I was asked to dress up as Darth Vader at a recent Jedi-themed birthday party. When I walked through the door, a gang of bloodthirsty seven-year-olds lined up to challenge the Dark Lord with light sabers fashioned from foam pool noodles. The Force was so strong on that Sunday afternoon it took me a week to recover. Soon after, during a spirited roughhousing session, my daughter jabbed her knee into my eye so hard that little birds circled my head, like in a cartoon. When I looked in the mirror expecting to see a shiner, I saw sad purple rings encircling both eyes. Which one had she clocked?
Shit. This is how I look now.
I’m not the first to get kneed in the face by fatherhood. And I might label the moment a wake-up call, except I’ve been awake since 2005. My wife and I are almost out of the woods—the kids are now six and four—yet here I am, voluntarily signing on for the whole thing all over again when I’m this close to never wiping another butt besides my own.
For some reason neither of us remembers, Sarah and I wanted a third child, only to find ourselves stymied by the usual combination of unsexy factors: potlucks, playdates, teacher conferences, time outs. Those rare times when the stars seemed to be aligned—and by “the stars” I mean our genitals—it was usually after 10 p.m. For parents, 10 p.m. is like midnight. It’s too late to start anything ambitious. So we’d set the alarm for 5:45 the following morning, swearing we’d be done by six so we could get the kids up for school, which is a fool’s promise because the one time of day a man doesn’t want sex is when the alarm goes off. Often I woke to find myself spooning the dog.
I couldn’t tell you exactly when we conceived, but it was probably during a 24-minute segment of The Backyardigans, which my kids were watching in the next room as the dog scratched at our bedroom door. That’s hot. I began to wonder if we’d been successful the night my wife woke up at 2:15, ate an apple, and returned to bed. Thirty minutes later, when she reawakened, trotted to the bathroom, and vomited, I stopped wondering. Then I rolled over. The kids would be up soon.
The first time, it’s everything: My wife is pregnant. One blunt biological reality that you can’t see for months obliterates all other concerns, coloring every action, altering your self-image (I am God! I can create life!) and your image of others, who are now inferior to You. Pregnancy does not put your life on hold, as some have suggested; it renders your old existence to be something less than life—a 30-year preamble to the real thing. The big questions consume you, like “What does it all mean?” and “What kind of parents will we be?” This time, we already know what kind of parents we are: the kind who plug our children into The Backyardigans so we can have sex on a Sunday.
So this pregnancy only pops into my head every few hours, and even then it’s just another detail down a traffic-jammed road. “You’re not kissing my ass enough this time,” Sarah lamented the other night after I mocked her leaky bladder, a once-reliable organ that now turns dangerous at every sneeze. I promised I would kiss her ass as soon as we finished folding laundry.
As for the big questions, they don’t grip my thoughts so much as the realities, the endless complications that I thought couldn’t get more complicated. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that it costs $226,920 to raise a child to age 18. Multiply that by three, then add college tuition, and you begin to understand why friends and family are less ecstatic for us than they are dumbfounded: You’re having another kid? In the city? During a recession? The subtext here is that we are selfishly overpopulating a planet already short on resources just so we can have a “house with more life in it.” One child is cute. Two’s a family. Three’s a drain on the earth and a punch line on airplanes.
In the same way that animals know when it’s about to rain, the kids sensed something was up before we figured out how to tell them. “I have a lizard in my belly,” our four-year-old son told Sarah. “And you have a baby in your belly.”
“Totally creeped me out,” Sarah said later, comparing him to the kid in The Sixth Sense who sees dead people. Then she sneezed and ran to the bathroom.
When we finally broke the news, our daughter wanted to know how such a thing could possibly have happened. This led to an impromptu birds-and-bees talk, which must have been sufficiently thorough because it prompted only one follow-up question: Did Mom and Dad have to go to the hospital to do the deed? We laughed, but inside I was thinking that soon a field trip like that would not be a joke, but rather a romantic getaway.
For more, read Push, Jeff Ruby’s ongoing blog detailing his wife’s third—and last, he swears—pregnancy.
Illustration: Vin Ganapathy