Third child, happy child

It has been fun to watch the traits and personalities of my friends and family reappear in their children. Whether it is a shared facial expression or recognizable gap-toothed grin, I love knowing that through kids, little bits of people live on.

It doesn’t take a geneticist to locate such links with my two older sons. First there is Daniel. With his big brown eyes, dark hair, and massive teeth, the security guard at his school took one look at me this year and commented, “You have GOT to be Danny’s mom!” In addition to our physical similarities, we also share a tendency to wear our hearts on our sleeves. My husband refers to us as Labradors. We wag our tails when happy, and we sulk obstinately in the corner when our feelings get hurt.

Then there is Jack. Jack plays it so close to the vest that there is no discernible difference in demeanor between his waking up on Christmas morning and his heading to the doctor’s for a vaccination. My stoic middle child is my husband in miniature. In comparing baby pictures, the same scowl is clearly visible. Joe feels that Jack vindicates his well-documented “angry Irish face.” He points out:

“Look at this picture of Jack at 2. See the scowl? We can’t help ourselves. This is how God made us and you need to quit telling me to smile all the time. Smiling hurts my face. And please stop saying how unhappy I always look. I AM happy, dammit. RIDICULOUSLY FLIPPIN’ HAPPY.”

When I was expecting our youngest son, I figured we would end up with a baby similar to one of our pre-existing models. Since his birth five years ago, Little Joey has done all he can to muck up that assumption. After his first year of 24/7 screaming, the hysteria ended without explanation. It was as if Joey purged an entire lifetime of irritability in order to commence the next phase.

His life as Happy Smurf.

Joey is happy every minute of every day. For years, my husband and I did not know what to make of our changeling child. We loved him the same as his brothers, but we simply did not see ourselves in him at all. He is loud, fearless, and sings Adele songs at the top of his lungs in the grocery store. Everything is an adventure, and Joey insists on packing a bag whenever we leave the house because, according to Joey, “you just never know.”

This past weekend, we all walked home from an outing and cut through the back alley. Without warning, two large dogs bolted up from behind a tall fence and started barking wildly. My older boys screamed and sprinted away, convinced they were about to be eaten alive by four-legged beasts.

But Joey?

He stood there laughing. Then he started barking back.

My husband and I had an epiphany at that exact moment:

Joey is my dad.

My dad also barks at dogs. When we were kids, he would chase tornadoes and follow fire trucks just to see if there was anything “good” going on. This former seminarian/Chicago policeman/special agent began losing his hearing in his 60s, but compensated by merely laughing really loud at whatever was said, no matter how applicable. Even now, in his 70s, he is forever on the alert for the next great adventure, the next obstacle to conquer because “you just never know.”

I once worried about Joey’s insatiable desire to live life fully. As a mother, I didn’t want him to get hurt. I prayed he would run away from crazy barking dogs instead of attempting to lick them. Yet finally understanding how much Joey is like my dad assuaged these fears. When my dad falls, he brushes it off, laughs like a loon, and plans for a better day tomorrow. He may be slightly eccentric, but there is strength of character and determination to not waste a single precious day. There are not too many people who live their lives with such optimism and unbridled enthusiasm.

So bark away, Joey. Bark away.

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