A couple of weeks ago one of my seniors was trying to figure out what the rest of the year looked like. He walked to my desk area at the back of the classroom and found the calendar pinned to the wall. “Mister! November?” he shouted. I smirked. “That’s about right,” I said. He shot me a puzzled look. “That’s when my life ended.”
Nobody takes pictures of the bad times, you know?
The 5-plus months since the twins were born have been the most difficult in my life. The blog entries and pictures of the twins and the rest of my family are real, but they are the result of my own personal mantra: every situation is what you make if it. Life is the collection of these situations. Those entries and pictures covering milestones filled with smiles are the moments when I have succeeded. There have been many more when I have failed to make the most of them.
The twins have strained both my personal and professional lives, and a few months ago I was in a dark and seemingly endless place that I have only been in at one other time in my life. All those feelings of hopelessness resurfaced. They felt familiar in a horrible way, the way just a glimpse of a bottle of cheap tequila can make your mouth water in an unsavory manner. My problem – that blessing and curse – is the way that I think, overthink, analyze, and internalize. I feel a mixture of guilt and shame at not being able to steadfastly and adequately handle my responsibilities as a father, husband, and educator. I’ve come to accept that those specific emotions are exacerbated by never speaking of them.
Now, as back then, I have begun speaking to a therapist about what’s happening inside of me. It’s helped, and I hope this will, too.
I severely underestimated the degree to which Cole and Avery would affect every single aspect of my life. Madison was born in 2008 and I had forgotten the minutia of raising an infant. I learned pretty quickly that twins doesn’t mean multiplying everything by two; it means the degree of difficulty increases exponentially in ways that I did not anticipate. As a person who prides himself on being able to see the big picture and all of its angles, this was a crushing blow. And that’s before all the diapers and formula and crying and vomiting and stumbling and fumbling.
There are three moments during an average day when no one needs anything from me: when I drive to work, when I drive home from work, and when I’m asleep. Otherwise, I am providing information, a worksheet, a test, a textbook list, guidance, a recommendation, a diaper change, a bottle, comfort, dinner, always something. I have failed repeatedly to handle these responsibilities to the best of my ability. This is where the shame and guilt come from. These failures have happened so frequently that about a month ago, it crested into an overwhelming onslaught of self-doubt. I said things aloud that I had never uttered before. “I don’t want to go to work.” “I don’t want to do anything.” “I want to disappear.” “I want to listen to ’90s alt-rock and melt away.” I meant it. All of it.
The absolute worst part of this experience has been the turmoil I feel when speaking to people about the twins. On the good days, I’m willing to share. It’s easy. On the bad days, though, it’s hard to talk about because just thinking about all of it immediately and irrevocably affects my mood. I felt like I was lying to people, family and friends who were all more excited about Cole and Avery and big sister Madison than I was. It ate at me. I don’t like to lie. But how could I express these feelings when all a person has asked of me is “How are you doing?” or “How are the babies?”? So I never spoke of these things.
It is not easy to write these things. To see them in print, to know I’m going to press a button that will make it visible everywhere simultaneously. I know all of this sounds melodramtic. I know it sounds incredibly selfish and self-centered. But it’s the truth, and it took me so long to admit these things to myself. I’m a bottler, internalizing things is what I do. But that stubbornness was making everything worse. I guess sometimes the things we think and do not say find their voice, one way or the other.
I need to thank Lynnette. These past few months have strained our relationship for reasons that I have no desire to get into here. I think she was guilty of the same thing – the hope that I would have responded to everything much better than I have. That dream didn’t align with our reality, and for a time it splintered us. She’s come to the same conclusion that I have: I simply cannot deal with this situation with the same will power and grace that she can. She’s allowed me space and time and supported me in getting help. All of our dreams are built upon the supposition of perfection, even if it’s an inherently flawed foundation. That’s the path to disappointment. Our life, us, none of it is perfect, but we’re trying to make the best of it. I’ve accepted I’m going to fail again – on a Tuesday or Sunday or something – but I think I’m better equipped to get back up and keep grinding.
To everyone else who has supported us with well wishes, generous gifts, coffee, Coke, spending time to listen to me, babysitting duties – anything and everything – thank you. It all means more to me than you could ever truly know or understand.