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Epilogue

Within twenty-four hours of the "outing" of your pregnancy at work, you and Jim are able to catch a glimpse of your little one via ultrasound. Initially, you are a little afraid that despite your change of heart, seeing this baby for the first time might not evoke the same feelings as did your first look at Cece, but all apprehension quickly dissipates when the form of your new son or daughter appears on screen. All it takes is one quick look at that tiny little person with the adorably stubby limbs and disproportionately large head for that familiar almost-breathless, practically-floating sensation to come back. It's that same exhilarating rush of pure love, amazement, and elation that you felt a year ago with Cece, and before you know it, you are simultaneously laughing and crying, finally feeling the way you have wanted to feel all along. You can't believe you were ever afraid of any of this, and God, isn't that baby just perfect?

You turn to see Jim's reaction and find that the expression on his face mirrors yours: tears in his eyes and a silly grin on his face. He is going to be a dad again, and it's clear just how much that means to him. You never want to forget how he looks in this moment, and when he shifts his attention to meet your eyes, there is such reverence in his gaze that your breath catches in your throat. You feel so loved, so special. He kisses your temple, and you just melt.

When he sits up straight again, you giggle, and that silly grin returns to both of your faces.

"So this is pretty awesome, huh?" He asks, nearly bouncing in his chair with excitement—almost like a little boy. And wouldn't it be so fun to have a little boy? He wants a girl, but he would be so cute with a baby boy… though, he is pretty darn cute with Cece.

You can't decide what you want—your head is spinning. You can't even come up with a verbal response to Jim's remark, so you just smile your biggest smile and nod eagerly in agreement. 'Pretty awesome' is an understatement, and all those negative feelings from days past are so far from your mind right now that it's as if you never felt them at all.

You turn back to the monitor when your doctor starts to take measurements and ask questions. She narrates what she is looking for and what you are looking at, and after a few minutes, she concludes that the baby looks good and is measuring somewhere around seven to eight weeks along.

Jim smirks after she says this, and you barely have time to think back that far before he mouths, "Jamaica."

Immediately, you blush because you know he's right. The two of you took a four-day vacation within that time frame, and when thunderstorms kept you off the beach for three of those days, you had to find something to occupy your time.

"Our little souvenir," he jokes on the way back out to the car.

xx

Charlotte Ann Halpert enters the world during the early morning hours of April 4th, about a week overdue and exactly thirteen months after her big sister. You cry when she is placed on your chest immediately after her birth and laugh when you and Jim both greet her with, "Hi, sweetie!" at the exact same time. She is beautiful—tiny, healthy, perfect, and just beautiful—and you are so, so happy to finally meet her. Jim hugs and kisses you and then kisses her, and when your mother brings Cece in later, you feel like your heart could just burst with the amount of love and pride you feel over seeing your daughters together for the first time. Neither of the girls has any idea what is going on or who the other is, but their first meeting is something that you and Jim will vividly and fondly remember forever.

Once you bring Charlotte home, though, it's no walk in the park. When one girl cries, the other often cries, too, be it out of some sense of sisterly empathy or to let you know that she also wants your attention, which is particularly problematic early on because everything that soothed Cece as a newborn, Charlotte seems to hate. Figuring out what makes her happy is a whole new game of noisy trial-and-error, and on top of that, Cece has a new habit of screaming in public places just for fun and is now at an age where she is in to everything. Charlotte also fusses when she is out of someone's arms for too long and needs to be held seemingly constantly, so you (and Jim) have your hands full, both literally and figuratively. There are even times that you are so exhausted from feeding, changing, lifting, carrying, comforting, and entertaining your daughters that youjust want to (and occasionally do) cry, but then Cece toddles over with her arms out for a hug, Charlotte sighs and smiles in her sleep, or your husband says something to make you laugh, and you feel slightly sane again.

It's a lot of work. You and Jim are always tired and sometimes snap at each other over stupid things, but at the end of every day, when you are each holding a peacefully almost-sleeping little girl, you are reminded of how lucky you are, how great your life is. Despite everything you worried about, your marriage is solid, you love both of your babies infinitely and equally, and you are so grateful that things turned out the way they did.

xx

.

.

Three years later, life has settled down, and you are now the proud mother of two spirited preschoolers with adorable little giggles, wavy honey-blonde hair, and their daddy's eyes.

Cecelia is four, going on twenty-four. She loves to laugh and make jokes, but she is also very independent and deliberate in everything she does and gets upset when anyone doesn't take her seriously. She is wise beyond her four short years, and even though all parents talk about how bright their kids are, you and Jim just know that your Cecelia is something special. Her insight and intelligence continually surprise you, and nearly every morning, she seems to wake up with a new question about the world. You love her to pieces, and she is the best firstborn you could have asked for—a loving, thoughtful daughter and a kind, protective big sister.

Charlotte is three and the best second-born you could have asked for—funny, sweet, and willing to do anything her big sister does (even if it means she has to eat broccoli). Like Cece, she also surprises you with how smart she is, but it's usually in a more mischievous way; Charlotte may be your tiny look-alike and a girly-girl, but when it comes to getting into and out of trouble, she is a budding prankster and clearly her father's daughter. And (most of the time) you love that about her. You also love that she is a big-time cuddle-bug.

One of your absolute favorite things about your girls, though, is the fact that they are the best of friends. Early on, Cece developed a hesitant curiosity towards her baby sister, and gradually, that curiosity turned into affection. Soon after that, Charlotte was big enough to return hugs and kisses, and then it was only a matter of time before the two of them became inseparable. Like any pair of siblings, they have the occasional bouts of jealousy and do their fair share of fighting, but for the most part, they play together very nicely, love each other very much, and if one is hurt or sad, the other is right by her side. Jim calls them his two sweet peas in a pod, and it is quite fitting. That you once worried that Charlotte's birth would cause irreparable damage to Cece's emotional health now seems completely ridiculous. Seeing them bond and watching their relationship develop has been such a fun part of your experience as a parent, and you are so thankful that they have each other.

However, your two sweet peas in a pod have the tendency to be partners in crime, and right now is one of those occasions. You and Jim decided to quickly wash the car while the two of them napped, but when you come back inside to take a shower, there are two wide-awake little girls sitting on your bathroom counter in front of the mirror, surrounded by and covered in makeup.

You stop dead in your tracks in the doorway, not quite sure how you are going to handle this one. They have colored streaks on their clothes, different shades of eye shadow all around their eyes, dark pink cheeks, lipstick smeared thickly over and past their lips, and messily painted finger and toe nails of various hues. Cece's glasses are on the floor, along with a dulled black eyeliner pencil that Charlotte seems to have used to draw on her left arm, and there is powder everywhere.

"Oh, girls," you murmur quietly in disbelief, just as Jim walks up behind you and utters his own reaction.

"Whoa."

How could they possibly make this much of a mess in such a short period of time?

The two of them catch sight of you both in the mirror, and their eyes widen as they realize that they have been caught. Startled, Cece cracks your twisted-all-the-way-up lipstick out of its tube, and Charlotte kicks an open bottle of red nail polish onto the tile floor.

"Uh-oh!" Your youngest exclaims.

Yes, 'uh-oh' is about right, but when you take a deep breath and a step back (as you have learned to do over the years), the situation seems more funny than disastrous. They will get a talking to and have to help clean up the mess, but one day, when they are older, you are going to tell them about this and laugh.

xx

"Any luck?" You ask as he joins you in the laundry room where you are rinsing out Charlotte's t-shirt after several failed attempts of removing nail polish splatter.

"I got it all, but I think our bathroom is going to smell like nail polish remover until the end of time," he groans, wrapping his arms around you from behind and resting his forehead on your shoulder. "God, I think I'm going to pass out."

"Me too," you say, wringing out the water-soaked garment in your hands. "I tried to use it to get the stain out of Charlotte's shirt, but it didn't work."

He takes the shirt from your hands and hangs it over the edge of the sink before turning you around in his arms.

"Where are they now?" He asks into your hair.

"Watching a movie," you respond with your eyes closed, exhausted from the last few hours of washing the car, cleaning the bathroom, bathing the girls, and trying to remove an impossible stain. "I told them they weren't allowed off the couch until I got back."

He laughs. "Let's hope that worked. I don't think I can't take another mess right now, especially in a room with carpet."

"Ugh. I don't even want to think about that."

He hugs you and sways back and forth with you for a few seconds, taking a calm, quiet moment before you have to check on the two little tornadoes in the living room.

You sigh.

You are so lucky to have him.

He had a high blood pressure scare a few years back. It's under control now, but at the time, you made yourself sick with worry over what you would do if something were to happen to him. You love him (and your daughters) more than life, and even just the mere thought of living without him made you cry. That whole ordeal put a lot of things into perspective and made you appreciate him even more, and you try not to ever take him for granted because he makes you feel safe and beautiful and can still make you laugh until it hurts. He is also the most wonderful father to your girls and would do absolutely anything for the three of you.

Watching him as a dad has been another one of your favorite parts of parenthood. Unlike your own father who left most of the parenting to your mother, Jim has had an equal hand in everything over the years; from the early days of cleaning up after epic diaper blowouts and toddlers with the flu to more recent things like packing lunches and combing through tangled hair, he has been at your side. Yes, there are times when he has trouble telling his little girls 'no,' and sometimes it feel like you are always the bad guy when it comes to discipline, but he is still such a great dad. He kisses boo-boos, paints little fingernails, reads stories in funny voices, and is teaching them to be fans of his favorite sports teams. From personal experience, you know that not all fathers are like this with their daughters, so it makes it easier to forget your minor disagreements over parenting and just appreciate that he is giving Cece and Charlotte so much just by being who he is. They will never doubt his love for them.

And he loves you, too— both as his wife and as the mother of his children. You have been through a lot in just over five years of marriage, but the two of you are still a team, stronger than ever, and still crazy about each other. So crazy, in fact, that you have even been talking about adding one more to your family.

xx

As you approach the living room with Jim, you can see that both girls are right where you left them on opposite sides of the couch. Cecelia is lying down, asleep with her glasses still on, and Charlotte is sitting up still watching the movie while wiggling from side to side.

Her head pops up when she sees you. "Can I move now? I really gotta go potty."

"Yes, go right ahead," you say, and she immediately jumps off the couch. Oh, your little girl is so funny. "Thank you for doing what I asked."

She gives you both a big smile, and Jim ruffles her hair as she skips towards the downstairs bathroom.

"I hope you don't have any makeup in that bathroom," Jim teases.

You playfully stick your tongue out and pull him to sit with you on the couch next to Cece, who appears to be completely out like a light.

"She's not going to be able to sleep tonight," you remark quietly, as you carefully remove her glasses.

"Oh well. She can watch the Sixers game with me," he says, wrapping his arm around your shoulders and kissing your temple.

He always knows what to say.

You smile and try to gently push Cece's hair out of her face without waking her, but just as you are tucking it behind her ear, she stirs and blinks up at you.

"Mommy, can you sit by me?" She mumbles sleepily.

It's a simple request, but it still makes your heart flutter because she doesn't ask questions like that as often as she once did.

"Of course, sweetie," you reply, and she turns herself to lay her head in your lap as Jim watches over your shoulder, just like he did when she was first born.

She might be your oldest child, but she is still your baby, and in moments like these, you can sometimes catch little glimpses of the baby she once was. She still curls up the same way she did as an infant, still sleeps with her mouth slightly open, and still loves a gentle backrub. You can't hold her as easily, and allowing her to sleep in your arms for too long would cause your limbs to fall asleep, but just sitting with her like this as she uses your thigh as a pillow is nice, too. She could be twenty-five years old one day, and you would still let her do this if she asked.

The three of you sit quietly for a few minutes until Charlotte comes running back to announce that she successfully used the bathroom and washed her hands. You both commend her on the latter, and Jim lifts her onto his lap.

You aren't sure what you did to deserve this family of yours, but when you are all settled and still and together in moments like this, you feel so fulfilled, so at peace, and so, so grateful.

xx

the end