- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 4, 2002

Dear Sean and Jeremy:

This is it. My last Baby Steps column. The last few moments of your "15 minutes of fame" at least until one of you has your first oil painting hanging at the Corcoran Gallery of Art (probably you, Sean) or one of you is on SportsCenter blitzing some hapless quarterback and knocking him into next week (that would be you, Jeremy).

Just about every parent, it seems, wakes up one day and has that same epiphany, that moment when he realizes his child isn't a baby anymore, that his mind's eye has to squint to remember the cutesy infant stage with the oohing and aahing of relatives and spouses.

My epiphany came in the spring when you were learning to ride a bike, Sean, and I followed right behind you day after day after day as you rode around our court parking lot. Jeremy was out there, too, trying to keep up on foot, but not having much success. He tried, anyway running, stumbling, occasionally falling down, but always getting up with a plaintive cry of, "Wait for me, guys."

After a week or so of trembling and shaking as you mounted the bike and made your first tentative pedals, you were ready to ride on your own, Sean. But you still wanted me to hold on. My back was killing me from a week's worth of bending over holding onto your bike's handlebars and then the back of the seat. I was afraid I was going to walk like Groucho Marx the rest of my life.

I took to dressing you in the biggest, baggiest T-shirt in your drawer, then grabbing a fistful of it in back as you rode. I knew if you actually started to fall over, I would have just enough of your shirt to prevent that until I could grab you, but of course, I didn't have to worry about it. You were riding that bike without even knowing it.

Jeremy couldn't wait to get on his own toddler bike. That's Jeremy, always willing to be the first to do or try something, but even more eager for adventure so he can keep up with his big brother.

It hit me, doing my Groucho Marx walk around the parking lot, watching you ride and listening to "Wait for me, wait for me, wait for me," that it was time for me to stop writing this column and turn it over to someone else. Sure, there were enough exciting and humorous things to write about, but they weren't baby-related things anymore.

There were no more 3 a.m. bottles, no spit-up stains on the double-breasted blazer just as we sat down to pose for church yearbook pictures; no embarrassing yells in public, like yours, Sean, when you were learning your "c" and "p" sounds and yelled in the middle of the Giant produce section, "I want porn, I want porn," when what you really wanted was corn. I still cringe over that memory.

It's certainly a bittersweet moment, reviewing the past three years of columns, chuckling over the memories and wondering how it could have been just three years ago when sometimes it seems like yesterday and sometimes it seems like an eternity. I guess I'll be doing that for the next 15 years or so, until you guys are both gone, hopefully on your way to your own family experiences.

The baby phase is such a short one, and the toddler phase seems even shorter. You're both little boys now, with distinct personalities, and you have really bonded to each other this summer. No one can make you guys laugh like each other, and no one gets under your skin as effortlessly as each other. You are so unmistakably brothers.

I can't believe this summer will be over in a month. Before this month is over, you'll both be in school you, Jeremy, in preschool and you, Sean, in kindergarten. Kindergarten. My mind reels.

Before I go, let me tell you, in print, how much I love both of you. Maybe print is the best way, anyway. Every time I try to kiss you guys goodnight, you both wipe your cheeks like I planted anthrax on you. OK, you win it will be high-fives and hair-rumples from now on, at least in public. Is that macho enough?

But just know I'll be there anytime you need me, for whatever you need. I'll be there for high-fives, hugs or advice.

And I'll always be there to hold your shirt.

Love, Daddy

Mark Stewart is the stay-at-home father of two boys, Sean and Jeremy. He is a free-lance writer.

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