This baby, our eighth grandchild, is round.
His mother had the stomach flu last night, so I received an early-morning call of desperation from my son, the father. “Mom, can you watch Eliana (aged 29 months) and Neeham (7 months) while I teach class this morning? Angela really needs to sleep. I’ll be done around 1 p.m.”
Fortunately, I have the kind of work where I can set my own hours, and while waiting for the little ones to be dropped at the door so their father could rush off to teach his Spanish class at a nearby college, I decided I was not going to try to do anything else but just play with them.
I took off Eliana’s pink winter (fake-leopard-trimmed) coat, got her started playing with the toys from the cupboard that holds stacking blocks and magnetic-footed circus people, plastic spiders in a plastic jar, easy puzzles, a big container of farm animals, and the inevitable stack of books.
Then, I stripped the baby’s brown bear snowsuit off and lifted him out of his carrier chair. My goodness!—he’s a heavy chugalug. If you hauled him around all day, there’d be no need for weightlifting exercises! “Was Jeremy this big?” I asked my daughter at a recent family gathering; she is older than her brother and seems to remember more about my babies than I do. Granted, Jeremy weighed 10 lbs., 13 oz. at birth, but did he have these thick thighs and rolls after rolls of leg fat? “Oh, Mother,” Melissa recalled, a little disdainfully (Where was my memory, after all? She would never forget such pertinent information about her children!). “Don’t you remember? Jeremy was a chunk. He was every bit as roly-poly as Neeham. You used to call him Buddha-baby.”
OK. I’ll take her word for it. Today, I tested Neeham’s sitting-up abilities. Pretty good, although his weight does tend to make him roll forward or sideways. But for the most part, the back muscles are strengthening and his balancing ability is balancing.
Two months ago, I rushed (as the result of another emergency call—Jeremy and Angela could not quite match their work schedules) over to the house to filled in for that intermediate hour where the parental tag-match didn’t work. Neeham took one look at me, crumpled his mouth into a huge pout and began to wail, What? You’re abandoning me to this lady? Who is she? What does she have to do with me? Does she do milking? Where are you going? Wha-a-a-a-a-a-a. He was not to be consoled and wept himself to sleep. At that point, I decided I obviously had not been spending enough time with my youngest grandson.
So today (after some corrective measures in between), when he came to my house, with a sister happily stacking soft Beanie Babies on all the bookcases shelves she could reach, Neeham and I played in the sunshine that was falling this winter day on the dining-room rug. Oh, now we’re friends. Everything this lady does is funny. He chortled and chuckled over my blowing air into the crevice of his neck. He thought my ah-boos were hilarious. When I changed a diaper, he pulled his feet up to his mouth (how do babies do this?), and I couldn’t resist the temptation to roll him on one side, then back on the other. Freed from garments, he kicked his toes in glee, laughing all the while. His round bald head, the darling butt baby-bare; everything was ovoid. This was pure delight to me. Now diapered, he sat on my lap on the couch where I tested his standing-straight propensities. (“Biggie boy. That’s a biggie boy!”) Soon, cuddled in my arms, his mouth latched onto his thumb and the sucking commenced. In no time, he was sound asleep. I pressed my nose to his fat cheek—nothing on earth like that baby smell.
What a happy morning. By this time, Eliana had systematically progressed through her caravan of play—first the Beanie Babies, then the farm animals set to standing by the fireplace, then the books, etc. I carefully placed the baby in his carrier and sat my granddaughter on the kitchen counter. She demanded an apple: “Ap-pop.” I sliced and peeled one and fed her tiny bits. Eliana is being raised bilingually. She looked up at the plates hanging on the soffit and said while drawing circle with her hands, “Círculo.” This word I knew, and think she is impressive making her way in both early Spanish and early English. Obviously, I’m going to have to come up to speed with some basic Spanish myself if I’m going to understand her.
The children’s father came home at the time promised; now the baby had wakened and Eliana was asleep on the living-room couch. “Your daughter’s diaper was so wet, I had to take off the onesie. It was soaked.”
“Oh, I know, Mom,” he said with a grin, scooping them both into car seats, spreading the pink winter coat over the daughter and the brown bear suit over his son. “We are just really bad parents.” And after thanking me at least four times, he and his carload were off.
Stepping back into the now-quiet house, I picked up all the scattered toys. This familiar pickup routine only takes me a few minutes. Really, I thought, I should have thanked my son. I’d had an exquisitely happy morning and had loved the fact that Eliana is content here, loves to play with the toys, sits on my kitchen counter, eating like a little bird the tidbits of apple I popped into her mouth. How great is it to know that my grandson no longer puckers and pouts and howls when he is left with me.
It occurs to me that this is one of the primary ways of getting through the days. Find something young, babyish, and enter into play. Borrow babies from a friend if you don’t have any—they’d all love a break! Serve in the church nursery. Pick up a couple kittens; dangle a string or push a ball of yarn their way. Stop at the chicken incubator in a nearby farm in the city and take time to watch the tiny beaks peck their way out of the shell, wet feathers eventually fluffing themselves under the heat of the lamps, then little chicks waddling about, bumping into other chicks.
There is something about going back to the beginnings, something about being near newness, close to fresh starts, something about rediscovering origins. Everything is tactile with babies. We hold, we nuzzle, we press our face against their skin; we pinch and tickle and pull at their soft cheeks. We give our fingers to be grasped in their tiny fists. We place them on our tummies and nap while they nap. We crawl on the floor chasing after them; we catch their ankles and roll with them protected in our arms as they chortle with delight. This sensory interaction is some of the closest connection we adults allow ourselves. It is healing all around.
Once during an extremely stressful time in my husband’s life, he spent every Saturday morning with our first grandchild, then a toddler. They ran errands together. He would pick her up and, in these days before car-seat laws, buckle her into the front passenger seat. Her little legs were too short for her knees to bend over the edge, so they would stick straight out, gym shoes pointing up. To the bank they would go, to the post office, to the drugstore. Often they’d get their hair cut in the same salon, and always, afterwards, they would buy sugar cookies at the bakery on the same block and eat them while driving home. This happened week after week. I often thought that Caitlyn, by just being so adorably new and by just being eager to go on errands with “Papa,” probably saved his life. I am serious.
How lovely that babies are given at a time when their grandparents are in the aging process.
We are watching the film How to Eat Fried Worms a lot right now with our 10-year-old grandson Elias. Evan Almightyis another kid favorite. Right now, both these films never seem to grow old to them. I love to hear my grandchildren laugh. I promise you, if you can get back to the beginnings, back to those who see the world the ways that you have forgotten to see the world; if you can rediscover the origins, you will make it through the days. And if you can find a baby who thinks everything you do is funny, you are most blessed.
After all many things in life renew themselves, day always comes after night, the seasons are on a yearly rotation, the earth goes again and again around the sun. Old friends come back into our lives. We celebrate the holidays every year. Some things always come around again. Death and resurrection are renewable. It is all “círculo.”
About Karen Mains:
Award-winning author Karen Mains continues to write new content for her Christian blog, “Gettin’ Thru the Day.” Through her Hungry Souls ministry, she serves as a spiritual coach to many Christian women and men, and has started teaching a mentor-writing class.
Karen and her husband, David, have been in religious communications for decades—radio and television and print publication. The are the co-authors of the Kingdom Tales Trilogy, Tales of the Kingdom, Tales of the Resistance, and Tales of the Restoration. David is completing a manuscript titled Revelation for My Grandchildren, and he and Karen are considering if this should be made into a fourth Tales book, Tales of the Revelation.
Karen is also developing a two-day training event for those interested in becoming Silent Retreat leaders, and the Global Bag Project is developing a template for Bag Parties in a Box.