Joan Stephens

Dedicated to all mothers: past, present, and future.

Sometimes Father wished his chamber wasnít so close to Vincentís room, and this was one of those times. The old man had been soundly asleep when Jacobís sudden high-pitched frantic scream coupled with Vincentís agonized roar had propelled him out of bed and left him standing there unnerved and shivering in the cool tunnel air. My god, what could have happened that had the child screaming this early in the morning? It was barely past five thirty. Hastily throwing his old, beat-up robe over his shoulders, he thrust his arms into the sleeves and belted it around his middle as he hurried to his sonísĖah, noĖtheir chamber. The tableau that greeted his half-opened eyes was at once unforgettable and amusingly understandable, reminding him of a similar experience of his own. Taking in her state of disrepair, her obvious distress, and the squalling baby in her arms, he instantly surmised what had happened: an open and shut case of first child jitters. Sparing a quick look at his son, he caught him in the act of flopping back into his pillows with a hand clutched to his breast, his breath coming in sharp gasps. "Catherine," he heard his sonís soft voice gently admonish her.

"I know; Iím sorry," she wailed, hoping he could hear her over Jacobís loud howls. Disheveled and upset, Catherine was unsuccessfully trying to soothe a badly frightened and howling baby.

"Merciful heavens, whatís going on in here?" he asked, trying his best to keep the twinkle out of his eyes. "Whatís wrong with Jacob?"

Unaware that he had entered, she jumped and whirled around, her face burning with embarrassment. "Nothing really. I just scared Jacob and Vincent half to death."

Unable at last to keep the glint of amusement out of his eyes, Father quipped, "First child jitters?"

"Huh?" his daughter-in-law answered intelligently.

He couldnít help it; he grinned back at her. "You woke upĖuncomfortable?" She nodded. "Your breasts are full and leaking?" She glanced down at the wet front of her nightgown. "Suddenly youíre wondering why he hadnít awakened you in the middle of the night to nurse?"

"Yes," she whispered, glancing up at him with embarrassed and frightened eyes.

"You jumped out of bed," he continued, "ran to his crib, and hovered over him. He didnít seem to be breathing and you panicked."

She nodded again as she relived that terrifying moment when she had thought that she had lost Jacob. "Sort of," she muttered. "I woke up just like you said. I got so scared. Only, as I was rushing to the crib, I tripped on the rug and kind of let out a scream as I fell against the side of the crib. It scared him so much that he jumped two feet off the bed, shrieking at the top of his lungs, and Vincent woke up with a roar, sensing my fear." Blushing a lovely shade of red, she added. "Oh Father, I feel so foolish."

By this time quite a crowd had gathered and was pushing into the chamber, Mary and Mouse in front.

"Whatís wrong with Jacob?" Mary asked over the hubbub of the crowd.

"Nothing," Father chuckled. "Just new mother jitters."

"Oh, is that all." Relieved, Mary shooed all the bleary-eyed people out of the chamber and back to their respective beds and, with an amused and knowing backward glance, followed them.

"Why didnít somebody warn me?" Catherine wailed as her firstborn settled down, hiccuping sobs and sucking his thumb.

Patting her on the back, Father said, "What? And take away the joy of relating this uproar in the future?"

She glared at him. "Who cares about the future right now? You could have saved me some embarrassment if youíd told me."

Valiantly trying to suppress a chortleĖhe didnít want to be an unfeeling clodĖhe lost the battle when he noticed the young father holding his hand over his mouth, his eyes literally jumping with mirth as he understood what had frightened his Catherine so much. "Oh, forgive me, child," Father gasped, "but this is so funny. It reminds me of the first time Devin slept through the night."

"You, Father?" she asked, amazed, allowing him to conduct her back to bed and help her to recline against the pillows that Vincent had arranged for her.

"Oh yes, my dear. He cried for a solid hour." Turning a stern glare at his snickering son, he added, "Chuckle away, Vincent, but it is a frightening occurrence to the one who experiences it." He patted the young mother on the arm. "One you experience only once in your life. No other child ever frightens you like the first one. And you, my son, had all the benefits from my mistakes with poor Devin."

" I know," Vincent said contritely. "And I couldnít have asked for a better father for me or a better grandfather for Jacob."

"Well, thank you, son, I tried my best, and I trust that you will do the same. Now, I think Iíll go back to bed and try for a little more sleep. I canít think of another thing that would cause my grandson to be so noisy, can you, Catherine?" he asked with a glint of merriment in his eyes.

"Nooo, Father, I canít. I promise that weíll be as quiet as little mice in here so all the tunnels can get some sleep."

Jacob was busily nursing, Catherine was beaming up at him, and Vincent was gazing raptly at his two greatest treasures, as Father said, "Enjoy him, children. Treasure all the first time experiences. They never come again."

At the entrance, he turned back to look at the miracle of the tunnels holding his two miracles in his arms and was so thankful that he had been privileged to be a part of it. He wondered what their next catastrophe would be that would add another gray hair to his head. Chuckling softly to himself, he shrugged. Whatever it would be, it would be a lulu. Of that, he had no doubt.

As he started toward his chamber, he paused. A slow smile spread its way across his face. Changing his mind--it was too late to go back to bed, anyway--he nodded once and turned his steps toward Maryís chamber where he could get a warm, fragrant cup of tea served with peace and quiet. Oh, how he needed that.