And Then There Were Three


ratliff-pregnancy-testAwaiting the arrival of Millie

By Phillip Ratliff

In about three months from the day most of you are reading this, I will become, for the time third time in my life, the father of a newborn. What makes this new baby something of a standout is her father’s age. At 53, most of my peers haven’t wiped or diapered their own baby’s bottom in years, maybe decades. If I were to conduct a thorough inventory of my classmates from the Cullman High School class of 1982, I’d likely find that many have moved on to become grandparents.

Just how this pending newborn happened is mostly a matter of science. My wife, Abby, who is younger and obviously fertile, and I had found a free quarter hour at Disney World last March, while our daughters were eating ice cream at the Port Orleans Resort commissary. One of my chromosomes, X, apparently, found its way to Abby’s own X chromosome to turn themselves into a single girl zygote, Millie. 

Millie’s two older, unwitting sisters, met the news with mouths hanging in disbelief, then outbursts of anger, then attempts at extortion. I’m not convinced that Bailey, age 14, ever truly recovered from the displacement she felt after her younger sister, Avery, was born. Avery, age 12, is entering into her second decade of a sort of advanced toddlerhood. For a kid who still rides in the shopping cart at Publix, a cute, spunky new kid on the scene poses as serious threat to the integrity of her brand.

They rightly note that Millie will have a nicer crib to kick back in, a cooler stroller to cruise Homewood in, a bigger house to build blanket forts in, more blankets to build them with. This disparity is a function of career arc, but Bailey and Avery imagine it represents a difference in the love and attention of the parents.

We have plenty of affection to share, we assure them. They, too, will find new stores of love to share with their new sister. And Millie will meet their love with more love. Love is a generative phenomenon, not a zero sum game.

To illustrate, I tell a story:

“When you were born, Bailey, I was there. You cried inconsolably so I sang to you a song I had sung to you through your mom’s belly. You recognized that song, I believe. You got quiet,” I said.

I continue.

“When you were born, Avery, Bailey was there. She was two and a half and imagined she was a doctor helping to deliver you. She wore a pair of panties on her head, maybe because she thought they looked like scrubs. You, too, screamed, so Bailey and a nurse gave you your very first bath. I want you to do that for Millie.”

Actually, if we’re keeping count of the deliverables, this baby, Millie will be shorted well over a decade of time with her parents. Bailey and Avery not so much received as drained out of me the rich, nourishing sap of my 40s. Millie, the rambunctious toddler, will have a dad who groans when he picks her up. At her high school graduation, her weepy old dad will be 71.

Millie will go to college, date, marry. I have a solid chance of seeing all this play out. She’ll have a child and maybe I’ll hover over this new being before departing this earth like St. Simeon.

This child certainly won’t remember the drooling wraith of a man that stood crib side. But this grandchild will certainly ask a question we’ve all asked concerning a departed ancestor: What was he like?

And if I’m lucky Millie will answer:

“He was a writer. He rode a bike. He survived many Facebook wars. He loved me. He loved your hot grandma. He loved your aunts—perfectly equally. And for some inexplicable reason, he smiled whenever he saw Mickey Mouse.” 

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