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Taking the big plunge with both feet

Published on: March 01, 2005

Coming in part way to the parenting game has its pros and cons. Taking
on twins at the nine-year mark means I got to avoid diaper changes,
projectile vomiting and -- for the most part -- temper tantrums and
lost sleep. But like parents with a newborn, when the package(s)
arrived, no crash course on parenting techniques in the universe could
have prepared me for the entrance of these energetic, demanding and
constantly evolving little people.

Our two-year courtship has given us time to wade in on weekends, define
roles, make some trial-and-error adjustments and get to know
one another before taking the true plunge. (We plan on moving in together in June.)
Vanessa comes into our relationship with many survival skills, acquired
in order to survive, I suppose. Multi-tasking is second nature, she can
sleep through deafening noise (including recycling trucks and screaming
sirens, though the slightest peep from a kid with a scratch bolts her
from bed), she has Stern Voice-Activation when needed, and can take on
at least two dramatic lives while talking on her cell phone, driving
and sipping a latte. I cannot. (Note to self: Acquire these skills
ASAP.)

The noise will be something I'll need to filter (with earplugs if
necessary), the emotional roller-coaster something to watch but not
ride, and the fighting something to walk away from. Being the youngest
of three myself, that's a tough one: Can't everyone just get along?
(Weird thing about twins is that they're fighting to the death one
moment, and playing a new huggy-game the next.)

For the kids, it's about exploration and fun, and for Vanessa, it's
about family: having a real family with family meals, family outings
and family meetings. I'm excited about these agendas, no question, but
at this point for me it's mainly about boundaries. I want to
participate, but I also want to retain pieces of my prior independence,
which includes a regimented -- and uninterrupted -- schedule of
perusing the news, getting jacked up on caffeine, and making deadlines.
For the last decade, my entire house has been an office, with various
rooms to chill, cocktail, read and re-energize. That comfort zone is
about to shrink, big-time. I now thank God for the small office with a
door -- and soon a deadbolt, no doubt. (There are things in my drawers
-- adult things -- that no child should uncover and no grown-up should
have to explain...)

We're remodeling to make the house work for all four of us: The bar is
being turned into a kitchen, the spare bedroom into a giant closet for
my future bride, and the basement is being outfitted with two twin
rooms and bathroom. Sadly, the rec room, indoor gym, playhouse and
maid's quarters are temporarily on hold.

We'll all learn, I suppose, how to co-habit, but it will take work and
talking -- lots of talking. I'm not sure my three incoming housemates
know much about privacy or individual play time. (Like some freaked
out, overly protective sheep dog, Riley constantly lurks outside the
bathroom door, wanting to maintain eye contact with each member of the
pack at all times.)

Whereas I can teach the value of solitude (which should never been seen
as a punishment, confined or otherwise), I'll learn the benefits of
intense bonding, group-decision making, and having children around to
walk on my back for chiropractic aid. (I actually wish they weighed
more, because between the two of them they only add up to 106 pounds...)
In all of this, what I thought would be my biggest liability has become
an unexpected asset. Not knowing what kids are supposed to do at a
given age (share, multiply, ponder, make a sandwich or their own beds)
means the sky is the limit. I have an adult perspective on relating to
the young ones, and living my life. No baby talk, no getting down on
anyone's level that doesn't elevate the process. I'm simply unable --
or unwilling -- to stoop to babbling.

I'm direct, sarcastic, expect a lot and am constantly shocked in return
by the cognitive ability and creative notions of Rachel and Riley. They
invent games that should be marketed to Parker Brothers executives,
have the (selective) memories of elephants and crave the structure of
Camp Cupcake. They're also appreciative of my neurotic, eccentric,
artistic way, which is crucial, and a compliment to their mother.
Though I'm not treating them as fully functional adults (is there such
a thing?), I'm not willing to accept they can't have steep learning
curves that include respect, a mature sense of humor, cleaning up after
themselves and shining my shoes for a buck (a pair). On the flip side,
they don't exactly know what to expect from me; neither does my
fiancee. And that's freeing as hell. I can BE a more straightforward,
honest, thoughtful individual (so much for the stealing, lying and
cheating portion of my life...). I can demand down time, zany time,
random singing and constant hugs. I can be enriched by this process --
if only I remember to be myself.

Apparently, they're taking it all in, sleeping on some stuff and often
coming back with follow-up questions (and unplanned sneak attacks). The
other morning -- with the help of well-placed bowls of cereal and a
SpongeBob DVD -- Vanessa and I slept in and eventually made our way
downstairs to visit. The twins had created a written schedule of events
for the morning (snack time, reading, obstacle course, video, more
snacks, fort-building, etc.), and were plugging along with the board
game portion of the program when we showed up. Looks like they're gonna
be my kids after all . . .

The Accidental Parent is a new column about a lifelong bachelor, Michael Stusser,
who recently became engaged to Vanessa, the mother of 9-year-old twins.
The essays will follow his pending marriage, cohabitation and blending
into a new insta-family. Be advised, this is NOT an advice column.
Think of it as watching a roller-coaster. All you have to do is sit
back and listen to the laughter -- and a little screaming.

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