No matter what the clock says

When my youngest son, Duncan (23), was 3 years old, he said some things to me that forever shaped the way I look at "short people," and appreciate them in my life.

One morning, when his big sister Chelsea and big brother Nick were still in bed, it was just the two of us in the kitchen. I was loading the dishwasher, and Duncan was sitting on a rug on the floor behind me, rolling a toy truck between his chunky legs.

Out of the blue, he said: "Mom, do you remember when you were sad?"

I paused, holding a dripping dish between the sink and dishwasher, and looked down at him: "What, honey? Sad? What are you talking about?"

He watched the truck trace the braided edge of the rug. "You know, before I came. When you were sad."

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I placed the plate between the slats, wiped my hands on my jeans, and crouched down next to him.

He looked up at me, his huge brown eyes serious. He smiled. "That's why I picked you."

I sat down hard on the floor next to him.

Now, you might remember that Duncan was born a year and a half after the deaths of our twin sons, Jake and Gabe.

Duncan continued rolling the truck, back and forth. He nodded, "I knew I could make you happy, every day."

Sudden hot tears stung my eyes. I scooched over and put my legs around his legs, wrapped my arms around his, and hugged him to me.

"Oh, Dunk. You do. You do make me happy, every minute of every day."

I rocked him gently, feeling the warmth of his sturdy little body. I felt him relax against me, and I kissed the top of his head, through his sandy blonde hair. We stayed there as long as he could stand it.

Duncan's birth had literally kept me on the planet. The straight joy of caring for his healthy little boy body had anchored me here, pulled me off the fence between Heaven and Earth, where I had hovered since his twin brothers died.

With my first two babies, Chelsea and Nick, when they woke up at 3 a.m., I would leave all the lights off, change them and feed them silently in the dark, trying to lull them back to sleep as soon as possible.

With Duncan, I would flick on the lights, turn on the music, and dance. He was alive! Wahoo!

I had learned the hard way that my kids aren't mine. They are on loan to me. And I was newly grateful for every waking second with them.

And Duncan had always been a joy ball. He was a fat, happy baby, sitting in his high chair, with a huge belly and multiple chins like Winston Churchill. I could almost hear him demanding good naturedly: "Bring me a steak and a big-breasted woman!"

Once he could talk -- which was early, as he tried to catch up with bossy sister -- he would sit up in bed each morning, and say: "Good morning, Mother. Did you have fun at bedtime?!"

And after I bustled his older siblings -- not nearly so happy about waking up every morning -- out of bed, into their clothes, through breakfast, and out the door to their respective school buses, Duncan would pad out and stand in front of me, rubbing his eyes.

He would say: "Mom, can we have a snuggle?"

Now I still had to get myself and him dressed, drive him to daycare and myself to work, but I would drop whatever I was doing and respond: "Yes!"

We would walk together to our usual corner of the couch, where I would sit first, legs open, then he would climb into that space, his back to my tummy. I would enfold him, and we would sway slightly. I could only budget us about 10 minutes for our Morning Snuggle, but sometimes I couldn't help myself.

Soothed by his warmth, the wall clock's ticking would fade away, and suddenly 20 or more minutes had disappeared. Then we had to hustle. But the comfort, that sweet safe place in the big world, stayed with me through the day.

That same year, on a sunny Saturday, Duncan and I were in the backyard. We were crouched together in the garden. I would pull a weed, hand it to him, and he would smack it against the side of his plastic bucket, shaking the dirt off, and then drop the rest inside.

He looked up at the sky and sighed deeply.

I smiled. "My, that sounded serious. What's up?"

He watched the clouds, and shrugged. "I just wish I still remembered everything."

I handed him another weed. "What, honey? When did you remember everything?'

He tapped it against the side of the pail distractedly. "Oh, you know. Before I could talk."

I shook my head. "Um, what do you mean?"

He looked up at me, those brown eyes so serious. "You know, Mother. We all have to forget Heaven when we start to talk." He looked down and pushed at a dirt clod. "I miss that."

I believed him.

And that helped me believe in everything else.

It was so reassuring to realize that during the darkest time of my life -- when I was struggling to remember to keep breathing -- there was this wee man in Heaven watching me, deciding to be my son, so he could bring me back to life.

It made me trust God again.

Last year, my daughter Chelsea gave birth to a wee lady. Her name is Mary Elizabeth, and I have enjoyed the great privilege of getting to spend time with her at least once a week.

Mary was born a month early, by emergency C-section, and we were certainly apprehensive as we sped to the hospital that day. There are so many things that can go wrong, do go wrong, with new babies, and especially with preemies.

But the moment I met Mary, I knew she had chosen to be here, and stay.

She was roughly the size and weight of a half-gallon of milk. Tiny, pink and perfect, she stared at me with her deep blue eyes, and I knew another old soul was among us.

I held her for the first time, and whispered in her teeny beautiful ear: "You are very smart. You picked a wonderful Mommy and Daddy. You picked me, too. And we are going to love you like nobody's business."

To prove there are no accidents, Mary was born on Duncan's birthday.

Like him, she is a sweet and serious joy ball.

Like him, I have no doubt she still remembers Heaven, and picked her Mommy because she could make her happy, every day.

Like him, she helps me remember to trust God, and believe in everything else.

And just like her Uncle Duncan, Mary reminds me to drop whatever I am doing, and grab each opportunity for a snuggle. No matter what the clock says.

[Amy Morris-Young graduated from and taught writing at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.]


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