When you become a parent, one of the many things you gain is a new perspective on the passage of time. At first, we count the weeks and marvel at how our babes progress from a collection of unknowable cells, to bundles of sleep-depriving joy. Before long, we count months instead of weeks, and those months soon bend into years. Still, those little steps drive our calendars and mark our memories. We count milestones, measuring time by words spoken and bowels moved voluntarily. And while a half hour of driving with decompensating toddlers can feel like an eternity, when we celebrate a birthday, we wonder where the time went.
This past week, my twins turned four. FOUR! Wasn’t it only yesterday that I was picking my jaw up off the OB’s floor, shouting “two! two babies?!?!” at random strangers? Naturally, I had to take stock of the milestones: adventures in solid food, first flights, new heights penciled on the back of a closet door. Marking their milestones also meant taking note of my own. The takeaway: these were the most turbulent four years of my life, and not just because they’ve been dictated in large part by my precious little tyrants.
Suddenly being responsible for guiding new lives is a profound change. I distinctly recall sitting in the NICU before dawn one morning soon after the twins’ birth, cradling my son’s tiny little body in my arms, promising him that I would do everything in my power to keep him safe, help him grow, and give him the life he deserves. And maybe it was not in that exact moment, but I soon realized that in order to do these things for him (and his sister), I first had to make sure that I was doing them for myself.
In the two years that followed, realizations about the life I wanted–the honesty I needed–began to unfold. After putting the twins to sleep one random Tuesday soon after their second birthday, I sat in the dark silence of my marital family room, just to take a moment, a breath. Although at the time it felt in some ways sudden, it was always there, waiting for me. Tears streamed down my face, and one thought sat fixed at the center of my mind: how could I truly show these two that it is okay for them to be whoever it is they are if I could not find the courage to honestly be who I am?
Sure, a million little struggles all paved the way to that moment. But beginning to raise children did not just coincide with my coming out. Their arrival triggered something. It urged truth. (And not just the truth of who I was born to love; that’s almost incidental.) It demanded that I look deeply at who I was before I could help show them who they could be.
Although my twins will probably never remember a time when Mom and Dad were married, I doubt any parent wants to put “withstood divorce well” on the list of four-year-old milestones. There’s upheaval and uncertainty even in the most careful and loving of partings. The day their Mom and I walked the twins eight blocks away to show them where “Daddy’s bed is moving,” is forever burned in my memory. With the passage of time, maybe I’ll someday call that moment bittersweet: their excitement at climbing the stairs to “Daddy’s New House!,” how enthused they were (and are still) at the idea of spending their time in this new space, how their tender acceptance of this new reality helped ease my mind and assuage my guilt.
The resilience of young hearts is the milestone for which I am most grateful this birthday.