When I turned 60 last August, my children gave me a surprise: a baby onesie with I Love ️NY sprinkled all over it, with hearts subbing in for the "Love."
So tiny, in the first few days of receiving it, I held it close as I walked around the house, washed it in Dreft and imagined the tiny being who would one day occupy it.
Finally last week, I filled the onesie, and my heart, right up.
The calendar tells me that I spent eight days in Manhattan caring for Baby Henry Graham and his parents, though it seems only hours have passed. How can more than a week have slipped by since I walked into that hospital room, finding my daughter with a baby in her arms? In the fading light of that afternoon, we ate sliced pizza and stared at each other, both of us shocked by the sudden appearance of this tiny creature in our lives.
It took three of us to change the first diaper, once home. Mother, father, grandmother — all of us thinking we knew how. But Baby Henry had other ideas, quickly spewing the perfect stream up and into the room, onto the sleeve of my shirt, his final destination the floor.
It was a baptism, for all of us, into the world of caring for this new baby boy. And what a wonderful world it is.
Did you know that babies now are different from those born, say, 35 years ago? They sleep on their backs, for one thing — forbidden when my babies were new — and tummy time is for play, reserved until after the umbilical scab has dropped off.
I remember when my son was born, my father came to visit, stripping my newborn of all his clothes to check him out like he did all the new babies he cared for.
“Hand me some peroxide,” he said, “and a Q-tip.”
I shuddered, watching him shift the Q-tip round and round the scab until it fell off, revealing a perfectly pink belly button.
Babies have their own baby-sized Q-tips now, and Peroxide is a big no-no. Today's diapers tell you when they are wet. (You still have to check for the other the old-fashioned way.)
And my mother will be aghast to hear that today’s babies can’t have a bath until the belly button is clearly visible. The first thing she did for my babies after they were born was bathe them in baby soap and the warmest water they could stand.
I didn’t get to give Henry a true bath (bird baths not withstanding), to show his mother how. I should have stayed longer, to pass the gauntlet of motherhood to my daughter as mine had done to me all those years ago.
Yet I know Henry will ease her through it.
Their early mornings that first week were filled not with their usual work, but work it was: feed, change, swaddle, sleep, wake up when Sooze comes in with the crying baby. My early mornings went like this: up before six, shower and bundle up, cross an almost silent Broadway for the short walk to their apartment — in the falling snow a time or two — then sit for an hour with Henry and my coffee, searching his face and fingers for some trace of my husband and me.
As luck would have it, what might have been his grandfather’s nose softened a bit as he filled out. And though his eyes are blue like mine, I know they might change and all of his soft blonde hair might fall off. None of it mattered, because morning after morning, I couldn’t get enough of his scent and his sly, sleepy smiles.
By daybreak each day, I gave him up to his parents while I set about my own job. I bundled against the wind and traipsed down Broadway to the grocery store. (Though nobody on the Upper West Side has ever traipsed to my knowledge.)
I’d ask my daughter what she wanted most to eat during her first week of motherhood and she named all her favorite things from Beach Lunch — our vacation midday meal and her favorite meal on any day. Chicken salad, potato salad, pimento cheese. Soup. (I’d already made her the obligatory spaghetti and stocked her freezer.)
Oh, how I missed the wide aisles of my neighborhood Food Lion. Jars of pimento are as rare as chitterlings in Manhattan grocery stores. So I made pimento cheese, Manhattan-style, with roasted red peppers. (Truthfully, once made, I could tell no difference.)
Another unexpected gift: time with my child, who has lived away from home now for almost 15 years. We talked. We remembered. We laughed, hugged and cried. I will never forget this time with her, when I felt so needed after too long a time of not.
By the time Henry’s grandfather arrived for the weekend, Henry’s dad was calling him Hank and his mother was no longer fearful he might break. We clothed him in an airport-bought Carolina baby tog to watch the game — he was our good luck charm for his first Tar Heel game but not the second — and tried to sort out a routine. I read to him in the late afternoon from a beautiful Irish novel full of metaphor and simile, believing that it is never too early to start a solid literary education.
And each morning I watched the sunrise with Henry in my lap, soaking in the beauty of his glorious new days.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I wondered how I would possibly have enough love inside me to give a baby what it would need, but those early days of parenting revealed that it was there, waiting, all along. And then when I was expecting my son, I asked my sister — mother of three — how it would be possible to love one more. The heart, she said, opens up in ways you can’t imagine. There will always be room to fold another in.
But this grandmother heart has chambers I didn’t know existed. And with every new day that passes, I find a few more. I do love ️NY.