Before the twins, I had never won anything in my life.
I'd never had my name drawn at random; never been the seventh caller; never shouted out BINGO! and walked away with a brand-new TV/VCR combo.
I did win second place in a raffle once. The prize was a lifetime supply of Turtle Wax, which I learned, when I went to claim my prize, was exactly zero cans. When I complained, the guy in charge asked me honestly how much Turtle Wax I was planning to use in my lifetime, and I was forced to admit that zero sounded pretty much right on the money.
When the twins were born, my luck changed. The twins were born, you see, on New Year's Day. In fact, they were the first babies born in our town on that day, and, while there was no ticker-tape parade through the town, we did get our picture on the front page of the local paper and a grand announcement that we were the winners of the First Baby (in our case, babies) of the New Year contest. Accompanying our article was a moderately long list of all of the prizes that would soon be showered upon us.
Not that we cared, mind you. We were hurting. I would not be lying if I told you, Gentle Reader, that those first few months home with the twins (and Kathryn, who was four at the time) were some of the darkest times I have ever experienced. Three months earlier we had uprooted our family from our home in Austin and moved into a small duplex in New Jersey, not knowing a single soul in, and I am NOT exaggerating here, the entire tri-state area.
Our nearest family was 1500 miles away.
We were in a bad place.
We would have been equally happy if, instead of showering us with gifts, the newspaper photographer had watched the girls for a few minutes so that we could shower ourselves with water.
But the photographer did not bring the gifts. Nor did she give us a moment to freshen up before snapping the pictures. No, The Mom and I will be forever memorialized on the front page of that newspaper looking like a pair of lab animals who were just one more experiment away from being discarded as useless. The babies, bless them, screamed themselves hoarse through the whole shebang and Kathryn looked like she was seriously considering hiding herself in the photographer's camera bag and making a break for it.
Winning prizes for having babies seems a dubious honor at best. In the past I've always been skeptical about parents who had the first baby of the year, like maybe they had circled March 26th on their calendar with the words "Screw Now for Free Stuff!" or the mother had performed some sort of Herculean feat by either fending off labor until New Year's Day or just pushing really hard once the day arrived. In my mind, I always had the feeling that it was the father who was actually behind the whole thing, coaxing his wife into having the baby at just the right moment. That just seems like such a dad thing to do.
In reality, though, babies are born on New Year's Day just like they are on any other day: there's broken water, contractions, breathing, and 'fuck you's to smart alec husbands who think of really good jokes to tell at really inopportune times.
A month or two went by before either The Mom or I wondered about the prizes. Another month went by before The Mom called about them. The reporter who had written our story (with, I might add, an almost inspired lack of factual information) gave us a phone number for the gatekeeper of the free goodies. He was out when we called and so The Mom left a voice mail.
He never called us back.
And that's where we left it. We were too tired to pursue it further.
Now the babies are about to turn two. On New Year's Day. It won't mean that much to them this year, but soon they will think it is really cool that people around the world go nuts and get all sloppy and smoochy on the exact minute that marks the beginning of their special day.
And so what if we never got any prizes? We didn't really earn them anyway. Still, I wonder sometimes if somewhere there's a little man, sitting at his little desk, with his little red voice-mail light blinking on his little phone, in a little office piled high with dusty two-year-old free baby swag, thinking, "You know, I really need to call that lady back."
If I ever have a free moment, maybe I'll track down his number and call him.
Right after I Turtle Wax my car.