Pig Pile on Pop Pop

This last month has been crazy, for a myriad of reasons, the most important being my dad is back in the hospital due to pneumonia and a recently discovered pulmonary embolism. He just finished his last round of chemotherapy and the fact that he’s suffering more in the hospital right now just makes me want to scream. So in an effort to hold it together, I’m first going to talk about what makes me happy. Things like…

A beauty on the beach.


We went to Greenwich Point Park Saturday afternoon and although it was windy and a bit chilly Johanna wasn’t fazed one bit. She’s a little water nymph. Although it was a little too cool and the waves a little too rough for us to take her too deeply into the water, she insisted on sitting by its edge, watching the foam lick at her legs and waving her hands in delight.

Geoffrey and his “night night.”


When Teddy was about 15 months, he got into the habit of calling his blanket “night night” and carting it everywhere. (See and for more details.) Geoffrey’s always loved his plush green blanket, which he slept all swaddled up in when he was a newborn. He won’t go to sleep without it. But at naptime or bedtime, when he’s overtired, he’ll start crying for “night night” and won’t stop until he’s snug in his crib with his blankie in his arms.

For the most part, Geoffrey is fine with night night hanging in the crib all day while he explores the wide world outdoors. But today when we woke Geoffrey up from his nap Teddy insisted Geoffrey carry night night downstairs with him. “I have my bankie and Geoffrey has his bankie,” he told me solemnly, and sure enough, now my youngest won’t go anywhere in the house without it.


I guess it’s the new 15 month milestone in our house.


Teddy’s unique comfort object.


Meanwhile, Teddy’s found a new security item of his very own: his “motorcycle” helmet. We insist he wear it whenever he rides his tricycle or drives Jo Jo around in their little Jeep, and today he was insisting on wearing it everywhere.

To each his own. What can I say?

I have been feeling so depressed about my dad recently, and I have to say my kids are amazing in how they get me through it. The three of them are a more potent drug than any amount of Zoloft (and I’m taking hefty amounts of it right now, thank you). I’ve been trying to keep it together in front of my little guys, but yesterday I just lost it and began sobbing in front of Teddy. The next thing I knew, he was sitting on my lap, caressing my hair and giving me deep, earnest, on the lip kisses.

“Don’t be sad Mommy,” he said earnestly. “I’ll take care of you.”

It was so sweet—and in that moment he reminded me so much of my father comforting me when I was young—it was all I could do to keep myself from bawling even more. So I hugged him and said, “you’re wonderful, Teddy, do you know that?”

And he beamed at me with his lady killer grin and said, matter-of-factly, “I know.”

But Jo Jo…my eldest, ever-so-loving daughter, also blows me away.

Two weeks ago, I took the kids up to Amherst to see my parents. My sister and her family were up there, and it was a special occasion: my dad had just finished his last round of chemo, and it was the first time all five grandkids were together.

While I knew my dad was thrilled to see everyone, he spent most of the time lying on the family room couch, to wiped to do anything. It was raining, so the kids spent a lot of time downstairs in the playroom. Occasionally one would pop up, to go to the bathroom or get a juice box, but it became pretty clear to me they didn’t know how to deal with Pop Pop. While they were too little to grasp the concept that Pop Pop was sick and couldn’t see them, they knew something wasn’t quite right and it made them hesitant, fearful even.

That is, except for Jo Jo.

She kept gravitating towards Pop Pop, wandering into the family room whenever she was upstairs and reaching up towards him to give him a hug. I worried she was exhausting him, so I kept pulling her away. Then, at one point I was in the kitchen, getting a snack ready, when I heard her voice. I was confused—I’d assumed she was still in the playroom—but when I walked into the living room I saw her, lying on top of my father with her arms around his neck, her face snuggled up against his chest.

“Jo Jo,” I said gently and tried to pull her off, but she started to cry and flail against me.

“Leave her,” my father said, and his voice was the lightest I’d heard it in days.

I watched the two of them, cuddled up against each other, and I began to puddle up. The bond between my father and my daughter is so incredible. Jo Jo is not always the most affectionate child—it takes her a while to warm up to people—but whenever she sees my father she loses her inhibitions and heads straight for his arms. I’ve often wondered if she’s instinctively sensed that he’s always accepted her, from the moment of her birth, without any hesitation. Those first few months of her life, while rest of the family—including Jamie and I—grappled with her Down Syndrome, my father showed her nothing but unconditional love. It seemed so fitting that Jo Jo was showing that same unconditional acceptance of my father and his disability.


“My Jo Jo,” he said fondly, and then he said what he always says to her, “You will always be my most special grandchild, because you were my first.”


A few minutes later Teddy and his cousin Tahlia came upstairs in search of a snack, and when they came upstairs and saw Jo Jo snug as a bug on top of their Pop Pop, they wanted in on the action, too. “Pop Pop! Pop Pop!” they clamored, and within seconds all three were climbing all over my father demanding his attention, a veritable pig pile of small arms and legs on their Pop Pop.

And as wiped as he was, and as lousy as he felt, I could tell he loved every minute of it.

So we have those memories now, to keep us going while my father is in the hospital, until his immune system returns to par and his grandchildren can see him again. I drove up to see him this week, and while I plan to keep going up there, there’s no way he can see my kids now. They may even be the reason he got pneumonia in the first place—even though none of them were sick, one or several of them must have unknowingly harbored some cold germ, like a little preschool version of Typhoid Mary.

But at the same time, I keep thinking of the look on his face as three of his five grandchildren cavorted on him, shouting and laughing, and I know it was the right thing to bring everyone to see him.

We love you Pop Pop, and every moment of every day and every night we all pray for you to get well soon.