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Clifton said ‘Pop Pop’  for the first time.

And I flat out lost it.

During this whole process of becoming a parent, missing Dad has been separate from it.  Mom has tried to suck me into some of her weepy moments, but I’m a pragmatic; it’s something that can’t be changed.  I never knew either of my grandfathers and that’s just how it is.

And then that little squeaky voice says ‘Pop Pop’ during one of  his favorite activities, the group photo i.d.-athon.  This time it was the picture on my shelf of the night before David left for Iraq in 1990.  That awful awful night.  I came in from Phoenix; we had dinner at home; other people were there.  Dad’s awkward presentation of his St. Christopher medal and how proud he was of David following in his footsteps.  In the photo, you can see the dread of death in our ghostly smiles.  (David will probably disagree with my recollection of that night and photo description, but look at our mother’s face, okay?)

“Arise then…women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
“We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”   –Julia Ward Howe

(Peaceful history of Mother’s Day to come.)

Anyway.

Jim takes the boys off for baths, and I sit at the dinner table trying to stop bawling.  I can see Dad’s funny faces with goofy sound effects, hear Clem Cadiddlehopper stories, see him wrestling with the wiggly ones, looking into their faces and listening to their secrets.

Clifton gets 3 books tonight, and I’m crying again in the somnolent darkness.  I realize that it’s not just all the things the deep breathing baby on my chest is going to miss.  What really has the tears streaming into my ears is what I’m going to miss.

I won’t be able to share these wonderfully crazy parent moments with my Dad.  I can see him looking at me as I calm down a struggling toddler, feel his hands squeeze my shoulders as he passes me in the chaotic kitchen, hear his jokes about the personalities of my sons and stories of us when we were kids (‘try having four’).

All this slams over me in a tidal rush.  So unexpected.  So sudden.  I can’t put the Pop Pop in their life.  They’ll be fine because they won’t know what they’ve missed.

But I’ll know.

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My youngest son turned 3 years old today. His name is Clifton, and I love him simply to pieces.

Razor sharp smile

Current nicknames: Glommy Bear, Troublemaker, Lokiface, Dr. Destructo, Cottontail, Sweetloveangelboy

Likes: whatever his brother is currently playing with or reading or eating, everything sweet, cereal bars (‘nack’), all cats (meow meow), tickling (‘gilly gilly’), nasal orifices, announcing emergency bathroom issues once fully buckled into the car seat

Dislikes: just sitting down and eating a meal, speaking in low volumes, wearing clothes, loss of skin to skin contact, any request not in the form of a game

The look

Day 1 – when we first met in Russia – September, 2010.

We call this “The Look.”

Wild ChildJanuary, 2011 – first week at our house.  Aptly labeled here.

Sweaty playground

A few months later and he’s an adorably sweaty playground urchin.

Silly cowboy

And a totally silly cowboy

sweet love

I love this photo as it shows his constant affection.

(ps – Don’t I look deliriously happy?)

Quantam of Solace

Early days – Mommy’s Wild Child …. sleeps.

Okay, I just call myself that, but it sounded better as a title. Cuatro (as in number 4) is the moniker I used to use whenever Jim’s 3 other priorities were ruining my very existence. Or just annoying the hell out of me.

Before we had kids, here was Jim’s priority list, according to me.

  1.   His mother
  2.   Our 2 cats
  3.   His projects
  4.   Me

He denies this, of course, but sometimes when I couldn’t get his attention by saying his name at increasing decibels, I would just meow once, and he would immediately get up to see what the kitty needed.

Time has passed as has Jim’s mother and we now have two kids.  We’re both so busy, that Cuatro doesn’t come up as a complaint as much. If I had to make the list again, the kids have replaced his mother, all else is the same.

I’m revisiting it today because of this picture.

This is our dining room, and I am stretched out on the ugly black sofa that lives there, while Rio the kitty is perched on the chair about 2 feet away from me.  Jim comes in from the left, walks in between me and the kitty.  Stops to pet and talk to the kitty.  Does not even see me, walks into the kitchen and starts calling my name.  When he peeks back into the dining room, I’m just shaking my head, mumbling Cuatro under my breath.

It’s a blurry early morning, and the boys’ bedroom door bursts open. Clifton comes stomping through the kitchen carrying the over-sized red train book under his arm like he’s been up reading for hours.

He’s two, almost three, and he’s wearing the red Spider Man print pajamas: long pants, button down top with long sleeves. His hair is sticking straight up, and he gives me the biggest smile as he walks past to the family room.

Have I ever been that happy at 6:00 in the morning?

Oh yeah, that would be today.

I love the language peculiarities that mark us as from a certain place and a certain time. My brother says “silver bells” instead of “Hershey’s Kisses” which is a holdover from Dad’s vocabulary. He doesn’t realize that he collects these phrases, but I do. I relish them.

Mom says “lavatory” instead of “sink.”  Could be crossword puzzle-itis.  She just said it to me the other day, telling me the things she cleaned in my house while I was taking care of sick kiddos.

You can mark Jim and I as older parents by what we call “baby wipes.” You know what those are, right? Wet napkins that our society apparently purchases by the caseload to wipe up all sorts of … accidents, baby-related and not.

In a rush, I will ask for a “Wet One” instead of a baby wipe which predates the current moist towelette phenomenon by about 20 years.

And Jim will ask for a “Wet Nap” which may be either a sign of his generation or his compulsion to collect any and all travel-size amenities.

In any event, the wreck gets wiped, the unclean become sanitized, and nobody lobs a scimitar in the process!

There is smoke in the air and I’m wondering who I am.  The marsh is on fire and I’m thinking, who did Daddy mean when he said two of his kids were introverts and two were extroverts?

I should be getting into the restaurant so I don’t breathe this in, but it’s 10 minutes till the doors unlock.  Should I be writing my epitaph now just in case?

No can’t die from this inhalation.  But I could lose my breath, slip into an iron lung.  (Isn’t that a terror stricken thought from the black and white television days?)  What do you write when you’re about to be unable to write but not dead yet?

Wait, I do have something started already.  “She fell asleep in death.”  Read this in an obit of my friend’s elderly aunt.  We had to search the paper for the listing as nobody knew for sure the aunt’s last name.  She had married briefly many years ago, and that’s just what you did then.  You kept the shared identity with the man who fucked you over, cleaned out your parents’ savings account, or who unfortunately turned out to be way more boring than you had anticipated.

There is smoke in the air and I’m starting to cough again.  Or was I already coughing before and it just seems viscous now that I can’t see the clouds in the sky from the marsh clouds.

My friend’s aunt actually didn’t fall asleep in death, more like fell on the floor and bled to death.  But you can’t put that in an obit.  I wish you could.  Instead of  “he ascended into the heavenly kingdom to be with his holy and peaceful father…”  Couldn’t you say he choked on a slab of brisket that he shouldn’t have been eating in the first place?