Life was wonderful. I was completely enamored with my son and the time we were together was bliss.
We both loved going on walks and I was grateful to Elouia who bought me a stroller as a baby gift. Calcifer loved it. When I’d put him in he’d start waving his fists and making happy cooing sounds. I proudly walked down the street, ignoring the looks I was getting. People still disliked me but it was going away as the months passed.
When Calcifer was about four months old I received a strange gift in the mail. It was an odd-looking doll and the note didn’t give any indication as to who sent it. It just said congratulations, from my father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate. Or something like that. The postmark was from Twinbrook and I wondered if it was one of the twins. There was something very strange about the doll but I put it in Calcifer’s crib, figuring it was a way to remember the twins by. It had to be from them. The note was typed but it was in the same font that Kay always used when he wrote up things on the computer. And who else would it be?
Calcifer seemed to like the park as much as I did. I would take him there every day it was nice out and we’d sit by the water and watch the fish jump. Or I’d keep him by my side as I practiced a bit of chess. He particular loved the fountain and would squeal with delight when I pushed him over towards it.
I fell in love with him more and more with each passing day. But I knew I needed to find a job so I could give him everything he needed as he grew up. I dreaded being away from him but finally started looking for work. Elouia took care of Calcifer as I went to interviews. As soon as they found out who I was, I was told I wasn’t right for the job or else they had already hired someone.
Before I knew it, it was my birthday. Elouia asked if I wanted a party but I declined. I wasn’t looking forward to getting older. But I still bought a small cake and blew out the candles. I wished desperately for a job because money was starting to get pretty tight. But I had my doubts. Perhaps I should just spend my time finding a way to work from my house. I wasn’t much of a writer and I certainly wasn’t artistic.
I felt old. I knew I wasn’t but I hated looking in the mirror. I hated every wrinkle and line on my face. Before Calcifer I wouldn’t have cared so much but now seeing my age I was scared. I was so scared of dying and leaving Calcifer on his own. Not that he’d be on his own completely. I had made Aiden and Hannah his godparents, since Elouia refused insisting she was just too old and wouldn’t be able to give Calcifer the energy a guardian would need to. She was having enough trouble with Katie being a little troublemaker.
Calcifer never really caused me any trouble. He cried at all the usual things–wanting food and needing a diaper changed–but generally he was a lovable little baby. He was happiest being in my arms and I never turned down the chance to snuggle with him.
But before I knew it, it was his first birthday.
I set him carefully on the floor, waiting for the sparkles to start. I wondered vaguely why the sparkles only happened during the ‘big’ birthdays but pushed it to the back of my mind as the sparkles swirled around my son.
I watched as he grew up and I felt tears coming to my eyes. How had this past year gone by so fast? My baby was getting older. A toddler!
Calcifer began giggling and he wriggled happily as the sparkles settled around him. He made grunting noises as he tried to take hold of them and then looked at his hands. He gurgled and wriggled a bit more, looking rather confused at being older.
I grinned and reached down to take hold of him. “Happy birthday, Cal,” I whispered, nuzzling him. He giggled and patted my cheek. “I love you so much!” I exclaimed, tickling him. He giggled even more, bouncing in my arms. He was so much bigger… I wrapped my arms around him and hugged, smiling. I was so proud but as he continued squirming around, I started feeling sad.
I need a job, I realized as Calcifer gazed lovingly up at me. I have to. I can’t afford a new house, I can’t afford much of anything. I had saved a lot of money before Cal was born but it had been eaten up by bills, food, diapers, and everything else ever since I had lost my job. I needed a job. I had to find one, and I couldn’t take no for an answer anymore.
It took a couple weeks and a lot of effort but I finally sound someplace that would hire me.
I was scared, though. It wasn’t just leaving Cal in the hands of a babysitter but… but…
Why did it have to be at the cemetery?!
My first day on the job wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. I hated going there, and working until it got dark. Ugh. Walking through the graveyard at night was terrifying. I knew it was silly, but I couldn’t help but be scared.
It was worth it, though. Even though it was only a part-time job I was glad I had it. I would be able to take good care of Cal now. Plus since it was only part-time, it meant spending more time with him than it would have been if it was a full-time job. Plus there were a couple promotions I could get.
I felt bad at leaving Cal’s bedtime in the hands of a babysitter but it turned out he wouldn’t go to bed at all for her. He would cry and throw a temper tantrum if she put him in his crib. So despite not getting home until after nine at night, I still got to get Cal ready for bed and put him down in his crib.
He would stare up at me with big eyes and I’d just lean against the crib and sing to him until he would decide I wasn’t going to just disappear or something.
Once he fell asleep, I reached down and stroked his hair. I felt a bit guilty that he’d never know his mother, but I was determined to make up for it.
“Ahhhba gah bah!” Calcifer sang to Pendragon, the doll that the twins had sent me so long ago. Cal loved Pendragon and rarely let the doll out of his sight. He’d snuggle with it while he slept and only rarely did he throw it.
Cal also loved the shape sorter I bought for his second birthday. He took to it and I was pleasantly surprised that he put the shapes through the right holes almost all the time. He’d giggle and look up at me every time.
“Anb!” he’d shout, clapping his hands.
“Ahh good job!” I laughed. “You’re such a smart boy.”
He giggled and went back to sorting shapes. He was really smart and picked up on things easily. Except the important things!!
Cal loved making noises but when I sat him down to teach him words he would stick his tongue out and refuses to learn. He’d grab his feet and rock back and forth, babbling happily to himself.
At first potty training seemed that it would go well. He sat patiently on the potty chair and smile up at me.
“Remember what I told you,” I said, squatting in front of him.
“Nabda,” he agreed with a little nod.
It wasn’t long until he started getting bored. Finally he slid off the potty and then promptly went in his diaper. “AHHH!” he cried, flailing his arms.
I picked him up, sighing. “You did that on purpose, didn’t you?”
“EHHH!” he whined and the next time I put him on the potty he got off immediately and pouted.
“AGGA!” he cried, his favorite word to say when he was mad about something. “Agga,” he repeated, kicking at the potty.
“You have to learn,” I begged him. “Please, Cal.”
“Agga,” he said and crawled off to play with Pendragon.
Walking wasn’t any easier. He loved it when I held his hands and walked with him but whenever I let go his face scrunched up and he’d begin crying.
“I don’t know what to do!” I told Elouia one day while Cal threw his I’m-not-going-to-walk temper tantrum. “He won’t learn anything, not talking, or the potty, and he really hates walking. I don’t know what’s wrong. Do you think it’s because of… you know what?”
“Don’t get discouraged,” Elouia told me. “Some kids it takes longer than others. Maybe you’re just being too easy on him. You’re letting him get away with not talking and everything.”
“But–I can’t do anything else!” I protested.
“Toddlers need tough love sometimes,” she reminded me. “If you spoil him too much then it’s going to make things hard.”
I decided to take Elouia’s advice. I started with potty training, since frankly I was a bit tired of changing his diapers all the time.
“No,” I said when he slid off the potty. I picked him up and set him back down, patting his head to give him some encouragement. I let go and he started to get off the potty. “No!” I said again, pushing him back into position.
“Ehhhh!” he whined, wriggling around.
“No!” I said again, holding him carefully in place. “The potty won’t do anything to you, sweetie. Come on. Be a good boy.”
It took a while but he finally went while he was on the potty. I praised him and rewarded him with a bit of candy. He seemed really pleased with himself and after that, training him to use the potty went a little easier.
Cal loved going on walks still and would point at things and give them his own name. “Naanla aahbaba!” he’d coo during our walks.
Knowing I needed to do my best to teach him to talk, I would patiently repeat the real names. “Flower,” I said when he reached for a pretty red bloom.
“Flower,” I said again. He looked up at me and made a cute little face. I grinned back down at him. “Flower,” I said again. “That’s a flower.”
Cal started staying up late. I tried staying awake with him but I was tired from my long days of taking care of him and my few hours of work, so I would often fall asleep before him. Sometimes when I was half-asleep I could hear him playing with Pendragon in his crib, babbling to himself happily.
Please learn to talk, I thought one night. The longer he refused, the worse I felt as a parent. I really did feel like a failure… and worried perhaps he couldn’t talk because of the fact he wasn’t a normal baby. He wasn’t a strange kid, but he was brought into this world in a very abnormal way and I was worried it was because of that–or something I had done or didn’t do.
He was finally learning to walk, at least. He didn’t like it but I didn’t give up. He was starting to pick up on it and stopped throwing his tantrums whenever I let go of his hands.
His tantrums came while he was in his high chair. He hated being strapped in and refused to eat anything I gave him so I either gave him a bottle while he was on the floor or else I’d hold him in my lap at the table. I knew I was giving in but… he had to eat. And I was tired of cleaning up the food he’d throw if I tried giving him anything in the high chair.
I loved Calcifer so much but I was starting to feel tired a lot. My body ached all the time and some mornings I stayed in bed while Calcifer played quietly in his crib. My aches and pains worried me sometimes but I figured it was just because I was trying to keep up with an energetic toddler and the fact his favorite place to be was in my arms. Carrying him around did my joints in but I didn’t mind. I loved him. If only he’d start talking, though! He was almost three and still not forming any real words.
“Say ‘dada’,” I pleaded with him as he neared his third birthday.
I sighed and tried a different path. I picked up his favorite toy. Pendragon was hard to say so I tried, “Can you say hello to Pen?”
Cal pursed his lips and looked suspiciously at Pendragon. “DOOBOO!” he shouted, smacking his hands against the floor. “Neeha.”
I bowed my head, sighing heavily. “Okay, you win for now. Let’s get you ready for bed.”
“AGGA!” he protested as I picked him up.
“Yep, it’s bedtime,” I said, ignoring his cries and protests.
I changed him into his favorite pajamas and gave him his favorite binkie. I put him in his crib and he clutched at my hand. “Dada,” he said, giving me a pleading look.
I stared down at him, my fingers curling around his. “Did you just say…?”
“Dada!” he said again, reaching up for me. “Dada!”
I bent down and scooped him into my arms, hugging him close. I felt overjoyed and very emotional, hearing him call me that finally. I kissed his forehead and set him in my bed.
“Okay,” I whispered, pulling out a book. “We’ll stay up a bit longer.”
Cal smiled behind his binkie and snuggled close to me. “Dada,” he said again, resting his head against my chest. I reached down and put my arm around him as I began somehow reading through the big grin I had on my face.
Life as a father was most definitely bliss. I just hoped it would last. In a few years he would be a child and I knew eventually he’d start asking about his mother. What should I tell him? I wondered, looking down at him as he started drifting off in my lap. I picked him up and put him in his crib, stroking his hair like usual for longer than usual.
How on earth could I explain to him his origins?