedroom, find their pull-ups and their pajamas and say, “Okay… I need you two to really help out Daddy tonight,” and I look at their pull-ups and I look at the baby in my arms whose screams are only being subdued by my finger jammed in her gob. I say, “Can you guys put on your underwear alone?” and they both say, “Nope,” and I say, “I KNOW YOU CAN!” and I try to pump them up, “LET’S SEE YOU DO IT! JUST TRY!” and they both pick up toys and begin examining them. Rory pulls off his pants and says, “Daddy, help.”
I put the baby down and she immediately starts to grunt and grumble and so I act as quickly as I can while the children act slowly and distractedly, more interested in the gurgling pink blob than in getting their jammies on. “HEY! PAY ATTENTION! HEY! RIGHT HERE! FOOT IN HERE! HEY!”
I get the two Walkers dressed and now we’re all prepared; the three of us ready to take on the night… if only I had a breast filled with leche… or if this baby were eating from a bottle yet… I text Jade and say, “Baby freakin’ like a Mohican,” She texts back and says, “On way!” I sit in the living room with the three of them, my tribe, as we watch Prince Adam do what needs to be done in order to keep Eternia together. I have my left arm around Quinn, my right arm around Rory, buckled back over his chest and my pinky stuck in Bryce’s mouth, my body bent and jarred at an odd angle to try and keep my own city peaceful.
Jade returns with her mother and we put Rory and Quinn to bed and this is The Moment wherein my life typically splits. The first half of the day I am a noisy monster, a troll under a bridge, a hide-and-seek master and commander but then, from 9pm-8am, I have a second life wherein everything is quiet and calculated and meticulous and delicate. I sit on the couch and I hold the baby and we stare at Bryce and listen to the house settling and distant traffic. Everything is calm and reflective like a pond’s surface.
We go to bed and, while our children and any current guests sleep soundly in beds and on couches throughout the house, we fall asleep knowing we’ll be up in a few hours with the moon still hanging high in the Western sky.. I shut my eyes and dream about a forest. Jade nudges me and says it’s time to change the baby. I sit up and turn on the light, turn on my phone, turn on music. Pearl Jam plays, Bush plays, Soundgarden plays. I’m standing in my baby blue boxer briefs and a white t-shirt, singing Black Hole Sun to a six day old while I change a diaper. This is what it looks like when Grunge Grows Up.
The baby pees on the changing table and I clean it up, pat her butt, put her diaper on, put the onesie on, put the jammies on and then think to myself how strange it is that I am genuinely and unabashedly unashamed that I just used the word “jammies”.
I lie back down in bed and place the baby between us, fall back asleep, dream of forests and… my bedroom door opens and Quinn enters. She’s completely naked save for a bib with a pouch on it that’s been filled with gold fish crackers. She squeals and says, “MY BABY IS AWAKE!!” and lunges onto the bed. “I WANT TO HOLD HER!!”
Slowly, slowly, my two lives are merging into one. The limbs and the body are uniting. Life is moving forward. Everything is coming together.