My wife and I recently became members of a large and highly esteemed worldwide institution. While not very exclusive, it is celebrated and venerated in all corners of the earth.
On a mild spring Sunday afternoon in American Fork, Utah, our first grandchild came into this world. Henry arrived bleary-eyed and blinking, quickly followed by cutting loose a howl to ensure everyone on the hospital’s third floor knew of his arrival.
Life changed for us at that moment: Welcome to the club, grandma and grandpa.
I wondered what it’s like to become a grandparent, and we got plenty of pointers before Henry’s birth.
“It’s the best experience ever, better than even having your own children,” was the most frequent comment.
“No diaper changes, no 3 a.m. feedings; and when they get fussy, you hand them back to their parents,” was another common piece of advice.
“You’ll want to sell your house and move to Utah,” was another prediction.
And from a friend with a sardonic streak: “Grandchildren are the reward for not giving away your own kids.”
Because of a slight concern about his health – his mother ran a fever the week before giving birth – Henry ended up in the neonatal intensive care unit the first night. So we had to wait until Monday before we could hold him.
When the moment came for us to enter the NICU, I stepped aside so that my wife could hold Henry first. After 37 years of marriage, I have developed some intuition about women. In this case, my horse sense told me not to stand between a new grandmother and her first grandchild. It could be dangerous.
An hour later, I cleared my throat and fidgeted just enough to make it known it was time for Henry to formally meet his grandfather.
How can I describe it?
Oh, Henry. My world almost tipped over. Sky rockets going off one second in pure elation, followed by a deep feeling of contentment. The words that came to mind: peace, perfection, sweetness, joy, gratitude, beauty, innocence, and (my wife’s favorite word) adorable.
The phrase "this is what life is all about" echoed over and over in my mind.
We spent the next week at Henry's home alternately trying to be helpful and stay out of the way. That comment about changing diapers? Not true for us. We were happy to take on that chore, and to try and calm him during those fussy moments.
Along the way, we rediscovered just what it means to have a newborn in the house. When Henry yawned or sneezed, my wife and I thought it was the cutest thing we’d ever seen. When he smiled – and Henry has proven to be a smiler – we thought we were on heaven’s doorstep. When he cooed, we cooed right back (It’s amazing how your vocabulary expands around a newborn). And when he got red in the face, grunted, and pushed out a little something on the back end, we gave each other high fives and told him, “Good job!”
In short, we acted just like first-time grandparents.
Through those first magnificent days, I learned a truth of my own, something a step beyond the amiable advice offered by friends.
In this old world, all of us get a little nicked and scarred, beat up here and there. We become damaged in some ways, and we probably do more damage to others than we’d like to think. Along the journey, we become a bit jaded, weary and wary, and it’s easier to mistrust than trust, easier to abandon hope than harbor it, and perhaps for good reason. We have to protect ourselves. It’s a part of life, unfortunately; part of what we all experience.
Maybe that’s why we all need to hold a newborn every so often. Looking into the eyes of an infant, all you can see is peace and innocence. And if you look a little deeper into a baby’s eyes, perhaps you can see hope and sweetness in the reflection of your own face. Babies give us the chance to leave one world and enter a better one.
When a child is born, it gives us a chance to be reborn too.
I worried about my wife as the time to return home neared. She had become incredibly attached to Henry and it didn’t take much manly insight to know it would be difficult for her to leave. But I have to give her credit, other than a few sniffles as we backed down the driveway, watching our daughter in her doorway holding Henry, garndma did well.
So, who whas it that experienced the lump in the throat; the moist eyes as we motored northward on the interstate; the croaky, scratchy voice? Who acted more like a baby than the baby himself?
You know that answer. That would be Henry’s grandpa.
For my wife and I, there is more good news: grandchild No. 2, a girl, is due in September. Henry will have a cousin five minutes from his house.