1 and 2 and 3 and 4
You're always connected
to other people
through friendships and relationships, but there's nothing like the
evolution of a single individual into his or her own complete
Here's my journey.
1 is the loneliest number
really ever say you start out as just a person. You don't start
out as an island, but sometimes there's an epic upheaval in your
personal life, and you find yourself alone and adrift for a time.
In my case, I was part of a couple from
the time I was a sophomore in college until my ex and I split up eight
and a half years later. As an adult, I had never really lived on
my own, even though the last year she and I were together, I don't
think my then-wife and I shared a bed. Then when she was gone, it
was just *me* for the first time ever. Up to that point I'd
always had roommates or parents or her. Now I had to figure out
who I was. By myself.
I've written extensively and in-depth
elsewhere about the processes involved during that period, but
basically it was time for self-discovery. That's something our
culture doesn't invest in, at least in any formalized way the way
Eastern cultures value introspection. In the West we have
psycholoanalysis for older rich people, but nothing for the
young. We just allow that to happen organically by gradually
turning kids loose during high school to run around, experiment with
sex, maybe some drugs (almost certainly some drinking), then they find
their way in and out of a string of jobs getting paid very little for
some inconsequential things. There's no real process to it.
If you get into a crisis where you feel like you haven't really figured
yourself out, then you get therapy of some sort, maybe talking to a
counselor, but that's only for an hour a week.
I was more systematic about it and
dedicated a lot of time to the process. I made lists, journaled a
lot, read things that might explain me (everything from psych books to
personality inventories), tried to find things that would motivate me,
etc. Point is, I was looking for myself during that time. I
didn't come out of it with any great insights about humanity, but I
knew who I was at the end of it. When you're in an intimate
relationship with someone for a very long time (especially one that
begins during your formative years), you really don't know where you
end and your spouse begins. I was one of those people, and once I
was alone I had to learn who I am as one person.
2 sides of a coin
and I met, I knew early on that it was a forever thing. She and I
were talking about this a couple nights before I began writing this,
and she asked me if I thought this with my ex. I certainly did
when we were dating, but shortly after I married her I remember
thinking things like, "So I guess it's just going to be this same thing
from here onward," and it was a depressing thought. I didn't want
to bail on my ex (and, for the record, she bailed on me), but I knew I
wasn't going to be happy looking forward.
Conversely, when Dani and I got together,
I realized we were a team. I talked about this at our
wedding. There are trite clichés like "opposites attract"
that unintentionally obfuscate the real dynamic in a relationship like
ours. We had opposite strengths, but true opposites clash; what
we had was complimentarity. You see this in relationships like
Ozzy and Sharon's. He was a talented performer. She was a
brilliant manager of talent. Neither would have had a career if
each didn't have the other, and I would imagine that extends into their
romantic life as well. So it is with Dani and me.
It took a long time to figure this out,
however. We clashed on a lot of things. You realize why
committees have three members: because there's no tie-breaker or
independent voice of reason when there are only two people at odds with
one another. Over time we learned our roles: I'm the visionary
and she's the one who realizes the vision. I could never sew or
glue or paint, but Dani could. On the other hand, Dani would
never have any idea just what to make for Halloween if I didn't sketch
it out. We need one another.
Our first road trip together was all the
way across Texas to her hometown of El Paso. I wanted to stop for
everything interesting along the way. She wanted to get to El
Paso as quickly as possible. For me, it was all about the
journey. For her: The destination was the only goal. But
you know what? We compromised and stopped occasionally, and she
admitted it was fun. The next time we made the same trip, I used
the GPS to tag places on the way there, then we budgeted enough time to
hit them all on the way back.
I know people talk about how you have to
make a marriage work and "it's a lot of work" and all that, but I feel
like we had the opposite experience. The better we understood one
another, the more effective we were in channeling our strengths.
We complimented the other in ways that made things happen.
And then we started making people happen!
3's a crowd
our first child, was born, it really took a while to get my head around
it. I mean, a year earlier I still wasn't sure I even wanted
kids. Or at least not in the next year. That was a big
point of contention between my ex and I (among other things).
Finally Dani just told me, "I stopped taking the pill. What
happens, happens." Nine months and change later, we had a Stan.
I took to parenting surprisingly
well. He was a very easy baby for the first six months (then was
absolute horror for the next two years, and then some, but that's a
story for another time). All my aversions to poop and vomit
dissipated (Actually, the latter phobia was probably cured several
years earlier when Dani and I were in a monster car wreck and she puked
up her bean burrito from Taco Bell all over her chest while I held her
head upright in case she had a neck injury). I found that
parenting was no big deal, and in fact I loved it!
But it always felt like it was Team DnA
"plus one." Stan was always something extra on top of the couple
Dani and I made together. I spent a lot of time after the baby
arrived thinking about how we used to be "2" and now we were "3."
It was a strange configuration that didn't feel natural.
4 is a family
a Bill Cosby routine where he surveyed his audience: "Do you have
children?" Someone said they had two. "Okay," Bill
said. "That qualifies. That qualifies, because a person
with one child, I don't really call them a parent because there are too
many things left out. If you have just one child, there are too
many things left out. For instance, if something's broken in the
house, you have one child, you know who did it! See, you don't
have to go through 'I... I... I...' You know the child did it!
Also, people with one child do not have to go through 'Will you stop
touching me?' I mean, if you got one child and the child is doing
that, then you gotta take it away."
He hit upon something there. I was
an only child. Sibling dynamics continue to mystify me.
Dani has a brother. Most of my friends had another sibling.
I never really imagined what it would be like to have more than one
kid. In fact, like I mentioned above, I really didn't think much
beyond the fact that I didn't know if I wanted to try having even the
one child. And then there were two!
But a surprising thing happened. I
didn't think of us as having two kids. It wasn't 2+2; it was just
4. All of a sudden I thought of us as a family, something that I
never really saw us as before, even though I didn't realize I didn't
think we were a family up to that point.
I found myself wanting to get decals for
our car windows with the four of us (plus a dog and cat). In
fact, in the space of a couple years we had a new house, a new dog, and
even a cat, the latter being something I never really wanted at
all. Where did this life come from? Who are all these
creatures in my beautiful house? That Talking Heads song started
making sense, something no Talking Heads song should ever do.
When you have one child, you say, "The
baby" or "Stan" or "The boy" or "Your son" (which is what I call him
around Dani; he's always been more hers than mine). When you have
the second child, you don't say, "Stan and Stella" or "The boy and
girl." You suddenly start saying "the kids." It was a novel
experience to me. It's funny how you arrive at a place and go, "I
have a family."
(begun in 2013) Alexplorer.