My babies were each a few days old when I placed them in their great-grandfather’s hands.
Seated each time on the same couch in my in-laws’ living room, he and I gazed down together at the peaceful beauty of a sleeping child.
Their bodies hardly noticed the transfer from arm to arm: heads simply flopped from one side to the other, limbs still curled in newborn C. Their soft cheeks snuggled into his thick flannel shirt; their pink toes dangled over his old corduroy pants.
But the move to me seemed monumental. From one generation to the next, a stretch across time.
I have no grandparents of my own left. So the gift of Grandpa in my life has been a reminder of these figures from my childhood: one grandma’s hug, another’s warm smile, my own grandpa’s deep guffaw. Their faces and stories rise in my memory when we visit Grandpa.
Behind thick glasses, his eyes beamed as he welcomed each new great-grandson. “Teeny, teeny baby,” he cooed, patting their backs with a rough, weathered hand.
Half-hovering, half-heartened by the sweet scene unfolding, I sat in silence, smiling at the pair. Two balding heads: one old, one new. In the bell-curve of life, our beginnings and ends are not so different.
We who are new at parenting – whose arms are unaccustomed to the weight, whose shoulders have not long borne the responsibility – pass over the baby to the elder with hesitation: will he remember to hold the head? Will he jostle the wee one awake?
Amateurs at the feet of experts, we remind ourselves that they raised plenty of babies themselves. The body never forgets how to cradle, comfort, caress.
But perhaps beneath our anxiety lies a deeper worry: will we be questioned? Will we be judged? Are we doing this right?
So when the inevitable words of joy and pride are pronounced – what a sweet baby, what a beautiful boy – we feel comforted and reassured. Another generation is blessed to take up the work of raising the young.
Grandpa has offered no great words of wisdom to me upon these presentations.
(Although, for this most recent child, he proclaimed that the babe had “nice, squinty eyes” and further elaborated that “we don’t need any more of those big-eyed babies around here.” No idea what this meant.)
But the very fact that I got to witness him holding my babies was blessing enough.
His gnarled hands grasping their tender curls of fist, his knobby knees bouncing their bottoms when they woke, his wrinkled face grinning at their puzzled eyes.
He brought to my babies’ beginnings all the other grandparents who surely wished their own blessings from beyond. Who must have hoped and prayed for these children to grow and become strong, filled with wisdom.
His hands brought the grace of the grandparents upon them.