Nothing has made me feel quite as close to God as holding a newborn fresh from heaven. I’ve felt it with every newborn I’ve ever held — with my nieces and nephews and the offspring of friends — but especially with my own three, and now, with my grandchildren.
There is something about an infant — all that helplessness and innocence and holiness — that calls upon the better angels of our nature to make us, at once, gentler and fiercer than we ever dreamed we could be.
As a child, I decided I would never intentionally harm any living being (with the exception of snakes, mosquitos and a certain rooster I abhorred), not even to spare my own life.
That changed in a heartbeat the moment I held my firstborn and smoothed his furrowed brow. I realized I’d do anything to protect him — kill with my bare hands, if need be. I was his mother. I would be fierce.
And I was not alone. I’ve known countless peace-loving women and men who’ve felt that fierceness in their souls at the birth or adoption or any sense of responsibility for any child.
It doesn’t dim with age. An old woman might let you give her your seat on a bus. But if you threaten a child, God help you. It’s why old people carry canes.
In our big, blended family, my husband and I share nine adult children (his two, my three, plus four of their spouses) and eight grandchildren, ages 8 to zero.
Jonah is our newest, barely two weeks old, the firstborn of my firstborn and his wife. I couldn’t wait to meet him. So I flew to Los Angeles, and was met at the airport by Jonah’s proud dad, who was grinning ear to ear. We hugged until I stopped crying. Then we drove to their home to meet Jonah.
First, I scrubbed my hands free of germs. Then I hugged Jonah’s mom. Finally I sat down and held my breath as she placed the boy in my arms.
I wish you could see him.
He looks a lot like his dad — big hands, furrowed brow and an ironclad grip on my thumb. He also has his mama’s almond eyes and heart-shaped face. But mostly he looks like Jonah.
I checked him out head to toe, smoothed the furrows from his brow and watched him grow still as he studied my face.
He seemed to like me.
So I went to work whispering in his ear things I’ve taught his cousins. For example:
1. How much does your nana love you? All. (That’s as much as anyone can possibly love.)
2. What do you do if you want something your parents won’t get for you? Call your nana.
3. Where is your nana when you can’t see her? In your heart.
I told him, of all the babies in Heaven and all the parents on Earth, God chose him and his mom and dad as the perfect match, along with their families, to be one big family together, to stand by him and keep him safe and watch him grow up to be the fine man he’s meant to be.
Then I sang for him a lullaby I once sang for his dad: “Hush little baby, don’t say a word….” It put him right to sleep.
It put me to sleep, too. For four days (if he wasn’t nursing, which he usually was) I held Jonah, and he held my heart.
Finally, I did the hardest thing to do with those we love: I said goodbye until next time, weeks away. He’s growing so fast he might be shaving by then. But it helped to know I was leaving him in the best possible hands.
Flying home, I nodded off until I heard someone snoring. I looked around. It was me. Here is the song it brought to mind:
I am Nana. Hear me snore. I hold the babies of my babies and teach them stuff they need to know. I sing them lullabies off-key, smooth their furrowed brows and pray for their very best. I’m not as young as I once was, but I am still fierce. And I plan to live forever in their hearts.
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