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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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