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When a New Baby Comes to Visit

“You are a bridge over which we who welcome you, can gaze from this day into future days – from our generation into yours.”

–Anita Diamant,The New Jewish Baby Book

Oh, such a long time since a baby has visited our house! And now a Caravan–literally, the minivan–has arrived. It carries my good friend, her husband, and their three adult children, who grew up alongside ours; plus a boyfriend, a daughter-in-law, and the newest star in the firmament: five-week-old Lillie.

Ushering them in giddily, we usher in a new season. Lillie is the first grandchild for these friends, and the first baby for their son, who to me remains the wiry little karate kid who eats only peanut butter and loves Legos. As he and the rest of “the kids” boisterously hug and greet each other, my friend and I instantly get teary.

Yesterday we were the young mothers toting them and their paraphernalia,while our doting parents showered them with love and toys and kisses, and a time-honored Yiddish supplication:“Oy, shaynkeit, gorgeous child – all I want is to dance at your wedding!”

So where did it all go?  Never mind, because this gathering is about tomorrow.  Lillie is unwrapped and all eyes feast upon her. Yet her unblinking, midnight-blue gaze is for her parents alone, tracking them everywhere they stand. And the new mother and father, they see only Lillie, drinking her in with infinite amazement. You watch this, and your whole body remembers: this is what it looks like, when a baby comes. This is what it feels like, when most of life is still ahead, when all is promise…

And when  suddenly everything’s no longer All About You – which can be, for new parents, quite a jolt. (Or as Lillie’s mother remarks good-naturedly: “Now, everyplace we go, I feel like Julia Roberts’ press agent.”)  Now  everything‘s about  this half-naked infant on a changing pad on the floor, and we of the Boomer generation staring in fascination as a cotton  diaper gets wrapped around her thighs. Pliable fasteners have replaced the sharp metal diaper-pins that had us, in our day, reaching for the Pampers. But Lillie’s environmentally conscious parents wouldn’t dream of disposables; her soiled diaper is zipped inside a waterproof tote, to be laundered back home with an eco-friendly soap. Finally: on goes a waterproof pink diaper-cover, with snaps that the daddy clicks together as deftly as… Legos. 

I smile to myself about this time-consuming ritual. But then I remember that the newborn period is not about expediency, so why rush? Newborn days and nights are long; they pool together, languid and sweet, like honey to be savored.  The rest of life may gallop, but there is no fast lane through this brief, narrow corridor of time.

We all gather round her, oohing and ahhing over the dear little face, the perfect round head like everyone’s and no one’s who has ever been before. I see the girls wondering – maybe, someday? Their boyfriends, are they wondering, too? My friend–a writer of historical romances–wears the crown of “Grandma” with the grace of Queen Mother.  The new Grandpa – a numbers guy, not touchy-feely –cannot contain his glee. Lillie is named for his late mother. That life, that relationship, was not unblemished. But now all has come full circle, reborn soft and beautiful.

All see their own dream inside this tiny mirror of a face.

Me, I see a clock with hands that have moved on to a new hour, despite my best efforts to hold them back. My thoughts race: when Lillie’s the age her parents are today, I’ll be – if I’m super lucky – close to 90. When she and her friends look upon me, they won’t see the Village chick who ran with Warhol superstars, the difficult, devoted daughter/passionate bride/warrior mother/intrepid traveling storyteller/planner of protests and parties/greedy all-night raver. Most likely, they won’t see me at all. Just as I, too, avert my eyes from decay.

Instead, I look into new eyes that will remember none of this, and say: Welcome to your day, Ms. Lillie! But it is not without melancholy, for I’m not ready to give up mine – still so hungry, so much to do! Ah, but you, too, are already on the relentless conveyor belt of time, little peach. By the next time you come to town, you will be utterly changed, and other babies will have supplanted you in the pantheon of fresh arrivals…

Lillie’s becoming tired and fretful, so we quickly load them up with presents and help them to the car.  Standing at my front door, watching them drive off, I find myself – not unlike she who came to visit – speechless, wobbly, needing comfort in an unfamiliar place. Craving the sound of my daddy’s voice – saying something in German, something mirthful, scatological, inappropriate. Sniffing the air for a taste of “Lauren,” my mommy’s lush perfume.

But their day is over; they rave on only inside me.

Mama mia, get a grip! It’s just what it’s always been, one generation greeting another, each taking their places in line. There’s not one damn thing new here.

My solace, then, must be in words I already possess. And while I don’t wish to dictate her choices, or circumscribe her world – I hear myself saying this anyway, out loud, to the wind:  “Oy, shaynkeit, gorgeous child… all I want is to dance at your wedding…”

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