W. Kamau Bell on the Secret to Raising Multiple Kids

I’m pretty sure I just spilled Thai food on my four-month-old daughter’s head. Don’t be alarmed. It’s fried chicken over fried rice and, luckily, because it’s four hours old, it’s cold. I didn’t microwave it to reheat it. I don’t have that kind of time.

I agreed to write this when my wife was still pregnant with our third child, Asha. I thought it would be safe to write about being a dad because I could do it from home. But writing anything well—an essay, a to-do list, your name—requires more than four hours of sleep and fewer than three forms of distraction. It requires wwerdasjuobbbwwwertttttttttytgh.

I didn’t just type “wwerdasjuobbbwwwertttttttttytgh.” My four-year-old daughter jumped into my lap and started typing. I could erase it, but I’m being paid by the word, so she just helped me. I’m counting “wwerdasjuobbbwwwertttttttttytgh” as a word. And thanks to my daughter, I have been able to use “wwerdasjuobbbwwwertttttttttytgh” four times.

“You don’t get better as a parent the more kids you have. You just get older.”

Okay, I’m back. After I wrote that last part, I drifted away to Twitter. Or was it YouTube? I can’t remember. My brain feels like it has been turned into soup by exhaustion, and I am swimming through that soup looking for the chunky brain parts. I need to find the chunky brain parts so I can think clearly enough to do simple things, like finish this piece and eat lunch at lunchtime and [funny third thing].

The sad thing is that I knew this brain-soup thing was coming. I have experienced this before. Twice. I also have the aforementioned wordsmith, Juno, and my oldest daughter, the seven-year-old Sami.

It is my belief that you don’t get better as a parent the more kids you have. You just get older. I have, however, in my older age developed a few forms of mental jujitsu that make parenting easier on me and, hopefully, on everyone else in my family.

Illustration by Zohar Lazar

Accept diminishing returns

Being a parent is like being a fire truck. Can a fire truck put out one house fire? Of course, that’s exactly what it was made to do. But can a fire truck put out two house fires at the same time? And what if the burning houses want to watch two different TV shows and there is one TV and the iPad just died? What does the fire truck do then? It puts out the fires it can.

Watch loud movies

As hard as it was to stay up with a baby, I remember enjoying all the late-night kung fu movies. This time, there aren’t enough movies that can keep me awake after 2:00 a.m. They need to be loud and engaging with lots of changes in action. Not plot changes. Action changes. Volume changes help. I don’t care about plot at all. Maybe now is the time to catch up with the Fast and the Furious series.

Don’t neglect your work job . . .

I did a podcast to promote a comedy special, and the host asked me if I’d achieved the perfect work/life balance. I laughed and answered that instead of holding the baby so that my wife could rest her back, I was recording a podcast. I also don’t know how to effectively be the dad who is in my kids’ lives “enough” while being the dad who is out in the world earning “enough” money to feed, house, clothe, educate, entertain, and health-care all these kids. The sooner you accept the lack of balance, the less unbalanced you’ll feel.

. . . or your home job

My daughters are three of the coolest people I have ever met. (Technically, I don’t know Asha well enough to say this, but things are looking up so far.) But yes, occasionally I wish I were one of those 1950s-era dads who left the house at 8:30 a.m. and returned at 7:00 p.m. after knocking back a drink or 12 at the local bar. I wish when my wife tried to hand me my daughter at 10:00 p.m. I could look at her like, “Why are you trying to hand me a baby? I’m a man. I don’t touch my kids until I hug them at their weddings. Or give the boy-child a firm handshake. Am I even pronouncing that correctly? Baaaaaaybeeeeeee?” I can’t do it that way. Doing some faux-’50s-dad thing and pretending like I don’t want to be around for every minute of it would be harder than what I am going through now. Having a third kid (or, heck, one) creates mayhem—but there’s nothing about it that I want to miss.

It is now 6:00 p.m. I’d like to say I’m going to take a nap for a few hours. But I’m not. The older kids just got home from the park, so I’m going to hang with them before bedtime. It’s like Juno always says: “esdsdsdsdsdazazazartghnnmjkszxcdeertghyjcvdfgbhhjjkkk,ll.”

W. Kamau Bell is a comedian, the host of CNN’s United Shades of America, and a cocreator of the podcast Politically Re-Active.

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