London Jade Hammer

What can I say?  The title alone is enough inspiration to write volumes.

December 2007

My youngest daughter Meagan is pregnant with my first grandchild.  I just returned to Niagara Falls, New York to the homestead that was the place of my childhood.  I was unattached and was enjoying life just hanging out with my siblings.

My daughter Meagan and her husband were both in the military (US Army) and stationed at Ft. Polk, LA, where I was stationed in 1984-1985.

I hated that place.

In fact the state of Louisiana scared me.  Ever since I saw that movie about a National Guard Unit who ran into swamp people…  Bottom line, the movie terrified me.  Not because of the swamp people, but because this movie hinted that the State of Louisiana was a forgotten place.  In my eye, it took a special kind of ‘person’ to live in Louisiana.

Anyway, My daughter as I said was about to give birth to my first grand daughter and her husband was just about to be deployed to Iraq.  With that in mind, my daughter asked me if I could possibly come down and help her with the baby after she was born, because with Colin (my son in law) deploying and her still being in the Army, she would need help.

I told her that I would be proud to come down there and play ‘Nanny’ to my grand baby until she was in a position to handle it herself.

So, on 9 December, she called and told me that she had gone into labor and that the baby was coming.  I quickly packed up what I felt I would need while with her and headed south.  I tried to make the drive through without stopping, but sometime in the middle of the night (on 10 December 2007), I received a phone call while driving into Arkansas.  It was my son in law to tell me that it was a girl and all was well.  It just so happened that my ex-wife (Meagan’s mother) was there for the birth which I was thankful for, so I decided to stop at a Hotel for the night and get rested and a shower.  While I was checking in, I got a text message from my son in law.  It was a photo of my grand daughter, London Jade Hammer.  I proudly showed her to the woman who was checking me into the hotel I stopped at and she was so giddy with excitement for me, she gave me a 50% discount on the room for the night.  Awesome.

The next morning, I woke up and headed due south towards Leesville, LA and Fort Polk.  I got to the hospital and went in to see my daughter and grand baby.  Meagan looked so tired.  I gave her a hug and then looked for the baby.  A few minutes later I was holding my very first grand baby.

She was B-E-A-U-tiful!!  She smelled so good and was so pleasant.  I felt tears of joy swelling in my eyes.  I told Meagan and Colin that they did a good job.  I didn’t want to let her go.

I did let her go and Colin showed me how to get to the house where I went and unpacked my stuff.  They demanded that I take one of the two bedrooms for myself since I was going to be there for an extended time.  In Military housing, the living quarters are not that big.  Both bedrooms were identical, but I chose the one that provided a good view of the front of the house.

Then it dawned on me that Colin and Meagan were setting up the other bedroom solely for the baby and I had taken their bedroom.  (I was initially thinking they would be in the other bedroom with the baby).   I considered moving to a motel for the time I was going to be there, but with Colin deploying soon, I thought Meagan would need me at hand in case she had to be at work early or stay later.

Luckily, Colin got to hang out for about a month after London was born.  It gave me a chance to consider what my purpose was going to be on a daily basis.

About the time Colin deployed, Meagan had to return to work.  So, that is when my daily routine was just me and London.  I kept London with me always (unless she was napping, then she was in her crib) and I had much fun with her.  I created a lot of videos which can be found on http://www.youtube.com .

We played and when Meagan got home, she was always happy to see her Mommy.  She had a great disposition and was never really demanding.  I watched her grow and filmed her first roll over on her own.  We played what I liked to call the ‘blanket game’ where I would drop a light baby blanket over her and then start asking ‘What happened to London?’  She would pull and scratch until that blanket came off her head and she could see me.  I would cheer that I found her and she would have huge smiles.  She always made me smile.

During the first month, with Meagan and Colin home, I got lucky.  I think I changed two diapers during that period and they were not a ‘messy’ diaper.  Just a ‘pee’ diaper.  A little cleansing, powder and a new diaper. Easy-peasy.  Then Colin deployed, Meagan went back to work…and I was alone.  Having to deal with whatever London can throw at me.  I remember her sitting on my lap and I was singing to her….and poof…there it was.  A fart on Boompa’s lap.  Then another.  Shortly later…the smell.  I looked at the clock.  Meagan would not be home for a couple of hours.

So, London and I went up to the dressing table where I could lay out all the things I would need to tackle this first ‘poopy’ diaper.  I kind of remember those little masks some people wear over their mouth and nose, but I figured that I was a man!  I would not need one of those.  I had the new diaper standing by, a new onesie (this one smelled like butt) , a large number of baby wipes (I’d hate to get poo poo on my fingers), a little cream for her diaper rash and a little baby powder. I was ready.

I laid her on the changing area and unbuttoned her onesie.  I got down to the snaps at the bottom and right away – poop on my fingers.  I screamed…and quickly grabbed about 37 baby wipes and started wiping.  Soon my fingers were poop free and I looked down to evaluate the situation.  Where was that mask? Using my thumb and pointer finger I gently pulled the onesie off her and tossed it into the dirty clothes hamper.  That is when I saw that poop had oozed out every side of the disposable diaper.  It went from her belly button to her knees.  It was paste-like and hard to remove.  It was stinky.  She was laughing at me.  Using another 100 baby wipes or so, I got all of the poo poo off of her and using a warm rag, I cleaned her up and applied the ointment to her rash spots on her bum bum.  I gave her a splash of baby powder, put on a new diaper and the clean onesie and viola, she was good as new.

I made it through the first poopy diaper after almost 20 years.

In May of 2008, Meagan was released from the Army and my oldest son was scheduled to get married in Orlando, FL.  I told Meagan that I was going to go back to NY if she was ready to handle things.  I think she hesitated a bit, but she said that she could.

So, we drove two cars from Louisiana to Florida so that when the wedding was over, I could head North and she could head back west to Louisiana.

The time I spent with London during her first few months was unforgettable. I saw her laugh, I saw her cry, I fed her, I sang her to sleep, I played with her, I got my hugs and kisses and last but not least, I had my share of many poopy diapers.

It was the best 6 months of my life.

Chuck Beats a Tractor

When we moved to New Jersey for my first job after the military, we could not believe the cost of living.  We soon discovered that the further south you moved in this state, the lower the cost of living.  Still high, but lower.

We had a lot of ‘junk’ that we accrued over the years before Becca and I met, so in addition to a home, we needed to get a storage unit to keep it all.  It was this junk that would be our savior during the year we spent in NJ.

We found a nice little home in Bricktown, NJ.  I believe the address was 46 Capri (street, avenue, lane…I don’t remember).  The school my two older children attended was called Osbourneville Elementary.  I never learned why the school appeared to be named after a town other then the one it was located in.

Anyway, this home we move into was unique in the fat that it had no lawn.  I may have seen this in my past, but I never actually experienced a lawn made of stones and pebbles.  This made it hard to play with the kids in the yard because of the inherent pain it would cause.

It was a three bedroom house where the boys shared one bedroom, the girls in another and we had the last one.  It got kind of cramped when my sisters Cathy and Donna came to visit with Cathy’s young son, Joey (RIP).  The bills were outrageous.  Electric, gas and water/trash were almost have as much as the rent which was $750.

It was 1989 and my new job with the Department of Defense was only that of a GS-9 (meaning very little income).  Because of this, Becca tried her best to work part time, but it was hard because her availability was very limited with 4 young children under the age of 9.

This is where the ‘junk’ came in.  We had noticed in Bricktown that there was a farmers market (aka a flea market) not far from the house.  So every weekend Becca would pile a bunch of the stuff (much of it was army uniforms and equipment that we both accrued during our years in the Army – another blog for several other times) and take it to the flea market and sell it to the locals in south NJ.  I would stay with the three younger children at home while Chuck would go with Becca and help her out.

The income from these trips to the flea market were what made it possible to survive in New Jersey.  I had a one hour commute each way to where I worked at Ft. Monmouth.  The distance wasn’t the problem…it was the traffic which was horrendous.  This required gas and tolls and a lot of hand gestures and bouts of road rage, but I dealt with it.

Back to the flea market and the whole point for this blog.  As Becca would stand at the table and make sales happen, Chuck (being a young curious boy) would wander around and explore.  During her fourth or fifth visit to the flea market, Chuck wandered out behind the market and found a wooden bat laying in the grass.  He picked it up and started swinging it and getting board with that, he looked around for something to hit.

He noticed what appeared to be a decrepit and abandoned tractor in the field nearby.  He went to the tractor and took a swing.  No damage.  He must have considered this a challenge because he then proceeded to wail on this tractor…swing, ting….swing, ting…until this old farmer came out and grabbed the bat in one hand and one of Chuck’s arms with the other.

Chuck showed him where to find Becca and this farmer explained what he caught Chuck doing (making it sound a lot worse then it was) and Becca offered to pay for any damage (which was very minimal).  The old boy just mumbled something about controlling the boy and went back to whatever he was doing …maybe slopping hogs??

Well, Becca packed up he table and came home early.  Of course I wondered WTH?  Then she went on to explain everything I mentioned above.  Chuck was cowering behind Becca as she explained the story and I was getting madder with every word.  Chuck and I had a discussion about the cost of his actions and the difficulty this could cause with our basic survival.  Chuck was genuinely embarrassed and regretful for the entire situation.

Chuck has always been a great boy.  Sure he had incidents like this, but overall he has made me a very proud father.  I share this story because it was a memory I awoke with this morning.  Since Chuck now has children of his own, I hope one day he will be able to share this with his children, not to show that he was a trouble maker, but to show that every child has days of adventure that would be looked upon as being troublesome.

I love my kids.