I have a confession. What seems like several lifetimes ago, I was a lawyer. During my first few weeks practicing law, I can recall vividly how much like an imposter I felt sitting behind that desk. People would come in and tell me their problems and expect me to help, but what did I know? I was a 25-year-old kid who needed to shave only twice a week. I would nod authoritatively, then rush to the research library as soon as they left the office. I carried a briefcase, but I didn’t feel like a lawyer.
My first few months of parenting were like that too. We had triplet girls, and the word “overwhelmed” simply isn’t desperate enough to capture the head-spinning fear I felt whenever I was conscious. That the hospital let me take these creatures home, that friends and the IRS identified me as a parent, that my wife had become pregnant on purpose, baffled me. Couldn’t they read my insecurity and incompetence? Didn’t they know I was an imposter? Sure, I could shop at Baby’s R Us, but I didn’t feel like a parent.
I got through the first month on adrenaline. The experience was so new and I was being so closely watched by visiting relatives and friends that I was able to move through those weeks as though I was a robot, albeit a robot in need of a good recharge.
The second month was the hardest: I was tired. I was grouchy. My former best friend and confidant had been enslaved by these three aliens as a full-time feeding machine. I was giving everything I had -- my energy, my sleep and my money -- to these little blobs who didn’t even seem to notice when I was around. I had had trouble giving college courses a decent push for a whole semester; how did I think I would be able to pull off a project as long-term as parenting? I can remember this deep-seated anger welling up in me as I thought about friends and relatives who had encouraged me to have kids.
“Dave, you’ll be a great father,” they prattled. “It’s so much fun...” I was beginning to think it had been some conspiracy-- a giant pyramid scheme. If they would be able to snare me in their little web of deceit, somehow they wouldn’t look so stupid for having kids and ruining their lives.
I had never changed a diaper; soon I was changing 25 a day. I had never mixed formula, fed, bathed or dressed a baby; now that was allI was doing. My life felt like a circus act, except even jugglers learn their craft by adding one ball at a time. I had held other babies before, but always passed them back when things started to look shaky. Lauren, my wife, was a baby pro, but even her abilities were challenged with three. It was a steep learning curve, and long before I could see the crest, I felt myself sliding down the mountain.
But then, a breakthrough occurred. Lauren and I woke up with the sun peeking through the blinds one morning. “I didn’t hear you get up last night.” It was a question in the form of a statement. She answered, “I didn’t get up. Didn't you get up?”
Slowly it dawned on us that we’d had a complete night’s sleep. We weren’t out of the woods yet, but the trees no longer had big scary arms like in “The Wizard of Oz.” We settled into a rhythm. Raising triplets could be just like any large-scale livestock venture: a lot of work and a lot of fun. The former makes the latter all the more gratifying. And we haven’t seriously injured one yet. Though, I am sure that in therapy yet to come, I’ll learn of some unspeakable terror I wrought on one of the girls unwittingly. But that’s years down the road. For now, they look pretty normal.
One weekend my wife took one of her very infrequent breaks from the kids to do some shopping. A friend dropped by while I was watching the kids. As we talked, I calmly changed diapers, fed bottles (a precarious balancing act of timing and props), played with toys, read stories and put them all down for a nap. A short time after going to bed, one of the kids cried out, startling my friend. "Don't worry. That's just Tucker; she's probably dropped her binky. I'll be right back."
As I turned to go up and replace the pacifier, my friend didn't have to say anything. Her face told me everything. I had impressed her. I was a Dad. When Lauren came home I had no major mishaps to report. All kids were present and accounted for, even smiling. We’d had a good time and my pulse rate was in the low 60's. As I helped my wife unload the groceries from the car, I realized something, and smiled smugly to myself. In the three years I lasted practicing law, I never really felt like a lawyer, but it only took me three months to feel like a Dad.