Opinion

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Reporter's Notebook

Building a Family

With our first son in his wild toddler stage, we prepare for our second

Several weeks ago, my baby boy uttered his first intelligible three-syllable word: batteries. He sees them, rightly, as the lifeblood of his noisiest, flashiest, most obnoxious toys, and he knows I’m the screwdriver-wielding magician who gives them their power.

One problem, among several, is that he now believes any toy or object — say, a wooden block or bottle of contact-lens solution — can become animated with a simple alkaline implantation. He’ll carry something over to the junk drawer, where those sweet cylinders of fun are stored, and demand that daddy resurrect its soul. I’m pretty sure he thinks our dog runs on batteries. Everything does, right?

I try to focus on the cuteness rather than the difficult existential questions posed by a world in which my son believes batteries are the genesis of all life. I choose to avoid the dark undertones of potential parental mismanagement.

At 20 months old, Fisher has the spastic energy of a squirrel but none of its precise agility, and he often bears rug burns that speak to his head-first enthusiasm. Sometimes I wish I could take his batteries out. But I comfort myself, however falsely, by believing he’ll have more self-control by the time our next son is born in October.

In any case, I still anticipate Fisher, upon seeing his tiny newborn brother napping soundly, thundering over to the junk drawer to revive him.

For the second time in as many years, my wife and I have privileged access to the unparalleled joy of bringing another person into the world. It’s different this time around, of course. For one, I’ve changed a diaper and held a newborn. That’s a good start. Moreover, we can reference firsthand experience, not exclusively books and other people.

In short, we’ll be a little more confident walking out of the hospital after this birth. The first time felt like stumbling into a foreign country not only unable to speak the language but somehow unable to speak at all: Wait, you’re just giving him to us? The nurses and doctors aren’t coming?

One unexpected quandary, however, is the strangeness of not being able to picture the forthcoming child as anyone other than the current one. I close my eyes, dip deep into my prophecy well, and see only Fisher, 28 pounds and eating crayons. Before Fisher, I suppose I envisioned a composite character of all other babies I’d seen.

This only matters because I love thinking of them together, and it doesn’t quite work when they’re the same person. Visualization issues aside, I’m thrilled, as is my wife, to see Fisher as a big brother — to see a family growing, coming into its own, becoming stronger.

I already have visions of Fisher dragging his brother over to their sleep-deprived father, prone lifeless on whatever piece of freshly stained furniture is available, and searching for my battery compartment, in hopes of resuscitating the beast for a little more playtime. As I hear their tiny footsteps pitter-patter over to the junk drawer, I’ll smile in my private knowledge: Little do they know, what actually gives me strength is them.

But I won’t tell them that yet, nor will I immediately open my eyes, because daddy can always use 15 more minutes of sleep.