The Face is Familiar

It was you, all the time

gears,

 

The baby has his father's face and his mother's long limbs. I think I have known him forever, as I knew each one of my children at first sight. Kin knows kin, my grandmother used to say. Now, by some galloping trick of time, I am the grandmother. I should be wiser, steadier, more edifying. I should have a proverb for every occasion. I should be able to fill a room with peace simply by entering it, as my grandmother did. I thought I was ready, but it seems I have a way to go.

  

him.

a

The March wind sweeps off the lake, rattling the windows and swaying the big pine by the back door. At home in Knoxville, it's full-blown spring. Here in Rhode Island, tiny shoots of crocus cower in the frosty grass.

I put the kettle on to make tea for the new mother upstairs. The house is wrapped in the stillness of a sleeping baby. He is there on the window seat, tucked in his basket. I gaze at him for the hundredth time this morning. I want to memorize this moment, the rise and fall of his chest, the curl of his tapering fingers.

Here is what no one tells you about becoming a grandmother: how it stops time, and the earth on its axis. And then, with a great, slow, shifting of gears, starts it all again. 

I thought I was ready for this. I watched as one friend after another flew off to babyland, returning with thick photo albums and strings of stories. I listened attentively. I nodded and smiled. Yes, how exciting. I can't wait. I bought some tiny garments and a music box and size-zero bunny slippers and a long-handled silver feeding spoon. I checked airfares and the batteries in the digital camera. I cleared my calendar for late March and assembled baby pictures of my youngest son, the father-to-be, for purposes of comparison.

His own infancy was suddenly vivid to me, the squeaky, borrowed carriage I pushed through the streets of lower Manhattan, the perfect silence of early mornings when I sat with him by the window and watched seagulls wheel over the narrow slice of river visible from our 12th floor apartment. He was my third and last child, and yet in those dawn vigils, it seemed we were both brand new.

The baby in the basket has his father's face, his cap of dark hair, his wide-eyed watchfulness. When I first saw him, the jolt of recognition nearly knocked me flat. Three times before in my life, I have looked at an infant and felt this rush of understanding. The words that came were always the same. Oh, it's you. It was you, all the time.

The baby has his father's face and his mother's long limbs. I think I have known him forever, as I knew each one of my children at first sight. Kin knows kin, my grandmother used to say. Now, by some galloping trick of time, I am the grandmother. I should be wiser, steadier, more edifying. I should have a proverb for every occasion. I should be able to fill a room with peace simply by entering it, as my grandmother did. I thought I was ready, but it seems I have a way to go.  

The baby's mother stands in the kitchen doorway and calls to him softly. Not yet a week old, he turns his head at the sound of her voice, opening his mouth like a fledgling. It's new to her, the overwhelming urgency of this little soul, but she gathers him up with a kind of timeless grace and settles him in the crook of her arm. Are you very beautiful, she asks him. We all know the answer.

I pour the tea. Outside, the wind dies down. Birds gather on the pine branches, a robin, a pair of chickadees. Above their chattering, I hear a familiar cry. A gull lands on the sloping lawn, pauses for a minute, then takes off, wheeling over the lake before heading east toward the sea. Under my feet, the earth shifts, trembles, starts up again. I hold out my finger for the baby's tight grasp. I have a way to go, but we are going on together.

© 2005 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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