In the film ‘This is Forty’ there is a character who through the ‘miracle of IVF’ becomes an older father of triplets. The comedy springs from the juxtaposition of three small boys wrecking havoc and their hapless dad who seems not to have a clue of how he got there. He’s one of those older dads with a trophy wife, not enough physical energy and a ‘well, shit, look what just happened’ kind of attitude. We laugh as we know he is a buffoon for allowing himself to get into that situation. It’s hubris to get your trophy wife pregnant, right? She, many years your junior, and hey, with modern medical science to help, there you are, in you 50's with 3 kids under 3.
So how did I become that guy? My wife isn’t a trophy wife (though she could as well be one as she is that pretty and for sure she is a real catch) and though she is younger than I, we met, fell in love and got married as a lot of other folks do. She doesn’t represent a midlife crisis, just the moment of meeting ‘the right girl at the right time.’ I didn’t plan to wait to have kids; in fact, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to since I was already in the middle crest of my 40's. Then I met my wife Masha. And then real life happened (marriage, a death of a parent, moving, loss of work, you know, all those really stressful life things.) To our luck and/or Karma, it all happened at once. And soon after that, Masha was pregnant and not too long after, our daughter Alexandra was born. The first year of our marriage was full on to say the least.
I am a reasonably happy older dad. I do try not to think about all the things older dads have to deal with: the greying of the beard in relationship to the lack of sleep, the inevitable - ‘look how nice it is her grand-dad is picking her up from school’ or the vertigo inducing realization that my mortality may catch up to me before I get to experience my daughter’s milestones: graduation, marriage… kids. So now every moment gets to be a small celebration of her humanness. Perhaps this is just proof that I am sleeping more, that the jet lag of parenting is starting to wear off.
Three months ago, my wife hands me three pregnancy test sticks with big fat ‘+’ on them, and says ‘Happy Father’s Day.’ We weren’t exactly trying or not trying, and we weren’t exactly having or not having the conversion around having another child. There was no IVF and to be honest, not that much sex either, sleep just seemed all that more imperative. Even though, my rational mind was already at the ‘it would be good for our daughter to have a sibling’ and, ‘we’ll make it work’, and ‘I think we have a pretty good handle on the parenthood thing by now’ but my physical being was much more like: ‘can I survive that much exhaustion for how many more years?’
A few weeks later we are in a dimly lit medical suite, my wife gooped up with warm gel and the ultrasound wand pressing in her midsection. She is saying ‘there’s only one right?’ intoning it as if the truth could be conjured from mere incantation, and the technician, says: ‘yes, I see one beautiful little heartbeat.’
Unbeknownst to me, Masha had been feeling the effects of morning sickness far more acutely this time around and the internet had informed her that this is symptomatic of ‘multiples.’ Multiples: it seems so grade school to say that — multiple, multiplication, multiply. Multiples, it seems so easy to take two numbers and make a third that is somehow much bigger than you thought. ‘There’s only one right? right?’ Masha was already worried that there might be more than one beautiful heartbeat. Me — I had no clue that this was even part of the discussion. So I am looking at the big screen, the aqueous black and white images swimming back and forth with the technicians’ wand and I see something up and to the left, a dark mote of sorts and I say: ‘what’s that over there?’ The wand swims over to it and in a moment, with obvious glee the technicians says: ‘Look, there is another beautiful heartbeat!’
How did a family of three suddenly become five? Multiples.
Masha bursts into tears and I feel the warm blanket of ‘Oh Shit’ descend upon me like someone had just dumped a bucket of warm conductive goop over my head — a kind of an inverse ice bucket challenge, instead of that bracing heart stopping shock, it’s a slower realization, a sinkingness that comes from irrevocable truth: I will soon be the father of three children under the age of three. And to wit, I’ve become Albert Brooks in ‘This Is Forty’.
In all fairness, they are only twins, identical, sexless for the time being, just some kind of existential metaphor about being careful for what is wished for, or platitudes around ‘the Good Lord doesn’t give you more than you can chew.’ I really have no idea what is about to happen. In the time leading up to Lex’s birth, both Masha and I were giddy about the unknown; we’d laugh off the ‘sleep while you can’ jokes knowing that particular trope is just the merest tip of a sleepless iceberg. Later as we experienced extreme sleep depravation, the kind that makes work-a-day insomnia feel like ‘I didn’t get a nap in’, but rather each time we awoke to our baby’s cries, heart pounding, adrenaline rushing, full on terror/panic, we understood the truth about ‘getting sleep while you can.’ Regardless that sleep isn’t some sort replenish-able reservoir that could somehow be filled for times less convenient. It’s a river that is always flowing, except when there is a draught.
So now when we see bedraggled parents of twins and they horsely intone: GET. HELP. perhaps we’ll be taking that a little more seriously. As we enter this perfect storm of child rearing (for Lex will only be 2 years old when the twins arrive) we are again in that slightly giddy denial of the future havoc that will be laid upon us, but maybe, just maybe we know enough to be more than a little freaked out about all this.
Masha isn’t all that worried now. It’s a day by day process and though she is only five months pregnant, she looks and feels like it’s eight. Again another metaphor — just when you think that everything makes sense, suddenly it doesn’t.
And I, who will turn 50 when the twins will be less than 1 year old, will become that cinematic cliché to those that I meet. The truth being there will be great fun in commiseration for all concerned - except those who are not sleeping in my bed (I did make it after all). When lights go down and friends and acquaintances alike have retreated to their own corners of this earth, Masha and I will be extra quiet, trying not to wake the mangaerie.