You might be surprised how many people congratulated us after adopting our daughters on having a "perfect" family. You'd be especially surprised if you could see the state of my living room right now.
The book drawer is neatly closed. But the books themselves are everywhere. I See Santa is flung open on the coffee table, a holdout from Christmas. It's next to a princess anthology, which is next to a watercolor activity book, the paint brushes for which we've lost.
From where I stand, I've counted 11 books to put away. Scratch that, there's one under the coffee table. Oh, never mind, I just took one step closer to the melee and what's clear is I've severely undercounted — by orders of magnitude. The cute ABCs book about animals, I feel terrible admitting, has been brutalized with a green crayon.
The girls are splashing in the tub, and I hear Papa reminding them not to drink the water. "Spit that out," Papa says, for the first time so far tonight. This ritual happens every night. Meanwhile, I have about 10 minutes to complete a mad dash in which I reorder all the chaos. There's something sort of cathartic about watching the house slowly return to a cleanliness resembling my life before children.
There was a time when I spent whatever time and money it took to get the ideal window treatments or area rug to match the mood of a room, which matched the theme of our apartment, and the style of the building where we lived. Now our foyer furniture is a double stroller that waits near the front door. We had planned to take it on the walk earlier, but the girls wanted to hold our hands instead. And we almost never put away the stroller until sundown because it's exhausting to repeatedly fold and manhandle into the lock position. Besides, the stroller needs to have the engine running, like a getaway car.
A purple juice cup is abandoned on its side on the floor nearby, luckily right next to my other daughter's pink juice cup — which is unusual. When you need a juice cup in an emergency, it's never this easy to locate.
On the dining room table, the girls' two dinner trays are stacked on top of each other. Broccoli bits mingle with tomato sauce in the gross way only children find acceptable.
The kitchen countertop is like a scene from Hoarders. An empty lemonade bottle is next to an empty apple juice container that both need to be recycled and which are temporarily being stored alongside a bag of goldfish and a stack of opened mail. The toy kitchen on our patio looks more organized than the real thing.
The stackable learning boxes are an especially bothersome task for cleanup. About 10 boxes of varying size dot the apartment, so I grab them one by one and quickly figure out how they interlock. Of course, I've stacked nine boxes, and one middle-size box is missing. The bed is filled with unruffled bedding, and I know it's in there somewhere.
"No, no. Spit that out," I hear from the other room. "I'm going to take your toys away if you don't stop drinking that water."
That's a sign — the clock is winding down. So I speed up the cleanup pace while being careful not to step on a plastic block or a metal barrette because that hurts like a son of a bitch.
There's a singing picnic basket for which I have to find the fake watermelon, cookie, apple, and sandwich and then fit them like a puzzle into a pretend plate. The basket will sing you a little song when you've figured it out, so that's something to look forward to.
"No, Spit that out! Spit that out! All done. That's disgusting. You do not drink bathwater."
Uh-oh. I'm going to miss deadline.
And then — just the sounds of splashing and giggling. "You can splash bathwater, that's fine … "
False alarm; I have more time. Though I'm sure the bathroom is a mess now too.
My eye catches the orange sheen of a goldfish snack under the recliner. Luckily, it's not crushed into the ground. Oh, and there's that grape. I have to get a paper towel to clean that grape up.
We bought a book of 600 stickers at Target, which seemed at the time like a fun idea. Now one is stuck to the bottom of my sock.
If only all those people who think we're perfect could see me now. Then they'd know they've missed the complete picture.
The New York Times inexplicably chose to interview me for a story about gay families traveling with small children. Until I bought a newspaper from Starbucks and opened it to page 3 of the Travel section, I thought the whole thing must have been a mix-up. You really want to interview me — the guy whose nightmare is getting caught holding a screaming child on a plane — as an expert about traveling with 2-year-olds? I'm only ever prepared for traveling due to the motivating force of fear.
There's this study from Binghamton University that haunts me because it affirms my every worry about needing to be perfect gay parents. Researchers found that when we are out buying groceries or doing other parental things, watchful strangers were more judgmental of same-sex parents than our straight counterparts whenever kids inevitably misbehaved. I mentioned my neurosis over that study to The New York Times reporter when she called, then it became like a disclaimer that ran before my travel tips. I'd like to think of it as a plea — I'm not perfect; I'm just like you.
Because folks know so few real-life gay parents, they may extrapolate based on even a minimal interaction. The gay parents most people know don't live next door; they live on Modern Family.
I've told myself this pressure to be perfect isn't real, that it's all in my head. But when that New York Times article came out, my iPhone buzzed all day with email and Facebook notifications. Friends and family gushed over the photo that ran with the interview. There we were — a portrait of a gay family, with Minnie Mouse flanked by two little girls, and their two proud dads flanking them.
Not a mess in sight.
LUCAS GRINDLEY is editorial director for Here Media and lives in Los Angeles with his husband and daughters. Follow him on Twitter @lucasgrindley and on Instagram @lucasgrindley.