08 Jan Charlie Has A New Brother: Teddy on Being Twice The Parent and Half the Parent I Used To Be
By Teddy McGlynn-Wright
Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Teddy. And I’m twice the parent I was when Andrew sat in my living room hearing me complain about the cost and craziness of preschool. Twice the parent I was when I signed on to have my daughter be the literal poster-child for what’s being named a movement to get children outside and make the natural world their learning laboratory.
Allow me to reintroduce myself, my name is Papi (at least that’s what i hear myself called most often/most of the day), and I’m half the parent I was a few months ago. Meet Theo, he’s Charlie’s little brother and the main reason that unless you were at the Tiny Trees luncheon you haven’t heard from me in a few months.
Before Theo was born, I anticipated that Charlie and I would be spending a lot more time together, at least for the first several months of his life. We knew that Charlie would be getting much less attention from her mom and figured that part of my role would be to pick up that slack as much as possible (with support from out-of-town family and in-town friends). Shortly after he was born, a friend asked me what it was like with two. I had heard the many ways others described it (going from man-to-man to playing zone, really high upfront cost, but great ROI when they become playmates, the best/worst thing they wouldn’t wish on anyone and wouldn’t trade for anything), but the refrain that I kept coming back to was this: I’m twice the parent I was before; I’m half the parent I was before.
There is nothing like having a toddler (or as some folks call a threenager [LINK1 or LINK2] to make one appreciate the very simple needs of an infant. Theo (now going on 4 months old) needs 5 things to stay (alive and) happy: breastmilk, skin-to-skin contact, burps, fresh diapers and warmth. If and when he doesn’t get them, he gives me a warm-up sniffle before heading into a steady cry, and if I’m still clueless I get the piercing wail. Charlie (at 2 and a half) needs 5 things to have a happy breakfast: yogurt, with raisins, bananas and pear, NO Apples! And granola on top, NOT mixed in (as she reminds me daily). If and when she doesn’t get these, there is no warm-up, there is only the instantaneous transformations into some cross between the Tasmanian Devil and the Hulk.
Before Charlie was born, we went to Happy Hours and closed down bars. We took random trips into the wilderness with plenty of supplies and occasionally without a tent or enough water. We stayed in cabins on Rainier and Orcas, we slept in. So when I say that the difference between zero and one is greater than the difference between one and two, you get what I mean. By the time Theo came around those days were so far in my past they were wearing stonewash jeans. Nights out require negotiation, dates necessitate babysitters or close friends who know how to get both our children to sleep, happy hours: only if they’re family friendly. All that to say that with the birth of my second child, I just became more of a parent. . . but also less of a parent. A few more examples to help illustrate:
Before Charlie was born we attended two different birth classes, read no fewer than five books on birth and labor, painted her room, build her crib and purchased her first stuffed animal. When Theo came into our world, he had no stuffed animals, no decorations on his wall (let alone paint, though we did discuss wallpaper), and no mattress in his crib (it would arrive, like many of our home birth supplies) about 2 weeks after he did.
- I have half the attention (possibly related to getting half the sleep).
- Twice the love: there’s nothing like having both of your children in your lap for snuggle time.
- Half the anxiety (about being a bad parent).
- Twice the legitimate fear (Charlie don’t tip back in your chair!).
- Half the patience (“I’m going to count to five,” has lately become “I’m going to count to three”).
- Twice the laundry (seriously, when are y’all going to start folding your own clothes?).
- Half the need to explain myself to anyone over the age of 3.
- Twice the conversations about logistics (Ok, I’ll pick up C on my way home, is T still sleeping? Do I need to grab cheese or did you already do that? Do you want to clean up toys or dishes tonight?
- Time to wrap this up, but first a little digression (go with me here, you won’t regret it).
When I first arrived in Seattle I was living with my best friend and since we were both contract workers we would sit in our underwear with our laptops out for half the day and when the time came to go outside we’d suit up, grab a frisbee and/or football and go out to the park for practice. No we weren’t on a team. No there wasn’t anyone else practicing with us. No we were not gearing up for competition or try-outs or anything else. We were just two guys a disc and a boombox running plays and making up drills as we went along. We did this together for months before joining our first pickup game of Ultimate and quickly realized that while we had been practicing for quite some time, we didn’t really understand all the rules let alone the strategies necessary to play as part of a team. We went back to practicing regularly, enlisted the help of folks we knew who actually knew something about Ultimate, bought cleats and genuinely upped our value at those pickup games. This was when we coined the phrase: practice like professionals, play like amateurs. As a parent of two, this has become my major parenting philosophy.
As a parent, as a partner, I’ve got to put in the work. Day in and day out I parent. I used to reject the idea of being ‘always on’ as a parent, and long for the moments that Charlie would fall asleep and I could go back to being “me” OR “myself.” But as a parent of 2 littles under 5, it doesn’t really stop. Getting enough to eat and sleep is about my parenting, taking time for books and naps and pedicures is about my parenting setting boundaries with my job, my friends, my family and my spouse is about my parenting. And the ultimate hope is twofold: 1) when the time comes to turn it on – in the grocery store, during a tantrum, when they’ve done something or discovered something for the first time, I can kick it into 5th gear like i’ve got nothing to lose; and 2) so that as we all grow, the parenting I’ve practiced (and modeled) sticks. It becomes their normal. Nothing half-sies about it.