It’s still somewhat difficult to fathom that I’m the parent of a college student and, in a few months, three high school students. Somewhere along the line, I blinked, and they grew up.
My son, Nicholas, finished his first year of college in May in North Carolina. My daughter Kate will be a sophomore at one high school in Fairfax County and Emma, Ben’s twin, will be a freshman at a different school. And then there is Ben, who will be a freshman at multiple locales across the United States.
Occasionally, like now, I pause to wonder how all of this happened. Where did the time go?
This is a story about the siblings, the ones that have had to learn to adapt with us in this nontraditional world.
Once the “activities ‘r us” schedule kicks in, parenting multiple children often is a case of divide and conquer — a “who picks up/drops off who when” maze that has no end in sight, but is so close you almost don’t realize it’s passed until it has. Add to that the mystery of having children spread across multiple states, and the divide/conquer dilemma increases exponentially.
Over the past several years, my wife and I have largely divided and conquered thusly: She has the lion’s share of taking care of the girls, and I deal with Ben-related things. I also take the one-day back and up trip to visit Nicholas, who is from a previous marriage.
In reality, it’s a practical matter. My insomniac-addled, vampire-like biorhythms and work schedule — thank you, telecommuting (!) — lend themselves more to the chasing back and forth that is required when you are dealing with a child performer and a son who lives 250 miles away. Jill — the far more pragmatic, rational and organized one in the relationship — is better equipped to handle the early morning schedule and afternoon schlepping that comes with raising two very different, but active teenage girls.
In parenting Ben, it helps that I’ve never been much of a performer, and that I have no desire — or talent — for the stage. But the performer’s world gets so crazy sometimes that it’s difficult not to become caught up in it.
I’m sure that has had an effect on my other children, and for that, I’m sorry.
Almost three years ago, just after Ben moved to New York to be in “Ragtime,” I wrote this about the kids on my personal blog (“Our Reality Show”):
At this point in our story, Nicholas, Katharine, and Emma have been relegated — not necessarily because they chose to be — to supporting players in Ben’s reality show. And like all siblings, especially ones that share similar interests in performing, they alternate between supportive and one of the following:
a. Jealous as hell.
b. Proud but not willing to show it.
c. Both A and B.
One of our largest parenting challenges — and believe me, we have a number of those — is striking the appropriate balance in paying attention to each of the four kids. It doesn't help that all basically like and do the same things and are — like all siblings — genetically programmed to compete with each other for time, attention, and, yes, resources.
Any sibling will tell you: Too much togetherness can be suffocating, no matter how close you are. Conversely, it’s also tough for siblings not to have face-to-face contact for weeks — and in some cases, months — at a time. How all of the kids have evolved and matured is a real testament to them as people, and to us as a family.
Over the past three years, I have watched all four of my kids grow in different ways as they move more deeply into teendom.
Kate, our oldest daughter, has suffered her entire life with the knowledge that twin siblings were born before she turned a year. Emma, Ben’s twin, was hardest hit by the separation, at least initially. When he left for New York at the start of sixth grade, she faced being in her elementary school alone for the first time. And when her sister quit dance, she was the last torchbearer at MFAC.
The move to New York was equally difficult for Nicholas, in large part because his brother was living his dream.
But Nicholas has turned that difficulty into dedication. He made great strides in his first year of college, which ended with him being accepted into Elon University’s BFA acting program and performing with Vital Signs, a terrific acapella group. What strikes me is how much he has matured this year and how our relationship, left strained at times by the separation and divorce, has evolved.
Emma continues to work diligently in dance, and seeing huge growth in her ability as a production of “Hook” nears later this month. Like Nicholas, she is equally serious about her academics, and is moving into high school on strong footing. She is jealous of her twin — especially so when he meets a celebrity — but no one is more supportive of him.
Kate has moved away from performing, leaving dance as she entered high school and moving into athletics. A terrific visual artist, she is continuing to find her way despite some obstacles that are not of her choosing.
Jill and I are just as proud of each of them as we are of Ben, even though life circumstances make apples-to-apples comparisons impossible. Together, we work to ensure that each child develops and grows at his or her own pace. And we are doing everything we can to give them the opportunities they need as they move forward.
Yes, it’s a juggling act. And yes, I don’t handle it as well as I should sometimes. But in many respects I wouldn’t have it any other way.