The Red-Spotted Admiral

"Red Spotted Purple" by Saxophlute at English Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“Red Spotted Purple” by Saxophlute at English Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

When one sees a Red-Spotted Admiral butterfly (Limenitis arthemis Astyanax) up close, it is not the red spots that draw attention. It is rather the blue, a brilliant royal. So deep, it gives the butterfly its other common name: the Red-Spotted Purple. At least, that’s what I noticed.

Six years ago, I hadn’t noticed Limenitis arthemis Astyanax at all. Then one landed on my arm.

I was sitting in my back yard at the time. It was a warm, mid-spring day. I was still acclimating to the new house we’d moved into about three weeks prior. I was still acclimating to the new city we’d moved to about 20 weeks prior. I was acclimating to the idea of being a father, my wife having given birth to twins about five weeks prior. But mostly, I was still acclimating to reality of living my life without my son, who had unexpectedly died about three days prior.

I was alone, and I was feeling sorry for myself. My wife, as would become standard for her, was at the hospital, keeping watch over our daughter, who would spend another six weeks in the NICU before coming home. This was her response to grief: she would wake up in the morning and go to the hospital for morning rounds. She would sit by our daughter’s incubation crib for 16 or more hours, occasionally holding her, nursing her, or changing her. But mostly just watching her breathe.

My response was quite different. Apart from a few visits a day, I would avoid the NICU. In much the same manner as a person would avoid a street where he had been in an accident, or a neighborhood where he had been mugged. The mere act of walking through the doors turned my stomach. My desire to see and hold my daughter was in a constant battle with my desire to avoid the place where I watched my son die, and my desire for avoidance frequently won the battle. I would later learn this avoidance was my mechanism for coping with post-traumatic stress.

And so I sat there, not by my daughter’s crib. But in the back yard, staring at nothing. And a butterfly, a Red-Spotted Admiral, Limenitis arthemis Astyanax, lit upon my left arm. It crawled forward a bit and settled in a spot for five, perhaps 10 seconds, moving its wings slowly up and down. And then it flew off.

I don’t much believe in signs from above, or beyond. I believe God, who or whatever he is, created humans with free will. We can choose to believe or not believe, just as we can choose to be kind and decent to each other or to not. Whatever our choices, they need not rely on signs from him. And so, no, I don’t believe this butterfly was sent by God, or inhabited by the spirit of my son to let me know that things would be okay. It was just a butterfly. And yet…

And yet.

I guess we all emerge from our cocoons eventually.

I notice Limenitis arthemis Astyanax now. I notice it, and wonder how I never noticed such a beautiful creature before. I notice it, and I think of a time when I felt as low as I’ve ever felt in my life, and an insect lifted my spirits. I notice it, and I remember the power of tiny, almost insignificant things to enter our lives and impact them in a significant way.

Unemployed Dad

This is not my first go-round as a stay-at-home parent. For much of 2009 and 2010, I stayed at home with Nora. And when I say “at home”, I mean AT HOME. A 28-week preemie, Nora was too susceptible to the various germs that everyone else takes for granted. The lungs of a preemie are delicate things. Bugs that would lead to a sniffle or cough for a full-term infant are potentially fatal to a 28-weeker. So there were no visits to playgroup. No trips to the library or museum. No playdates. It was Nora and Dad, at home, day after day.

It’s different this time, in many ways. Most obviously, in the number of children under my watch. Basic math dictates that watching Josh and Lia (joined by Nora in the afternoons) be more challenging than watching Nora alone. Another difference: when caring for Nora, I knew I was in it for the long haul, and I was. For 14 months, Nora and I spent our days together. For much of that time, I was not even looking for employment, because taking Nora to daycare was simply not an option. Those places, as any parent knows, are germ factories, and as such, were not an option for Nora in her first year or so of life.

This time around, I am attempting to conduct a full-scale job search while also fulfilling my parental obligations. To that end, television has become my friend. Sesame Street provides me with nearly an hour to peruse job listings. Curious George gives me another 23 minutes to make necessary alterations to the cover letter and fill out online applications (Seriously? I need to attach a resume AND manually type in my entire f***ing job history for you people??? Can you not just read the resume? Is this level of pointless busy work indicative of the job I’m applying for? Because if so, y’all can kiss my arse).

This brings me to perhaps the greatest difference between then and now: age. Josh and Lia are full-blown two-year olds now. They are today some six months older than Nora was was when I retired from my first career as a stay-at-home Dad.

Pardon my French, but Holy Shit, this is an entirely new world I stumbled into.

Should the job application process take longer than anticipated, or should a monkey and a man in yellow fail to hold children’s attention, I will invariably find myself with one child in my lap, dead-set on clicking “submit” mere seconds after entering my last employer as “adfvn.lkj fnkj/,;fraq”.

(FACT: two-year olds cannot type, but they have an innate gift for mashing the keyboard and somehow clicking the “submit” button every single time.)

Meanwhile, child #2 will usually take advantage of the distraction to turn on the washing machine (not so bad, really), overturn every bin full of toys in the house (frustrating, but still not so bad), or the new favorite, climb the Christmas Tree (venturing into dangerous territory now…)

I used to say of my time as a SAHD with Nora that it was the best job I ever had: the pay was terrible, but the benefits were outstanding. Much the same is true this time around. The time I’m getting with Josh and Lia — and Nora in the afternoons — is (generally speaking) fantastic. I’m witness to moments, little signs of day-to-day growth, that I wouldn’t see otherwise, and that I wouldn’t trade for the world. The three of them have three very distinct personalities, and bets are open as to which one will be our next visit to the ER. Lia, in her early climbing phase, was the early favorite. But Josh, with his potent cocktail of fearlessness and recklessness, might be the smart money bet.

Meanwhile, the applications continue to go out. Two or three a week, some more promising than others. Some more interesting than others. I suspect it’s not a great time of year for a job search, holidays and all that. But it is a good time to watch the kids. I’m enjoying it immensely.

(Someone get me the hell out of here.)