Almost a year and a half ago my wife and I welcomed our twin boys into our lives. As I sat between two incubators in the level 3 NICU and looked at my newborn sons-with tubes in their tiny arms and oxygen being pumped into their little noses- I wanted nothing more in the world than to bring two healthy boys home.
My wife spent 7 days in the hospital and because I had already quit my job in preparation for my upcoming role as a Stay-at-Home father, I was lucky enough to bunk up on the pull out chair next to her bed. Every three hours I woke up to our cell-phone alarms and waited as my wife pumped breast milk so I could deliver it to the NICU nurses, sometimes in stocking feet. Other than for a brief drugged up second in the OR after she gave birth, it was over twenty-four hours before my wife would even see our little ones.
They were more than little. They were tiny. Not as small as some (5lb-4oz and 3lbs-13oz), but still a lot smaller than I thought they would be when I day-dreamed of the two of us holding them for the first time.
The only recent images my imagination had to go by were the babies that I saw on television and they were all 8lbs, had a full head of hair, and never cried.
My thoughts of my infants went from dream to reality when they decided to show up 5 weeks early and I’ll admit it, I was scared. Not scared of raising the double trouble team as I call them now, but scared that maybe one of them wouldn’t make it home. I’m not and have never been very religious, but there were a couple times that I made a pit stop at the chapel on my way back to my wife’s room. After breaking down and crying my eyes out, I prayed. All I asked is that if I couldn’t bring two healthy sons home with me, then I needed some help dealing with and accepting it.
After 2 weeks for observation, twin #1 came home. Six weeks later our second was released and our family was complete.
It’s been a wild ride ever since. I’ve spent this moment, and many moments like it reflecting. The twin who was at one time the smaller of the two? The one that I lost my share of tears over so many months ago? He is now walking around the house. No, he’s running! He is non-stop energy and even takes longer to fall asleep at night. His brother who wasn’t much bigger upon birth is the climber of the family and will soon be auditioning for a Tarzan re-make. He has just learned how to hoist a foot up over the edge of our couch and roll his way on to it. He’s taken a couple of tumbles off because he was sitting too close to the edge, completing his stuntman training, and now has not only mastered how to get on, but off safely as well.
It’s exciting and overwhelming to see them having come so far. My little fragile offspring have become full-fledged toddlers and sometimes it’s hard to watch. Knowing when to step in and “save” them and when to just let them learn from their bumps and bruises is difficult, especially considering their once fragile state.
My brother and I were prohibited from being anywhere near the machines that were on the farm growing up. In fact it was a rare treat to ride with my father on the old case tractor he used to tend our family’s 40 acres. On the other hand, we played in the sandbox next to the garage for hours and hours, coming in the house a couple shades darker than we left from a mixture of sun and dirt. We’d make bow and arrows with branches and yarn, sharpening sticks by rubbing them on the cement stoop to use as makeshift arrows. We rode our bikes as fast as we could on the gravel road that fronted our property. I can’t even count the number of times I got the wind knocked out of me by falling out of one of the trees bordering our yard.
Looking back, it seems like maybe my parents had put in place a set of boundaries without us even realizing it. We weren’t afforded the opportunity to cripple ourselves, and yet we still had the ability to be kids and explore. Our imaginations grew as we developed miniature cities in the sand with our matchbox cars and Tonka trucks. We battled pirates and other assorted “bad guys” with our bow and arrows and chased them on the two wheels of our make-believe horses.
How do I protect my sons without putting them in a plastic bubble? How will I know, like my parents knew, how to draw the line between between keeping them safe and smothering their creativity?
It would seem that for as far as my boys have come, Dad still has a long way to go.
Originally published on Double Trouble Daddy on June 10, 2014.
You can read more by Kevin Zelenka here.