Like so many couples, my husband and I had a hard time trying to conceive. People would tell us, “Well, the best part about having a baby is making one!” Somehow, IVF doesn’t quite serve up the same afterglow. We went through round after round, tons of out-of-pocket bills, loss after loss and more needles than a Christmas tree in late January. We grew closer knowing we would have a family one day, but it was hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Especially when that tunnel was five years long.
In January of 2019, we finally welcomed both a boy and a girl via surrogate. Our hearts are as full as the pile of diapers in our Munchkin pail. So, forgive me if this goes astray but when I woke up this morning I could’ve sworn it was laundry day. (My bad — ever since the kids were born I can only comprehend life in Prince lyrics.)
As our twin nuggets of love grow and flourish, my husband and I have realized that we worked so hard to have them that we forgot about raising them. Before you ask, “Well, Michelle, didn’t y’all talk about how you were gonna raise these kids before you had them?” Yes, girl, we did.
We would have artisanal crafted cocktails with overpriced cherries and fantasize: “If we just pick the good and bad parts from our own childhoods, we’ll be a Lenny Kravitz/Lisa Bonet combination of woke, cool and approachable parents in vintage leather jackets.” Instead, we’ve turned into our own sitcom. I think he’s too laid-back. He thinks I’m a helicopter parent.
The first year with our twins was a beautiful blur where we were on the same page. We each slept for 45 minutes at a time and had to take pictures to remember it all. It was kind of like taking a three-stop flight to Australia, except our final destination was a changing table.
Then … wow. They grow. Did you know they grow? Yeah, we forgot that part. Our baby twins are now toddling Tasmanian curly-haired daredevils. They enter a room like they’re in a “Game of Thrones” battle scene, turning every single thing upside down and inside out. As their parents, my husband and I have to make something called decisions. And with two completely different backgrounds, we seem about as united as the States.
My Jamaican mother was a pretty safe, zero-risk kind of mom. My Haitian father worked in insurance for over 40 years. So, no, we didn’t do roller coasters. I didn’t climb trees. And we didn’t swim very far at the beach. To my parents, “Jaws” wasn’t just a movie, it was a P.S.A.
Now, my husband was born and raised in the Netherlands, a place where parents practice a tradition called “dropping,” where they basically leave their preteens deep in the woods and let them figure out how to get home.
Meanwhile, I can’t count how many times I’ve gotten lost in an Ikea as an adult. No matter how hard I try to follow those dumb arrows on the floor, it’s never going to be OK. I couldn’t imagine dropping my children. (Except after a bath. Oh man, they are slippery!)
The Dutch people in general are pretty chill about parenting, as well as — everything. I would be more chill, too, if I had universal health care and the only road rage I experienced was someone ringing their bicycle bell twice. In general, Dutch children are taught not to depend too much on adults; adults are taught to allow children to solve their own problems. It’s not a big deal to eat dinner and leave your eight-month-old sleeping in her stroller outside of a restaurant. Meanwhile in New Jersey, my mother had me on her lap at all times. Which was very embarrassing in high school.
These differences in our backgrounds have created an interesting push-and-pull. And by “interesting,” I mean annoying. To my husband, I’m not just a helicopter mom. I’m a drone-on-top-of-a-snowplow mom. To me, my husband is too casual and relaxed. Toddler time is not a Jimmy Buffett concert!
I’m constantly thinking, “OK, which pens, coins or sharp items on the floor can they put in their mouths?” “Where are the fragile objects they could grab and possibly break on each other’s heads like The Three Stooges?” “Are all the electrical outlets plugged in or covered?” In the meantime, my husband is letting them climb a bookcase. And when they can’t get down, he says, “Figure it out” in Dutch. Figure what out, exactly? How many stitches they will need?
One day at the park, I felt like I was the only one watching the kids while he sat on the bench looking on. When I asked him to help me, he said, “They’re fine, just let them be.” Let. Them. Be? Let these emotional rotisserie chickens just run around by themselves? With strange kids? And new objects? What if they eat sand? Why aren’t you worried? Don’t you care? He hit me with, “Worry and anxiety aren’t how I show affection.” I would have argued, but I was too busy making sure the twins weren’t dipping their pacifiers in the sandbox.
I guess the point is, who is right here? Am I overly anxious? Is he too casual? Does every couple experience this?
My friend Jordan Carlos once told me, “When you become a parent, you have to parent yourself.” I didn’t understand that until now. Dad keeps telling the kids they can do anything they put their minds to. And I believe they can. With my help.
To paraphrase the Purple One: Dearly beloved, what we need to figure out, as two well meaning people trying to raise two beautiful people, is how to get through this thing called life.
Michelle Buteau is an actress and comedian. She is the author of “Survival of the Thickest,” published by Gallery Books.