Imagine there are two journeys. The first involves a short, exciting ascension, followed by a slow-motion plunge. You are initially thrilled by the view at the top, but you quickly lose your footing. You don’t fall tidily, like a diver cutting a clean line into a pool. You’re a plane crash; debris everywhere. Maybe you come up short, bleeding and full of regret, then continue your plummet because surprise! That wasn’t the bottom. If you’re lucky, you eventually land in a heap, broken but breathing.

The second journey begins with a sort of blind scrabbling in the dirt: where am I, who am I, what happened? You pick up your feet and begin trudging along, unsure of what direction to head in. The terrain is both alien and all too familiar, you keep coming across your wreckage. Like corpses on Everest, it isn’t safe to take these things with you. They can only be accepted and acknowledged and laid to rest. (You pick them up anyway, over and over, and carry them until their weight brings you to your knees.) Your legs get stronger, but the edge of the path is always uncomfortably close. A steep drop leads to a place you never want to see. Eventually you realize that everything you thought was so dazzling before was only a mirage. Still, there is a part of you that is like a man in the desert dying of thirst, always reaching for the shimmer. You do your best to drink from other sources, and keep going, one step at a time.

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One of the challenges/joys of having more than one kid is that unless you give birth to genetically identical clones you have to/get to have a multitude of parenting experiences based on your child’s unique special snowflake attributes. For instance, Riley was a decent sleeper right off the bat, while Dylan woke me up every night on the reg until he was in preschool. Riley was super sensitive and anxious, Dylan barreled through his early years like an urgent-care-prone bull in a china shop. Riley hated things with cheese, Dylan lived exclusively on things with cheese.

Now that the boys are older, they have plenty of the same interests — basketball, YouTube videos, Nerf weaponry, saying REKT BRO as often as possible — but they could not be more different when it comes to school. Math, at least the elementary school variety, seems to come naturally to Riley. Dylan, on the other hand, is mostly baffled by the entire concept, particularly the current third grade focus on fractions, which I can identify with on a deep and personal level (“Mixed numbers”? “Improper”? Look, all I can remember about fractions is that Calvin and Hobbes cartoon where Hobbes said numerator means “number eighter” in Latin). Dylan has excellent spelling skills, while Riley, frustratingly, doesn’t even get words in the phonetic ballpark. Riley is competitive to a fault and tends to get sloppy with his work in order to be the first done, Dylan is dreamy and scattered and I suspect he spends half his class time with the Charlie Brown wah-wah-wah voice going in the background while he cranes his neck to see whatever’s happening outside the window.

Throughout the past eleven years, I feel like whenever I have gotten some sort of handle on how to best support/handle one kid, the other is murmuring into my ear Liam-Neeson-style: “What I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.”

I was listening to The Moth podcast yesterday and there was this amazing story from John Turturro, in which he describes — well, lots of things, including some heartbreaking revelations about his family, but also wandering through NYC during the blackout of 2003. He finishes with this:

We imagine that we live in the light. We imagine we know what’s gonna happen. We imagine we can control everything. You know, I’m gonna do this, and I’m gonna do that. And the reality is, truthfully, that almost all of us are just stumbling along in the dark.

Parenting is just one big stumble, and the hope you don’t cause too much damage when you fall. I have always been suspicious of those who claim to have figured out the best path, because come on. You’re out here with me, in the dark.

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