I’m pulling us out of the past, and fast-forwarding on out of 2015/2016. We’ve spent a fair bit of time there, and I’ve enlisted tens of thousands of words to try and allow you, the gentle reader, a window into our lives through that first year. And at this point if you haven’t gotten the idea yet, well, that would have to be on me and so likely there’s no additional amount of digital ink that will suffice.
Thus we’re wrapping up, and we’re wrapping up on some long and jangly thoughts I clacked out on the two year anniversary of the Ultrasound That Shook the Ground - July 22, 2015. And this seems a fitting time to shut the window and draw the curtains.
I know posts have been sporadic and sometimes frustratingly detail-free, rambling even, but it’s been quite the honour having people take interest in my family and my writing, and I humbly thank you for following along. It’s out of my nature to share intimacies, and this has been a rewarding and challenging wander from my comfort zone. Thanks for reading.
July 22, 2017
Today I made Ellie cry. Not just a scared, panicked wail, but rather a deep-seated moaning of incalculable sadness. As I was trying to shovel great globs of eggs into all of their maws, she - still the lightest and skinniest - let every second bite drop out of her mouth. Eggy gloop disgustingly sliding down her face and onto her dress.
Frustrated and tired, I yelled angrily, and smacked the table in front of her lightly. “ELLIE YOU’RE NOT GOING TO DIE OF STARVATION ON MY WATCH.”
A stunned look, a tremble of the lips, and a great mourning emits from the girl (along with more scrambled eggs.)
She looked like I had ripped her heart out of her chest.
I remember this same moment when Oz was that age - the kid kept eating damn cat food off the floor every time we turned our backs, and I was fed up and let him know so. A similar scene enacted itself and, oh, how he wept.
That was when I knew he was no longer a thing to be sustained, like a cactus or a Tamagotchi, but really and truly a human being. A little person with thoughts and feelings and desires and fears – holding an interior life that we’re only allowed glimpses of.
And so it is now with the ladies. The gradual evolution from fetuses to infants to babies to toddlers is nearly complete.
It scarcely seems possible that two years ago, on this day, our lives were so permanently changed. Hasn’t it always been this way? Haven’t we always been The Family with Triplets?
Well, no. It’s worth reminding myself that two years ago we woke up as just an ordinary duo of young parents, with one small boy and another (last) child on the way. My mind was on my then-job that morning, and my heart was in my then-band, and Gill and I were just going about our then-lives, hardly giving thought to the upcoming ultrasound. Nothing could feel more remote now. Who were those people?
I keep having this recurring vision of the future. What future will these four humans under our charge grow up in? What about 2017 will seem distant and quaint? Will they ever need to learn to drive, for example? Will a smartphone be laughable? Will there even be a word for the internet, or will it just be air and water to them at that point?
And what new technology is barreling down the pipe that we can’t even hypothesize right now? What technology will make their generation radically unlike any that’s come before it? This is idle curiosity, really, as mainly it’s nothing to be worried about. Necessarily, it can’t be prepared for and so fretting is useless. But is there something just a wee bit reckless about having kids in a world that is changing so impossibly fast? We're committing them to lives we know nothing about.
One odd worry I have is that some sort of future technique one day be able to access all previous memories locked away in the brain. Are all memories stored somewhere in our brain meats, and is it only lack of access that causes us to forget? And if so, would it be technically possible for previous, forgotten experiences to be dredged up via some remote future gizmo?
If yes, and if technology continues at it's current pace, my kids could well have access to it. This genuinely doesn’t seem too outlandish. And so occasionally I wonder if every statement, gesture, action done in front of them might be retrievable at some point.
Are we being surveilled by the future?
And if so, how did we do?
It's really just a sci-fi version of the overarching neuroses that all parents share: the worry that your kids are all messed up and it's your fault.
Luckily for us we may be somewhat off the hook, because already at this point it feels like we are hardly the ones raising the girls. See, they are immersed in an environment of their own creation. They spend all day together, roaming, playing, blabbing, grabbing, whining, laughing. Each one of their lives is largely the other two.
Martha’s environment is mostly the unique combination of Eleanor and Sadie. Eleanor’s is the combination of Martha and Sadie. Etc. And so, from identical DNA, and then minute changes in genetic expression, and then larger changes in emergent personality, and then even larger changes in each other’s environments, which then feeds back into genetic expression, and on and on we go. A person is a simple equation: nature + nurture. And even when you lock down one of the variables like we have, the possible answers are still infinite and unknowable.
And on we go. All that's left for us really is to nurture and observe and occasionally act as referee. So in the interest of observation, a few select memories of the last year before they are plucked from my children’s heads by future tech.
I’m picking Sadie out of her crib in the morning she started grabbing at the cheap little chandelier in the room. I lift her up so she can play with the small glass diamonds. She touches them, grabs them, and tilts her head just so towards the light and holds this fixed expression of exquisite, rapt attention. Perfect fascination. It’s beautiful.
Martha is strutting around, ever laughing. Laughing for no good reason, laughing because you looked at her. Laughing because she put a toy in the box. Her and Sadie playing, giggling with each other. Ellie staring at them intently, then hunkering off the couch to go play as well. A toy gets yanked from someone and the drama begins. However, dad’s on it. He gets on all fours and starts charging like a triceratops - bonking them in their little noggins, gently ramming their bellies so they fall on their butts. They laugh and laugh. They all turn to flee, the triceratops chases them and they scream with delight.
Oz’s fourth birthday. It’s my clowning debut (keeping a promise I don’t remember making) and I come down the stairs in a captain’s hat, huge glasses, red nose, bow tie, the whole works. "It's me, Blarney the Irish Clown", I announce in a pathetic brogue. Start giving out temporary tattoos and drawing deformed shamrocks on kids’ faces. They love it. (Other than the first kid that saw me, who immediately burst into tears). Oz was all in and thrilled, but couldn't quite shake the feeling that he knows this clown. Finally he asks, ‘You are my daddy, right’? I whisper to him, yeah.
After we heard the news, we worried that they wouldn’t make it to term. We really weren't confident that this ordeal was actually going to leave us with three new babies. Gradually we became more confident that this was going to happen, and so the spotlight of our concern aimed itself towards the delivery going well, and them being healthy. Then it did, and they were. So began the concern over the care of these impossibly small creatures, more fragile and tiny then any we've ever seen, never mind held or fed. But we managed to keep them alive and fattened them up. So then we worried about them catching colds, or rolling off the couch. Typical baby stuff.
As your children grow, so too do your concerns. Parental anxieties glom on and surround your offspring like a nervy halo. A probability cloud of awfulizations. So now we fret about their screen time, their diet, their relationship with each other and the larger world. Soon enough we’ll be worried about school, and bullies, and the internet, and then sex and drugs and addiction and chaos and the apocalypse.
Neither Gill nor I are particularly wired that way, but even for us it's an unceasing carousel, and parents in some way are defined by their worries. And while we (I) am wrapped up in all this cogitation and philosophizing, meanwhile my children are aging precisely at the speed of time.
In our case, knowing neither of us will ever have another child, it’s particularly cutting. Every day we have the youngest children we’ll ever have. We will never again have a one-year old in our care, or a one-month old, or a pregnancy. Those chapters are done, the pages torn out.
“I don’t know how you guys cope.”
“Looks like you have your hands full!”
“We can barely handle one, I can’t imagine what you’re going through…”
These are sentences we’ve heard not infrequently these last two years. Here’s my response, and it applies to many things, not just having a baby-bomb explode in your face.
We cope the same as you do, same as anyone does. You wake up, you do the stuff, then you go to sleep.
Sometimes instead of doing the stuff, you grab a glass of wine and hide in the bathroom. Sometimes you do the stuff badly, mindlessly. Sometimes you do the stuff enthusiastically. Either way, the stuff somehow gets done, and then it’s over, and new stuff comes along.
There’s no other alternative.
But if we zoom in on a more fine-grained perspective, there are indeed some little lessons we can impart to anyone expecting, or currently managing, a larger litter than planned.
So with these, dear reader, I leave you.
- Diaper changing. For maximum speed and minimum mess, grab both feet with one hand while you’re changing a poopy diaper. Give the first swipe with the uncontaminated front of the diaper – wiping down from junk to trunk. I call this ‘Wipe Zero’. You do this so as to not have an overloaded tissue wadded up on the table, leaving unseemly residue at your station. When complete, throw all wipes into the diaper, roll it, and use the Velcro to seal it in. Like a steamed dumpling.
- Multiples of an ambulatory age should be treated like water. They will flow into all available nooks and crannies, and are a surprisingly destructive force. Any potential trouble that a toddler can get into will be found nearly immediately because they are effectively a rendering farm, individually processing any and all weaknesses in the system. They know when doors are open and will spill out instantaneously. They and their toys will pour themselves onto every inch of surface area. Seal their spaces tightly and always have paper towels nearby.
- The fear and guilt of confusing your children goes away surprisingly fast. Yes, you will be able to tell them apart but, no, not always instantaneously, particularly when one is isolated from the others with no point of comparison. Eventually you will become masters of the educated guess. Fortunately this also ends up being useful in not falling for favouritism. How can you, when you’re not 100% confident which child you’re holding?
- This isn't specific to multiples, but I can confidently and scientifically report: Yes, thumb-sucking does mess up the teeth. Martha and Ellie have never engaged in the habit, but Sadie does regularly. M & E have perfectly straight little chompers, Sadie's are a wee bit... asymmetrical. It's now been proven scientifically. We've got control groups and everything. Your welcome.
- Set a routine. Live by the routine. Worship the routine. The routine will keep you sane. The kiddos must not get in their heads that they can diverge from your carefully prepared schedule. If one is hungry early, too bad. If one wakes up in the middle of the night, tough luck. It is not cruel to let a kid cry it out once in a while. You will lose your ever-loving mind if you follow every kid's individual whims. Speaking of which:
- I'm pleased to report that in some ways there is an economy of scale at play with multiples. Feeding three children of the same age does not take three times as long as a singleton. You line them up in a row, put a sloppy bowl of something on your lap, and start shoveling. By the time you’ve gotten to the third, the first has swallowed her bite, so it becomes perfectly cyclical. Bed time is not three times longer. (In our case, it’s quick to the point of possible negligence. The boy gets an elaborate 40 minute routine, while the girls are literally plop, plop, plopped in their cribs, kisses, then lights off. 5 minutes, tops. And they walk themselves up to bed.)
Last but not least, and this is a reiteration of the central theme in all these ponderous ponderings: Everything eventually becomes normal. Just as how you cannot fathom having multiples before you do, you can’t fathom not having them once they’re there. For better and for worse we are self-regulating creatures, and we adjust and we settle and we cope. The same blessed mechanism that lets us overcome grief or trauma is also what lets ennui seep into a perfectly happy life. So when overwhelmed, remember that you will be fine. You will come out the other side. And whoever you were at the beginning is largely who you'll be in the end. In multiples, as in life, the extraordinary becomes the ordinary, and the remarkable becomes unremarkable.
Whether this is a cause for despair or joy depends entirely on your perspective. These four children - these beautiful, fascinating, loving, challenging, curious children - have helped me pick a new side on the issue and, in that subtle way at least, I'm changed.