Loving Judah

When my daughter Abigail gave birth to my first grandchild, Judah, I knew I would be smitten.  Everyone I knew warned me that the well of love that comes with the birth of a grandchild is very deep.  “You will love being a grandmother!” they predicted.  “It’s more special than anything!” they encouraged me.  “You won’t believe how much you love him!” they assured me.

I knew they were right.  I just didn’t realize that the well is so deep it is bottomless.

Last weekend, Abby and her husband, Johnny went to a wedding and left Judah with me for the afternoon and evening.  I rose early and finished my normal weekend chores so I would have nothing to do but care for my little grand bundle.  At 1:30PM, the prince arrived, and armed with frozen packets of mother’s milk, flannel burp cloths and magic diapers that change color when they get wet, I settled in for an afternoon of cooing and cuddling.

We played judah sleepingPat-a-cake.  We sang songs.   We played with a rattle.  Judah woofed down a bottle, burped and spit up on the living room carpet, grinning with glee.  But shortly after a diaper change, his little face crumbled like the mask of a sad clown and he began to cry.  I gathered him close, stuck his pacifier into his mouth and gently stroked his head.   Within a moment or two his eyes closed and his little body relaxed in peaceful repose.

Afraid I might wake him (okay- that’s an excuse lie. The truth is, he was so warm and snuggly I didn’t want to put him down) I held Judah in my arms for the next hour and a half, moving him just long enough to occasionally kiss a wisp of hair on his little head.  While he slept, I pondered.  “Why is it I love this little guy so much?”

Often times we love people because of what they do.  We love them because they make us feel good. Because they whisper sweet nothings that brighten our days.  Because they make us feel proud. Or important.  Or warm and cozy.  Or needed.  But Judah doesn’t really do anything to earn this love.  He just is.

But what does that mean?  What is it about a grandchild that flips our heart upside down and makes us want to drop everything for a cuddle and kiss?  I decided to break down some of Judah’s qualities and see if I could make logical sense out of this.

  • Judah smells delicious.  I read somewhere that the most expensive perfume sold is Clive Christian #1 Imperial Majesty Perfume.  It sold for $12,721.89 an ounce. Clive-Christian-No.-1-Imperial-Majesty-Perfume-300x200  I can guarantee that its scent is no sweeter than a newborn baby’s downy head.   Sniffing Judah’s neck makes me somewhat euphoric.  And it’s free.
  • Judah thinks everyone loves him. This is probably true, since his experience is limited to family and friends.  But there’s a lot to be said for approaching the world with total confidence that everyone thinks you are wonderful.  When people smile at Judah, he mirrors those good vibes.
  • baby basketJudah reminds of us that life is about the basics. Getting enough food.  Staying warm and dry. Love.  There are a ton of products that advertisers will tell us we need for babies.  But babies don’t really care if their clothes are new, or if they are wearing hand-me-downs or thrift store finds.  Babies all over the world are pretty much the same, whether they sleep on a mat with their mothers, or in a $2,500 Egg Dodo Baby Basket. (No, I didn’t make this up.)   All they really care about is food, staying warm and dry, and love.  How do we so easily stray from these priorities?
  • Judah makes us laugh. We laugh when he splashes in the tub. We laugh at his funny faces. We laugh judah awakewhen he laughs.  Laughter lowers our blood pressure and sets off a small explosion of endorphins to increase our sense of well-being.  I’m convinced that if I took a ten minute “Judah break” every morning and afternoon, I’d be more productive and happier at work.  I just need to convince my boss and work out the logistics…
  • abby and judah 9.Judah is an extension of me. I watch Abigail- my first born- deftly tend to him and am in awe that this capable mother who is clearly this baby’s favorite person on earth was once my own helpless newborn.   I’m sure his other grandmother feels the same way when she looks at Judah and remembers his daddy as a little tyke.  The continuity of this life cycle is comforting and reassuring.
  • Judah has made two families one.  I thought this would happen when Abby and Johnny first got married, and while it did in theory, the relationship was more one of the head than of the heart.  But when Judah was born, we gathered together in one room, as one unit, to welcome him to the family.  We all love him- grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins- and as a family we will raise him to know this.
  • Lastly, but this speaks most loudly to me, Judah has my mother’s eyes. They are big and gray and serious, just like my mother’s.  They laugh easily, but sometimes I catch Judah’s eyes studying mine, as if he’s looking for what’s hidden deep inside my soul.  My mother’s eyes searched mine- when I was a child and wasn’t telling the truth, when I was a young woman sharing my hopes for the future, and in her final hours, when I held her hand and reminded her that the faith that guided her in this life would carry her to the next.  I look into the deep gray pools of Judah’s eyes and I see my judah eyespast and my future.  And somehow, for a few moments, everything is right in the world.
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Hello Judah. I’m Your Grandmother.

On June 21, 2014, I became a grandmother. Abby Johnny and Judah 1

My daughter Abigail gave birth to a beautiful little boy- Judah Gray Wallace. Shortly after his arrival, I rushed to the hospital and was handed a seven pound bundle.  I gently pulled the flannel away from his little face and tenderly kissed his forehead.  I was totally undone.

This morning, I looked into the mirror.  “I am a grandmother.”

grammieGrandmother.  The word evokes images of white haired wrinkly little ladies who dodder around and speak in shaky voices.  It is an image I am not yet ready to embrace, and here’s why.

I have never been a little lady.  I’m five feet eight-and-a-half inches.  Okay, so I’ve shrunk to five seven, but nobody will ever describe me as “little.”  Ever.

I do not dodder.  I stride.  At work I often get on a roll, taking long steps to get from one office to another.  My long arms swing with each step- sometimes so far that I painfully smack them on the door frame when taking a sharp turn to enter my office.  These are not the movements of a doddering old woman.

While I will admit I have more sags and wrinkles than I did thirty years ago, I do not have prune-like skin and jowls that flap when I laugh- at least not when I take off my glasses.  And I do not have white hair.  That gray streak that slowly appears at my part miraculously goes away whenever I visit my hairdresser.

Even though my days of singing in bars and coffee shops are far behind me, I can still carry the harmony to any song played on my car radio, and project across the courtroom when the judge asks CASA’s stand on an issue.

I am strong, and unafraid, and capable.  I come by this legally.

My grandmother did not dodder.  When I was in college she and I climbed the seawall near her apartment, walked a mile down the beach, and when the sand cooled and our shadows grew, walked back home, to enjoy tender pan-fried flounder and creamy potato salad.  My grandmother got her driver’s license at seventy-six.  She visited the shut-ins from her church when she was in her early nineties.  And although her voice shook at our last conversation, the eyes that held my gaze were steady and filled with love.

My children’s grandmother did not dodder. She dug in the soil until it burst with peas, squash and beans to feed the many mouths gathered at her table.  She swam in the ocean, letting icy waves crash over her head.  She read countless stories aloud, transforming ink and paper into living characters that danced through the imaginations of everyone who listened.  She watched basketball with my nephew.  She laughed at my brother-in-law’s slightly off-color jokes.  And although her voice shook, her arms were strong as she wrapped my Elizabeth in a loving embrace hours before she passed into the next life.

We_Can_Do_It!There are no doddering women in my heritage.  They were strong New England women- fearless, energetic, full of fun.  They were unafraid during thunderstorms and blizzards.  They kneaded bread with strong hands, and wiped away tears with soft ones.   They knit booties and sewed flannel pajamas.  They listened to twelve-year-old boys give play-by-play descriptions of football games, and gave equal ear to fifteen-year-old girls describe their back-to-school outfits.   They faced life with courage and enthusiasm, and they faced death with anticipation and confidence.

This is the kind of grandmother I want to be- the grandmother I will be.  Judah and I will ride waves together in the Atlantic Ocean.  We will make mud pies in spring and snowmen in winter. I will sew him flannel pajamas, and make him cookies to spoil his dinner.  I’ll read to him.  I’ll rock him to sleep.  I’ll listen to him complain that his parents don’t let him do anything his friends can do.  I’ll go to his soccer games and his music recitals and lie next to him in the grass to find pictures in the clouds.

We’ve only begun, but we are well on our way to a lasting friendship. He will not remember these first few days, but I judah close upwill. How he snuggles his head into the crook of my neck.  How his little body relaxes when I hold him close and rock him.  How his skin is velvety and his scent is like his mother’s when she was only days old.

Most likely, Judah will grow taller and stronger than I am.   He will think of me as old.  But he will never describe me as doddering, because I have a legacy to uphold.  I’ll be unafraid of thunderstorms and blizzards.  I’ll charge forward, head up, full steam ahead, like those who went before me.  Even if my voice shakes, my eyes will be steady and full of love.  I’ll face life with courage and enthusiasm, and someday, I’ll face death with anticipation and confidence.

Hello Judah.  I’m your grandmother.  Stick with me, kid. We’ll have a blast.

A Grand Dilemma

You know that you have entered a new phase of life when you realize that you want to become a grandmother.

Five years ago, if you brought up the topic, I would have said that I wasn’t yet ready for grandchildren.  I thought of grandparents as being old, with wrinkled skin and gray hair.  Like my grandmother.  And my mother. 

But then my siblings-even the younger ones- began to have grandchildren.  My friends began to have grandchildren.  None of them look old with wrinkled skin. Okay, some of them have gray hair, but then so do I.  It’s just well-hidden by my hair colorist.  I saw them with their grandchildren and recognized the special bond they shared.

I began to notice that it’s been more than twenty-five years since I’ve had a baby to snuggle.  I began to miss the scent of baby breath and tufts of silky baby hair tickling me under my chin.  I missed the weight of an infant’s head resting on my shoulder and the way a newborn’s droll little face contorts when she pulls up her knees and stretches out her arms upon waking.  In short, I miss having a baby in the house.

I’ve heard some people say that they were happy when their children outgrew the infant stage so they mompainting_G could do things with them.  While I loved having older children, I also cherished the years my kids were babies.  Crazy as it sounds, I especially loved getting up with a hungry baby during the night.  I would quietly pad to the living room so we wouldn’t wake the rest of the household, wrap a blanket around the two of us, and settle in a rocking easy chair to nurse.  It was peaceful and quiet- time for my baby and me to stare into each other’s eyes, stroke each other’s cheeks, and feel the warmth of each other’s bodies sway back and forth with the rocker.  More often than not, the baby would stop feeding long before I could bring myself to put him down and go back to bed. 

Too quickly those days faded into the past and I moved on to basketball games, band concerts, and waving goodbye at airports, and one day my little ones were all grown.   I adjusted to life without children- eating at odd hours, leaving scissors on low tables, sleeping through the night without opening my eyes to find a three-year-old staring me awake.  Indeed, it is easier.  No running out late at night to buy Pedialyte and popsicles for sick tummies.  No wrestling to assemble toys at 2AM on Christmas morning.  No snowsuits and mittens and boots and “now-I-have-to-go-to-the-bathroom!”  I can come and go as I please.  I do not need to plan meals, or trips to the store, or shuttles to practice.

But then there is the empty arms thing and my friends and siblings with their toothless grandchildren bouncing on their knees.  And I know it’s time to once again have a baby in the house.  So when my daughter Abby and her husband Johnny not-so-casually announced that in June the two of them will become three, my heart leapt with joy.  We refer to the unborn child as “the little cub” and I can’t stop hoping he or she has red hair. john and abby pregnant

There is one dilemma, however.  What shall I be called by this precious little bundle?  It is complicated.  Johnny’s father’s name is Gary.  You cannot have a grandmother named Garrie and a grandfather on the other side called Gary.  The poor little cub will be too confused.  “Nana?”  No- it doesn’t suit me.  “Grammie?”  That’s reserved for Johnny’s mother.  “Granny?”  Not while I have breath in my body.  I thought of a long, trilled “Grrrrrrrrrrrandmama” but that’s just plain ridiculous.

And so, I extend an invitation to my readers to weigh in.  What shall the little cub call his or her grandmother-on-her-mother’s-side?  I await your suggestions.

Ryan

I hadn’t thought of Ryan in a long time and yet, out of the blue on a Monday morning, my thoughts turned to him. His memory greets me much the same way of our first encounter; initial apprehension that melts into golden sunlight.

ryan bathRyan entered our lives soon after his birth in the spring of 1985. He was adopted by my older sister, Martha-Jean and her husband, Robert while I was in my ninth month of pregnancy. They cheerfully brought him home from the hospital, a tiny bundle with creamy skin and curls the color of tarnished pennies. He was quite adorable, but his prognosis was abysmal. Born with only a brain stem and a few brain masses, he was expected to live only a few months and in a vegetative state.

My response was one of indifference. After suffering two miscarriages, I was determined to not experience infant death again, even at a distance. Although we shared a home, I regarded Ryan from afar, concentrating on my two year old Abby and within a couple of weeks, the birth of my own infant son, Gabriel.

One day, Martha-Jean came home from grocery shopping, a howling Ryan in her arms. He was beside himself with hunger. She had run out of formula that morning. Because we lived in the country and had a well, the water for Ryan’s bottle had to be boiled and then cooled before mixing with the dry formula. It would be another thirty minutes before his meal would be ready.

I looked at my own son, who had just finished nursing. Two weeks old, he was already double Ryan’s size. Laying him in his cradle, I sighed and took Ryan from Martha- Jean. He nursed hungrily, snuggling into the crook of my arm. I stroked his auburn curls and watched his sightless blue eyes wander back and forth. As he fed, the wall between us crumbled and fell. No longer was he a child adopted by my sister. He was my nephew- a part of me. He was sealed within the walls of my heart forever.

Although Ryan outlived the doctors’ predictions by months, he drifted away during the night shortly before his second birthday. Unable to look at the empty crib, Robert tearfully dismantled it and stowed it away. For weeks, Abby asked where Ryan was. For months, I startled, thinking I heard his cry and then was stung again, as I realized he was not there. In time, the sting turned into ache, and then slowly melted and eased.

Once in awhile, like today, memories of Ryan flood my mind. I still can close my eyes and see his milky skin, his azure eyes, his copper curls. I have often wondered what my life would have been without him. Would I have kept that tender part of my heart protected, in a hidden place that nobody could touch? If I had, who would I be now? And if I had allowed my soul to grow cold and hard, would my children have grown to be the adults they are? Would Abby still work long, tireless hours to bring refugees to a land of freedom and safety? Would Elizabeth have brought Tootsie Pops to work for a grumpy cancer patient’s birthday surprise? Would Gabe be kind and encouraging to the chubby, awkward little boy iryann his swim class?

How easy it is to dismiss the imperfect children of our race as being of less value, because they “contribute nothing to society.” How easy to forget that they are the sandpaper that smoothes our rough spots and softens the hardness of our hearts. Ryan never learned to talk, or walk. He never wrote a book or discovered a cure for Diabetes. But his legacy lives on in the people he touched, and the people they touch. Maybe it’s just the morning sun, but I feel him smiling.

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!

Friends of mine just gave birth to their first baby.  Like generations before them, this couple has carefully planned and prepared for this child.  The nursery was painted, tiny clothes were lovingly folded and hung, and a meaningful name was selected.  They attended childbirth classes, read all the books, consulted all the experts.  No couple has ever been better prepared. 

Their beautiful boy decided to surprise them by joining the world six weeks earlier than his anticipated arrival.  In celebration of this event, this Momma-G post is kind of an open letter:

Dear B & N,

As you well know, you have been catapulted down the road of parenthood.  Not for the weak of heart, this path is full of bumps, hills, and unexpected adventures.  It is sometimes hard to navigate, will leave you uncertain of your parental capabilities, and will bring excitement at every turn.  One thing is for sure- this life with your child will be full of surprises.

Your child will surprise you by eating more food than any toddler could possibly pack away, and less than a bird could survive on, depending upon the day of the week.

Your child will surprise you when he mimics the “F” word that you thought he didn’t hear when you stubbed your toe on his crib.

Your child will surprise you by eating a huge lunch after complaining of a belly ache and staying home from school.

Your child will surprise you by throwing up on his school desk after you send him to school with a belly ache, convinced that he was faking.

Your child will surprise you when he climbs out of his crib, creeps into your room unnoticed and decides that watching his parents in bed is a spectator sport.

Your child will surprise you when he swears his homework is done every night for a month and then brings home a warning of failure note from his teacher.

Your child will surprise you by bringing home a macaroni necklace and expecting you to wear it to church on Easter Sunday and Mother’s Day.

Your child will surprise you by his creativity when he draws on the walls with indelible marker, and scratches his initials into the top of the antique dresser in his room.

Your child will surprise you when he remembers your birthday with flowers he hand picked from the neighbor’s garden.

Your child will surprise you when you realize he is stronger, faster,  smarter and more articulate than you are.

Your child will surprise you when he returns from borrowing your car and he’s left it clean, with a full tank of gas.

Your child will surprise you when you realize he is a man who puts the needs of others before his own, takes responsibility for his own destiny and cooks dinner not only for himself, but for you, too.

Your child will surprise you when he walks down the aisle of a church, or a college graduation, or stands at attention for a promotion, and you wonder when he grew to be so tall and handsome, and where the years went.

Congratulations, B & N.

…Thank you, Gabe

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