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 family.  Here's my journey.

1 is the loneliest number

You can't 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

When Dani 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

When Stan, 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

I remember 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."

Copyright 2014 (begun in 2013) Alexplorer.
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