You know guys like me: We spend our twenties trying to avoid working hard, thinking we’re smarter than the guys in their thirties who seem to run shit. Then we spend our thirties borrowing money and wondering what the hell we did with our twenties.
There’s a modern-day script for men like me – get fat, get lonely. Perhaps play some internet poker. Maybe go on some bad internet dates. (Definitely blame the internet.) I like to think of myself as a unique flower, but the truth is, I was following this script perfectly. Until, all of the sudden, I wasn’t.
In March 2008, I got stupidly lucky and met a wonderful woman named Nola, who would become my girlfriend. On August 1, 2009 we moved in together. On August 23, 2009 we got married. The day after we got married we found out Nola was pregnant. (That’s really the sequence of events, I swear.) It was a lot to process and the freaky stuff hadn’t even started.
The next month we went in for a sonogram and were greeted by a surly medical technician. I’m generally one for emotional honesty, but when you’re dealing with nervous prospective parents and their fears about the foreign, unseen creatures dominating their thoughts (and, in my wife’s case, body) fake a smile, dammit. Surly Tech was silent for a long time, forcing us to interpret what a frown meant with respect to fetal activity. We asked if the baby was healthy. She nodded her head.
And then: “You know, I’m not supposed to tell you this stuff, but – there’s two of them in there.”
Sure enough, when she pointed out one little squiggly thing, there was unmistakably another little squiggly thing right near it, dancing around, taunting us.
You never know how you’re going to react in a life-changing moment. Apparently, I sweat profusely and stare. Nola (who just a few months earlier had responded to our car spinning out on the highway with a quiet “Oh well, here we go…”) broke into convulsive sobs. Then she stumbled, wailing, her hospital gown half-open, through the waiting room to the lavatory, where she promptly overflowed the toilet. Between my sweat, her tears, and the ladies’ room, everything was soaked.
So what the hell did this mean? For Nola, who was on the “One and Only One” baby plan, it was a disaster, especially if the two alien bodies inside her were to become human males. Nola had always wanted a girl.
“You know what two boys would do?” she asked me, still crying, on the way out of the doctor’s office. I had a million answers, but I wanted to see where she was going.
“No,” I said.
“Fight and masturbate. And eat. That’s all boys do. I’m going to walk into their room in twelve years,” she said, “and they’ll either be masturbating or punching each other in the face. Maybe both.”
“And then, after I walk in on them masturbating and fighting, you know what they’re going to do?”
“Demand a snack. So after my trauma, I’ll have to go into the kitchen and make them grilled cheese sandwiches.”
“Oh my god—I’m so sure they’re boys. They’re probably jerking off and punching each other right now!”
“In your womb?”
“Yes. I’m not having boys!”
That’s a lot of pressure to put on fetuses. But we couldn’t know if these squiggles had chosen the right gender for another month.
In the meantime, my wife read online about something called “twin skin,” the saggy flaps of stretched-out stomach most mothers who have twins retain post-delivery. A condition that apparently may lead to depression, voluntary surgery, and posting unnecessary pictures on the Internet. Nola took this as more evidence she’d been cursed.
Two weeks after having amniocentesis, another test revealed the twins were monozygotic – or, as we laymen inaccurately put it, identical. A couple of weeks after that, we got the news: Girls. Identical twin girls. Like in The Shining.
I was still sweating. Nola began a rigorous twin skin prevention program.
Monozygotic pregnancies are the most fraught with danger, Octomom notwithstanding. So for the next six months, the hospital was our home away from home. Nola was put through a seemingly endless string of tests, all of which revealed that the babies were healthy and the parents were nervous.
On Friday March 26th, at 10:02 and 10:03 p.m., respectively, Una and Esme Kalish entered the world via C-section, an absolutely brutal “routine” eight-minute operation that left the operating room looking like the Battle for Stalingrad. I remember staring at the ground at all the bloody towels. Then I remember looking up and seeing Una – tiny, purple, and freaking out. A doctor asked if I wanted to take a picture of her. Before I could figure out the camera, Esme was born.
Our newborn daughters were beautiful and endlessly fascinating and we loved them completely – which is not to say the first three months of their lives wasn’t a hellish blur. We didn’t know what we were doing and we didn’t sleep. The less we slept, the less we knew. It’s amazing everyone survived. If God does exist, he’s an asshole for the way he does this. My wife, exhausted and in a lot of post-surgical pain, would just have one child calmed down, when other one started screaming. Total dick move by God.
Nola took solace in the fact that, against all odds, she had no twin skin. That was sweet mercy for us both.
After those first three months, Una and Esme got bigger and stronger. Their sleeping was more predictable, and their crying less tenacious. It all got easier. And it helped that they started smiling. In my book, a child’s smile is a pretty amazing reward for marginally acceptable new fathering.
Sometime in July, I began to think I was getting the hang of this. The housework, however, was murder. I’m not a man who tends to clean up after himself, much less other people. I like to view this as an inability, whereas Nola sees it as unwillingness. From the day we brought Una and Esme home, I have been asking Nola to make me a list of daily chores.
“I would do that,” she said. “Except for one thing.”
“You’re an adult.”
Did that mean I wouldn’t get any gold stars, I wondered?
Finally, after seven months of pestering, Nola made the list. It was two full pages long. The last item on the list was “Suck it.”
Our children, to fall face first into a cliché, make this all worthwhile. This might sound biased, but Una and Esme are the best babies who were ever born. They have giant eyes that they use to see everything. So much amuses them, and very little upsets them. They wait patiently as their father makes mistakes and until he figures out a solution. Recently they have been looking through their cribs at each other and carrying on long morning “conversations” in their special twin language, which consists of 85% vowels. (Esme’s first word was “Iowa”, which we thought was an odd choice, as she has never been there.)
These twins may be magical. One night, as Nola and I settled into bed, she turned to me and said “I think the babies have been reading my mind.” Shhh. Look at them. It’s possible.