Introducing Stump and Smoke

Smoke and Stump circa 2013

Smoke and Stump circa 2013

“Did you know we chose a donor?” I asked our friend Dee. Kellie was driving, Dee was riding shotgun, and I was in the cramped backseat of our truck. I had scooched to the middle and leaned forward between them so that we could talk over the roar of the diesel engine. We were headed to our cabin in northern Washington. At this point in the journey, the sun was high, we’d all finished our coffee, and we were driving up a mountain.

“Finally,” Dee said.

Earlier that week, Kellie and I had finally decided on two potential donors from a catalogue of hundreds. I filled Dee in on our choices. Our top pick was a guy who was listed as six foot two, athletic, a native Canadian of Ukrainian descent. It was hard to explain why we had chosen him. We had looked at endless questionnaires, the answers hand-written, and it seemed that, more than any particular answer, the handwriting itself told a story. Overly neat handwriting made me suspicious, like the donor had something to hide. I took comfort in handwriting that was legible, but hurried.

“So you’re going with the Ukrainian Canadian?” Dee clarified. She thought that was funny, and she made up a song, envisioning him as a bearded lumberjack. In a low voice, she sang, “The Ukrainian Canadian came through for us today!” The tune was catchy. Soon we were all singing it as we crested the mountain pass.

“Say goodbye to your dreams of having a girl,” she warned Kellie. From the beginning, Kellie had clung to an idea that she’d make a better parent to a girl than she would to a boy. “You’re going to have two burly sons, and everyone’s going to call them Smoke and Stump.” We laughed some more and, strangely, I could picture it: two little boys in denim and striped shirts, running around with dirt on their knees. Maybe it was the mountain landscape we were passing through, but I imagined us living in a Podunk town where they’d spend their days building forts out of fallen branches and learning to chop firewood.

Kellie laughed along. The idea of Stump and Smoke seemed to make her more comfortable with the idea of having a boy or two—so comfortable that she advocated for actually naming our kids Smoke and Stump. “You’re not serious,” I said. But she was.

We joked about Stump and Smoke for months, but in the end we all but forgot. The Ukrainian Canadian didn’t come through for us after all, and after two years of trying to conceive and failing, no one was making jokes about the names of our future babies. So it wasn’t until last week, when brooding over what pseudonyms I should give my children for this blog, that it hit me—we have two boys! We have our Stump and Smoke! Dee’s joke had been prophecy.

It’s clear to me who’s who. Smoke is my older son, my five-year-old. He is wily and elusive, in many places at once. He may look as if he’s sitting at the kitchen table, but in reality he is spread throughout the universe, entertaining multiple daydreams. Any discipline tactics I attempt can and will be used against me. The other day he warned me “Mommy, you better hand me that milkshake by the time I count to five.”

No fence can stand in Smoke's way.

No fence can stand in Smoke’s way.

And Stump suits my one-year-old, with his brute strength, my baby who, as I’ve mentioned before, I once caught hanging from the counter ledge like an action hero. Currently, Stump likes to pull large stones from the birdbath and hurl them like shot puts. He thinks it’s hilarious to pinch my bare skin with his determined little fingers and hear me cry in pain.

Stump is so hearty, he eats mustard greens for breakfast.

Stump is so hardy, he eats mustard greens for breakfast.

Kellie may once have dreamed of a daughter, but we are pleased with Stump and Smoke, our family of two women completed by two boys. Dee must have known they were our destiny, and she prepared us for it in her way, by inviting us to laugh at sperm and strength and boy-ness.

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21 comments

  1. I love this! And I admire your determination and humor, and those two little kids, so aptly nicknamed! Thanks!

    1. Thanks, Diahann. I am working on a memoir–mostly about becoming a mother since it was an uphill battle for me. This blog has been a nice place for me to reflect on what’s been going on in the here and now and the more recent past, although this Smoke and Stump might work its way into a chapter. Thanks for reading!

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