It was exactly five years ago when I married my beautiful Caroline. And I remember the day vividly. Every aspect of it. And, believe it or not, the thing that sticks out most isn’t the part where we said “I do.” Nor is it the reception. Or even that first night we spent as man and wife. Nope. The thing that sticks out is sitting with my soon-to-be stepdaughter in one of the church’s meeting rooms as I nervously pondered my future. It was all about to change, and I vowed that I’d be ready for whatever it was that would come my way. Yet try as I might, there was simply no way I could have ever imagined everything I was about to get.
Hate to bust out one of my favorite redneck-isms on you, but there’s no other way to say it — it’s been hotter’n dammit lately. And whenever it’s hotter’n dammit, our upstairs gets a bit toasty. And the triplets had a tough time falling asleep last night thanks to all that toastiness. And, perhaps, to a bit of sassiness as well. Which meant that Caroline and I made countless trips up the stairs to tend to them on the very night that, as misfortune would have it, we finally crashed from the adrenaline high that Grand Finale’s arrival had temporarily provided us.
I hear you. At least I think I do. So I look to see if your mouth is moving. But through the pitch black of midnight, it’s impossible to tell. Still, it must be you. No one else in our world can make that type of noise. At least not anymore. I can’t say that I’m excited to hear you. But I can’t say that I’m not, either. Because together we’ll go. And we’ll be alone. Just the two of us. And I look forward to that.
Even so, I drift back to sleep and only realize that fact during your next series of soft cries, the ones which finally prompt me to gently pick you up from the Moses basket. And together, we’re off.
Twas the night before Christmas, and here at our house,
Our children were stirring, yet nary a mouse.
For what kind of mouse would be living with us?
The kind who would grumble and mumble and cuss.
The screaming, it starts at the drop of a hat.
It’s quite hard to handle—for even a rat.
Lovie and me are both trying our best.
We can’t restore order. We never get rest.
Such is the case when your triplets are 3.
Of course, they are cute (because, they look like me).
But they bring a clamor to all that they do.
Whenever they’re playing, our house is a zoo.
Our Monster is brash—and he throws quite a fit.
Though after he naps, he’ll quietly sit.
He’ll hug you and snuggle and bust out a smile,
Then leave you and raise holy Hell for a while.
He’s fussy and hyper and kinda mischievous
But good out in public so folks don’t believe us
Whenever we tell them that he’s hard to take.
“Who him?” they will ask us. “Why, he’s sweet as cake.”
Then there is Peanut, who’s really quite loud.
She often runs naked. (We’re both really proud.)
She’s bossy and funny and messy but neat,
Demands to watch Dora from Lovie’s backseat.
Oddly we’ll often just do as she squeals.
Something ‘bout oil and a loud squeaky wheel.
But we’re good with Peanut and all her demands,
‘Cuase we’ve got our Biggs, and he likes to hold hands.
He’s snuggly and quiet—he plays all alone.
With either his train or his red mobile phone.
But that doesn’t mean that our boy wouldn’t spar.
You’d better not touch even one of his cars.
Because if you do, he’ll scream awfully loud.
While Monster is busily bouncing around.
And Peanut is shouting ‘bout this or ‘bout that.
And Briggs, our brown dog, is harassing a cat.
Thank goodness for Pookie, she helps us stay calm.
She’s truly a beauty—takes after her mom.
She’s thoughtful and playful and does well in school.
She’s loves to shoot baskets and swim in the pool.
It’s hard to believe that she’s already 9.
Though not my “real” daughter, she sure feels like mine.
I’ve loved her to pieces since she was just 3.
And much like the triplets, she’s precious to me.
Although they are precious, we weren’t planning more.
We’re really quite good with our posse of four.
But add even one and we’d prob’ly go nuts.
That’s what we thought before Dunkin Donuts.
‘Cause that’s where we learned that my Lovie was preggo.
News that was greeted with “No. No. No. No. No.”
Eventually, though, we would both come around.
And then from our hearts, much joy would abound.
My heart that is joyful has also a hole
Because of my sister and her gentle soul.
Although she did well in her fight once again,
The cancer’s the one who would win in the end.
Her battle was epic, and this past July
All of the experts had said she would die.
And though in a coma for 9 days she stayed,
She somehow would answer the prayers that we prayed.
My sister was able to come back to life.
And showed us much beauty through all of her strife.
And though she would leave us just three months from then,
She lives in that hole in our hearts now, my friend.
The joy of the season makes room for the sad.
My sister’s in Heaven right now with my Dad.
And though we all miss them and wish they were here,
Their heavenly Christmas, it fills me with tears.
But isn’t that just what this season’s about?
Feeling the ties that unite us throughout.
Christmas with fam’ly, both here and above.
I think that Christmastime’s all about love.
And so this is how I will finish my rhyme.
With love that has humbled me time after time.
The love that’s He’s woven throughout my whole life.
The love that He’s growing inside of my wife.
We’ve so much to live for, each one of us do.
Perhaps to write poems like this one to you.
Or simply to hold our beloved so tight.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
Here’s a little slideshow from my family to yours. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season.
Snowman photo: stock.xchnge
I was recently asked if I wanted to contribute to a series called “Thanks, Dad,” over at ManOfTheHouse. I jumped at the opportunity, even though I knew that in many ways, the exercise would prove to be a difficult and emotional one.
I was wrong. It wasn’t difficult. But I was also right, as it proved to be an extremely emotional endeavor. That said, I’m so glad I wrote it. I was happier still to share it with Mom on Thanksgiving Day. It was invigorating to feel Dad’s spirit as we sat around the table.
I hope you’ll take time to read it. I think you’ll like it. It may even spark some memories of someone you love who’s no longer with us. If it does, I hope you’ll share some of those memories with me via a comment. After all, it’s the holiday season. And there’s no better time than now to reflect upon the people we love.
Here it is:
* * *
Early one morning in 2002, my brother picked me up from the airport and drove me to the hospital to see my dad. He had been unresponsive since the afternoon before. His rapid turn for the worse was what had prompted the previous night’s phone calls urging me to catch a cross-country flight – if I ever wanted to see him alive again.
The second I walked into his room, I was devastated. So that’s what it looks like, I thought, with equal amounts of fear and awe. It was dehumanizing. Which made sense to me. What was happening to Dad is what sets our spirit free. And our spirit isn’t human.
I sensed that though he was still with us, he was gone nonetheless. But I was wrong. Dad came back to us later that very day. Shortly after he regained consciousness, he told Mom something she’ll never forget.
“I died last night, Martha Lee.”
Today is a special day. It’s Pookie’s ninth birthday. I’ve had the good fortune of being her step dad for nearly four years now. All told, I’ve known her for two thirds of her life.
And I’ve loved her every minute of it.
While Caroline was carrying the triplets, countless well intentioned people would say something along these lines: “Just wait til you have your own children.”
“I’m sure. I’ve got Alli, so I know what you mean.”
“Yeah, but just wait. You’ll see.”
The insinuation, of course, was that I didn’t know what they meant and that I wouldn’t until I had my own biological children. And I understand what those people meant. The best day of my life (aside from my wedding day) was the one when the wee threesome began their reign of planet Earth. But that said, I don’t love Alli any differently than I do A, B, or C, except, perhaps, for the fact that I love her like a parent loves his or her first child.
My point? The fact that she’s not “mine” has never made a difference. And it never will.
When I proposed to Lovie, it was important to me that Pookie be part of the process. So after I sought permission from Lovie’s mom (her dad is deceased), I sought the same thing from Pook. Here’s how it went down.
“Pookie, I got something very important I wanna talk to you about. So pick anywhere in the whole house where you want to have a serious chat.”
Oddly, she chose the very corner of her momma’s bedroom where we sat Indian style facing one another. Perhaps odder still, my hands were damp with anxiety.
“You know I love you, right?” I began.
“Yeeeessss,” she answered coyly.
“Did you know I love your mommy, too?”
“I thought you loved her!” She wore a grin that stretched from one ear to another.
“Well you’re right. In fact, I love your mommy so much that I wanna marry her.”
A look of genuine disappointment came across Pookie’s face. “But Mommy’s already married,” she said while looking down at the planks of the hardwood floor, her finger tracing an imaginary pattern.
Understandable confusion for sure. After all, Pookie was only four, and divorce is anything but black and white. A less prepared man might have been derailed by such confusion. But luckily, I had anticipated this stumbling block.
“Oh, honey, your mommy’s actually not married to your daddy any more. That’s why you live in this house,” I said, making a sweeping gesture with my arm. “Remember that book It’s Not Your Fault Koko Bear?”
Of course she did. She and her mom read it together all the time. I had even read it to her a time or two.
“Well, it’s just like Koko Bear’s Mommy and Daddy. They were all grumpy and grumbly when they lived together so they decided not to be married any more and moved into different homes. So, just like Koko Bear, you have two homes now.”
“Well, if you married Mommy, where would you live?”
“I’d move in with y’all.”
Pook’s face lit up like a Christmas tree. “Would Briggs come, too?”
Hmmm. The downside seemed to be that the prospect of living with my dog was more appealing than that of living with me. But the upside? I had a trump card. So I laid it down like Phil Ivey.
“He sure would, honey.”
Excitement turned to flat-out jubilation. “You better bring his food!”
“I will, honey. I will. So whaddya say?”
Pookie, thank you for letting me marry your mom. And thank you, also, for being such a wonderful daughter. I can’t believe you’re nine, already! You’re becoming such a big girl, and I want you to know how proud I am of you! Happy Birthday, sweetheart! I love you SO VERY MUCH!
A special happy anniversary to Fatherhood Friday, a wonderful weekly event brought to you by the talented folks over at dad-blogs. For those of you who don’t know, dad-blogs is a wonderful community of clever people (and me). I strongly encourage you to take a visit by clicking here.
Lovie and I constantly ask ourselves one simple question. How can three kids who shared the same womb for thirty-six weeks (and one day) turn out to be so different?
A’s a daring, wiry little monkey who’s been known to climb out of his crib, literally disassemble the child-proof handle of his bedroom door, open said door, and (after successfully negotiating the child-proof gate) waltz downstairs in the pitch-black night. Once on the main floor, he’ll nonchalantly tip-toe into the kitchen, startling Lovie and me, while cleverly concealing his mischievous grin with the thumb he’s temporarily parked in his mouth.
C’s the vocal one, continuously muttering to herself, often singing along to songs with nonsensical words she’s made up on the spot. She effortlessly parlays her good looks (which she inherited from Lovie) with her precocious command of the English language to further whatever cause happens to be hers at the moment.
Which brings me to B. He’s the sensitive, inquisitive one, content to simply watch events as they unfold, his mouth slightly agape, his almond-shaped brown eyes wide with wonder. Whether he’s on the playroom floor witnessing A and C fight for control over Elmo, or at the living room window watching the UPS man become Briggs’s slobber-covered bitch, B absorbs it all with the same stoic expression.
If A is not afraid to push the boundaries, and if C is not afraid to express herself, then it’s safe to say that B is not afraid to be his own guy. Not only is he a voyeur of all things mundane, he’s also extremely content to play by himself. This, we’ve discovered, is both good and bad. It’s good because he’s easily entertained. It’s bad because he’s a little young to be playing with himself. (Sorry.) Actually, it’s bad because since B is perfectly content to play by himself, he’s decided that no one else should have access to the toys that entertain him so.
As a result, he’s taken to a mild manifestation of hoarding, cramming whichever toy(s) he currently covets into any one of several secret hiding places. Recently he raided Lovie’s bathroom drawer and pulled out a bunch of pony tail holders. Dismayed that A and C wanted in on the action, he found just the right spot to safeguard his loot.
Yes, there was urine in there. You can’t see it, though, because it got soaked up by his elastic buddies. Thank goodness he hadn’t laid one down, right?
Of all the toys, it’s the matchbox cars he fancies most. Seriously, we must have fifty such cars, and B could be happily playing with forty-nine of them, but as soon as A or C so much as even looks at the lone remaining vehicle that’s somehow managed to escape B’s grasp, he loses it.
His remedy? Stashing them in other, larger toy vehicles and parading around endlessly with them–a mobile, matchbox car monopoly, if you will.
In B’s mind, he’s protecting his metal pals from the clutches of A and C. As he makes his rounds, he’s continuously on the lookout for new and improved hiding places, places where the rolling objects of his desire will go undetected until he’s able to swing back by and pick them up again.
Honestly? His preoccupation is starting to make Lovie and me feel like we’re one of his coveted cars. Why you ask?
Because he’s driving us up the wall!
But most of the time, Lovie and I feel like we are B and that B is one of the cars. Because whenever we see our little introvert staring back at us with those big, brown, curious eyes?
All we wanna do is snatch him up and keep him all to ourselves.
This post is proud to be a part of Fatherhood Friday over at dad-blogs. Check ’em out by clicking here.
I’ve had a tough run lately. It started on Sunday night when my boy, Peyton Manning, threw a crucial pick that pretty much sealed the deal for the Saints. I should have realized that the Who’s impotent halftime display was a harbinger of things to come.
Monday and Tuesday proceeded to be such horrendous days at work that the only way they could have gotten any worse would have been if the Who had actually shown up at my office, set up shop, and proceeded to play a perpetual loop of their Super Bowl medley. (By the way, did you hear that Austin Powers called Roger Daltrey after the performance? Apparently, he wanted his outfit back. And speaking of outfits, what was up with that little Blues Brothers number that Pete Townsend was sporting? Was he supposed to be Jake or Elwood?)
At least Tuesday night went fairly well, that is until Lovie and I heard the dreaded sound of cries from the monitor on the kitchen counter long after bedtime. It was A. “Did you catch that?” asked my beautiful wife. “He’s calling for you.”
I was skeptical to say the least. It’s always Mommy they want, not me. But once my ear was right up to the monitor, I realized that Lovie was right. Our little guy was screaming “Dad-dy!”
So up I went to check on my monster, excited at the sure-to-come, nocturnal, father-son bonding session–almost giddy that A had requested me by name. Upon entering his room, I expected to be hailed as a super-hero, but instead, I wasn’t even acknowledged.
“MOMMY! MOMMY!” screamed A at the top of his lungs while pointing to his blanket which lay on the floor. It had fallen from his crib which meant that the earlier screams weren’t made by a kid longing for his “Dad-dy,” but rather by one who was jonesing for his “blank-ie.” I picked it up and handed it to him, thinking that would be that. Until A threw the blanket back down with a disapproving grunt.
“Mommy!” he demanded, none too pleased that I was the one negotiating the blanket debacle.
What I thought would be a bonding moment with my son had suddenly turned into a bad-behavior moment that rendered a punishable offense. I was obviously wrong earlier. My day had gotten worse. And it had nothing to do with the Who.
“You’re in time out for throwing your blankie,” I said sternly as I exited to the hallway. When I re-entered three minutes later, A’s cries had subsided, as had his insistence for his mommy.
“Poo-poo,” he said in a soft voice while grabbing at his bottom as I lifted him from the ground.
“Buddy, we don’t go poo-poo in our pull-up. We go poo poo in the potty like a big boy. Why didn’t you go poo-poo in the potty earlier? Hmmm?”
He answered with a blank stare before putting his tiny arms around my neck and burying his head in my shoulder. My oldest son and I remained frozen in that embrace for five wonderful minutes. When I finally changed him, I was shocked to find that he hadn’t gone to the bathroom at all.
He had told his first lie.
Children normally lie to get away with something bad, but A’s lie amounted to turning himself in for something he hadn’t even done. Why? So I’d talk about going poo-poo in the potty with him? So I’d change him even though he didn’t need changing?
As I kissed him goodnight on the nose, I stared into eyes that looked back at me with equal amounts of sleep and love until it dawned on me. Maybe, just maybe, during his time out, my little monster realized that he wanted a nocturnal, father-son bonding session. But that thanks to his poor behavior, the only thing he would receive was a post-punishment kiss as I laid him down for the night. Unless he acted fast, that is, and figured out a way to extend our time.
Some people tell little white lies, but A had just told me a timid little brown one. All so he could spend a few minutes resting his head on my shoulder. Lying to someone by saying you have a load of shit in your pants in order to draw that person closer would have never occurred to me. But then again, I don’t get stoked beyond belief every time I get to play with a zipper. Nor do I insist that all my bath towels be equipped with a hood. So who am I to judge?
Besides. It worked.
As I turned the corner on my way down the stairs, I looked out the window and was surprised to see heavy snowfall. I hadn’t realized we were expecting any. I love snow.
I smiled and continued down, suspecting that things were starting to turn around for me.
Yesterday was a big day for Pookie. Her second grade class was holding a special event–Donuts With Dads. It’s an annual thing, so I’ve known about it for a while, and I gotta say, I was more than a little curious about how it would go down. After all, her real dad lives right here in town, so his attendance was a given. But what about mine? I would have been okay if I’d been left out of the mix. Being a stepdad can be tough. And so can being a stepdaughter. Accordingly, I figured that on some level, this would be a difficult decision for her.
On Monday, Lovie broke the great news. Pookie wanted “both of her dads” to go. (Insert your California joke here.) I was obviously thrilled, but also knew that a certain degree of awkwardness would likely ensue. But as Pookie led her father and me around the classroom on the “scavenger hunt,” I was pleasantly surprised by how skillfully she was navigating the situation. It wasn’t awkward at all.
Until we went to the far wall to admire the cute drawings the class had made of their dads and I saw this soon-to-be-classic staring right back at me:
Egads! My eyes quickly scanned the entire wall until I found the drawing she had made of her biological father, and, well, it’s safe to say that I got the short end of the crayon.
Forget, for a moment, that the left side of my face is bulging out as if experiencing the gravitational pull of a large planet. And forget the fact fact, if you will, that there is a certain, though difficult-to-pinpoint, alien element to the depiction. And forget, also, the zipper on my fleece (I’m reasonably sure that’s what she was drawing) looks like Uncle Jed’s shotgun.
Take a gander at my head, more specifically my hair–and disregard the fact that I don’t have a crew cut and that my real hair is not six inches off my ears. Focus, instead at the very, very top of my hair.
There are only a handful of explanations.
To enhance the aforementioned alien theme, Pookie has drawn a flying saucer which has landed on my head.
I’m sporting a flesh-toned yamaka.
Pookie believes that I’m actually a volcano.
Pookie’s imagining that I’ve recently endured a lobotomy.
The circle is actually a halo, a symbolic representation of the angelic role I’ve played in Pookie’s life.
Or, most likely, that skin-toned circle that is surrounded by hair is Pookie’s artistic rendering of my bald spot.
I suppose that’s how she sees me. And I’m okay with that. Especially given the fact that her insistence that I be a part of the festivities tells me something else about how she sees me.
As her dad.
I love you, Pook.
Twas the night before Christmas, and we’ve come to grips
With life that is crazy and laden with trips.
But not ones to islands, or Vegas, or Rome.
‘Cuz our trips are little and mess up our home.
It all started quickly, too sudden it seemed,
When I fell in love with the girl of my dreams.
One who is pretty, and witty, and kind.
I fell for her spirit, her body, and mind.
It wasn’t just her who melted my heart,
But also her daughter, who played a key part
Of bringing this bachelor right down to his knees
To ask her sweet momma to “marry me, please.”
Just thirteen months later much chaos ensued
When three little babies came into our brood.
The first months were trying, of that there’s no doubt.
The triplets were crying which caused me to shout:
“MY GOODNESS, what happened to life as I knew it?
My cell phone is shattered. A baby just threw it.
If I pick up one, another will cry.
One of them just took a whiz in my eye.”
They kept us up late and woke us up early.
These two little boys and this one little girlie.
My Lovie, my Pookie, my doggy, and me
Did all that we could to take care of the three.
Our first Christmas came, and then we were a part
Of magical moments that rang in my heart.
Lovie, and Pookie, and A, B, and C,
Gathered together and sat by the tree.
Of all of the things that we opened that day,
Not one of them mattered to me in a way
That rivaled the way that I felt about them.
For they are my gift that was given by Him.
The next time we gathered around by the tree,
Our babies were starting to walk aimlessly.
The start of their journey, it filled me with tears,
And forced me to ponder the upcoming years.
Just who would they be and where would they go?
There really was no certain way that we’d know.
But one thing was sure, the three were much fun.
Their magical journey in life had begun.
And now they enjoy their third Christmastime,
Which prompts me to break out in this little rhyme.
A tribute, my friend, to all that I see.
A tribute I give to our little three.
Combine them with Pook, and our crew is complete,
With four little beings and their eight little feet.
My Lovie and I, we seldom have time,
To sit on the couch, relax and unwind.
We take care of Pookie and tend to the trips,
And wish we had pointers, some ideas, or tips.
‘Cause this year it seems just as hard as it gets.
Even for us. And we’re seasoned vets.
Toddlers, I tell you, are ruthless, my friend.
Off in the distance, they’re screaming again.
And three of them running all kinds of amuck?
Yanking on Elmo? Demanding a truck?
Don’t CARE what you say–not even the Gotties
Could deal with the three as they sit on their potties.
Or how ‘bout the noise that always abounds?
It leaves our heads spinning around and around.
But all of that matters quite little to me.
‘Cuz this is our life–it’s all meant to be.
Oh what we would give for a break here and there?
We’ll wait til we’re old til we rock in a chair.
And now I will leave you with this earnest thread,
that’s sewn in a quilt to lay on your bed.
To help you stay warm this cold winter night.
To help you remember–continue the fight.
We’ve all got our issues, our hassles, our lives.
We’ve all lost a loved one who still lives inside.
If with you this Christmas, or Heaven above,
I hope you are warmed by the glow of their love.
So all you who read this take nothing for granted.
Use this fine season to grow what you’ve planted.
In pots that are family that soak up the Light.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
Remember the reason. Be thankful for your blessings. Focus on Goodness. -jco-