Cutting off the Jee-Jee for Temperance
Even though I’m closer in age to Colonel Sanders than a spring chicken, I still field comments about having a third child, ostensibly made in jest but probably also with a bit of curiosity behind it too. I play the charade with some form of emphatic rejection that draws a light chuckle. I told my aunt I would rather cut off my “jee-jee,” a playful term in Mandarin for dick.
The truth is it’s hard to let go even when the decision is easy. I’ve said a few times if we were 10 years younger, we might go for the elusive daughter. My wife, the former preschool teacher, is on standby if I change my mind and even tried to trick me with the promise of some Chinese calendar based on the mother’s age and month of conception that can guarantee a gender. I’m pretty sure that only works if you do anal.
Now, I can empathize with her preemptive nostalgia, having two mama’s boys who produce fleeting precious moments daily and packing away the younger one’s outgrown clothes for the last time. But she said something really sensible, especially for someone who admits a tendency to bend to short-term gratification at the expense of long-term state. My wife acknowledged she would feel the same pangs as the third child grew up way too fast, then the fourth, and eventually she’d still have to make her peace with the finality.
I have two main reasons for the red light, one altruistic and one selfish. This is not false modesty or me fishing for encouragement, but the reality is there’s a distance between the father I am and the one I want to be. Often it feels really freaking far. I used to think some of my outlier strengths were patience, persistence, consistency, even temper and the ability to find satisfaction in the mundane. My kids make me feel average in those departments.
The game plan during the first pregnancy was to read all the child development books, cook gourmet organic meals, play with them tirelessly in the sunshine and read riveting stories at night with Mozart humming in the background. But I’m just not that into it. I can be an excellent dad in short spurts when dialed into the moment, but it doesn’t take long for me to finagle an escape. I seem to find chores, work and my iPhone 12 mini more palatable than focused time with my children.
With this struggle to sustain a reservoir of undistracted attention and presence, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to divvy up that reservoir by one more. Think of it this way; if I wanted to allocate the same amount of energy to each child, I’d have to come up with 50 percent more — not to mention the financial costs. Honestly I would feel selfish to bring another human into existence rather than put the immense resources required toward a better experience for my first two.
Having kids biologically is no more or less selfish than not having them. Whether you were thinking about legacy, purpose, meaning or just busting a nut, the decision was still out of self-interest. If the goal were to make the world a better place, adopting or fostering would be of far greater service.
Nah, although sacrifice is a pillar of parenthood, the name of the game is still what you want out of life. For some people, kids are it. My wife is in that lucky group. It doesn’t matter what job she has, where she lives, who else she sees or doesn’t see. Her children are the ultimate fulfillment, and it’s beautiful for me to have a front-row seat.
You hear super successful people talk about how none of the riches and accolades mean anything next to their kids, that they regret not spending more time with them when they were young. The first part sounds right, but I am skeptical of the second. When I’m standing in a parking lot waiting for my toddler to accept the car seat as the only path forward after negotiations have stalled, I don’t feel like this part of my life needs to increase.
When I consider the aggregate hours spent on all the peripheral stuff to quality time — making small talk at the school, getting the kids ready to go anywhere or do anything, futilely cleaning up after them in our hyper-entropic state of living — I think it’s quite reasonable for someone like Tom Brady to outsource much of this. I don’t know how much more fulfilled he would have been shifting these hours away from football immortality.
The same goes for some civilians like me. I’m just looking for moderation with parenthood. It’s so dominant. For me to feel fulfilled, I need more diversity in sources.
One of them is my wife, ironic because she got me into this quagmire. Maybe once a month or three, we stumble on an evening when the kids are pushed completely out of our consciousness and it’s like a flashback to when we were young and interesting. The armchair philosophy conversations keep flowing and the energy is charged, like we pulled a Jon Snow and came back from the dead.
We are good together. I need more of her and less of her offspring. Our relationship out of necessity has transitioned into more of a logistics partnership to raise children. I assume it gets better as their autonomy develops, and I don’t want to set back that timeline again. I don’t want to give up more years to parent.
It’s enough. I don’t need to dedicate more of my able-bodied days to a near monopoly that might even reduce those days. Physical wellness is one thing I’ve refused to give up so far, not including a slight but continuous sleep deficit. You can kiss this dad bod in your dreams and nightmares.
Here’s one with more flattering lighting. Again, in a perfect allegory for parenthood, I pushed my personal boundary to the limit before I had to cut off the jee-jee.
There’s more than vanity to this. I find deep purpose in training body and mind. This blog is good for the latter, so thank you for reading and you’re welcome for lengthening your TikTok attention span if you made it this far.
The body goes quicker. Brutally early in our modern life span, we start to decline. We lose muscle mass, flexibility, posture. Our joints stiffen and conspire with magically appearing excess weight to slow us down. You can call it what it is — we’re dying.
I enjoy the idea and practice of resisting it. I’m not going to win, but there is something compelling about making it difficult on the aging process, giving it an arthritic middle finger here and there. I think of Bill Pullman’s speech in “Independence Day.”
We will not go quietly into the night. We will not vanish without a fight.
If you think about it, this is one of the ultimate games to play in life. Without health, you can’t enjoy your other reasons for living, including children. The pursuit of it should have meaning in and of itself.
Kids and fitness aren’t mutually exclusive of course, but there is a point when it becomes zero sum. I think a third kid might force it there. My workouts already are minimized to 35-40 minutes of bodyweight exercises before the older one wakes up. I also make do with my dad’s 20-year-old, 20-pound dumbbells, which make me feel jacked when the younger one treats them like Thor’s hammer.
But I, along with every other 39-year-old, should be doing real weight training for myriad reasons including bone density and resting metabolism. Our new house’s $190 monthly HOA fee includes a small community gym, and I happily envision jogging there with my wife and working out in parallel.
The other, more impactful component is preparing meals at home. My percentage is still high, but I’m also not trying to be a spectator when we bring home KFC, Domino’s and Whataburger for the kids. Since their birth, I’ve joined a dozen fast food rewards programs and even created a spreadsheet to identify the menu items with the highest cent-per-point redemption value. (At Chick-fil-A for example, the most cost-efficient of our staples is small waffle fries at .697.)
Adding another child likely would make us more prone to fast and processed food, at least for ourselves. Avoiding that crap requires time and headspace, the same assets children consume insatiably.
There are other meaningful ways to use those assets. Taking care of body, mind and marriage are all doable and worthy. I just need to lean into my strengths of patience, persistence, consistency, even temper and the ability to find satisfaction in the mundane.
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