A Mother’s Gaze

My life is now viewed through the lens of my children’s children. They call me Bubs. Karen and I spent this past week with Jenna, Andrew, and their newborn girl, Charlie Ann. This brought back memories of bringing home our daughter Lauren after a few days in the hospital. I remember thinking it incredible that they actually let us take her home, and that they should have some sort of minimal requirements to allow us to be parents. As it turns out, the only requirement was that we have an approved car seat. So we muddled through and thankfully our first child was a rule follower and we slept pretty well and enjoyed being first time parents. Charlie seems to have a strong opinion about most things. Her language is muddy, hard to understand, and sometimes it seems as if she is screaming. Which brings me back to Charlie’s mom, Jenna, who gave us a pretty good go of it 30 years ago as our number two child who didn’t follow the rules while struggling with colic.

Charlie is nearly 2 feet long, in the 99 percentile for baby length among her peers. I think she will be a swimmer cruising powerfully through a pool. Or perhaps a novelist, a scientist, a World Cup Soccer hero! These are the moments of limitless grandparenting dreams where all is possible without judgment. There are also moments of peaceful bliss mingled with the stretching vigor of a tiny human still working out the digestive patterns of ruthless hunger and serpentine elimination. The grinding work and sleep deprivation necessary to care for a newborn is paired with moments of sheer happiness. How can someone love someone so deeply?

Today I’m flying home, leaving Karen behind along with Charlie and her parents. But not before Charlie and I make another dozen circuits through the dining room to kitchen to hallway and round again to the living room where we catch a glimpse of Ghana vs South Korea playing in the World Cup. Songs without words come from my lips and land against her delicate ear as she cries. She seeks only the comfort of tone and pitch. The words will soon be added. The hum and meter of a comforting voice seems to compete for room in her mind driving away tiny tears. She gulps in a deep staccato breath and closes her eyes, settling her downy head against my chest. Charlie sleeps and I stare at her. I hug her momma and kiss her on the forehead and tell her I love her. She and I did this same dance once upon a time. That was a lifetime ago, and yet only yesterday. 

The drive to the Atlanta airport is throttled with humans incessantly changing lanes to gain a few seconds of time. A man talks on his cell phone in the security line asking why his motion for appeal has been denied and I wonder what the appeal was about. I sit by a disgruntled man on the plane who is also talking on his cell phone, complaining to his wife about missing a flight and having to wait five hours. He tells her that she left $200 on the kitchen table and I can tell by his condescending tone that he doesn’t like this carelessness. He tells her that it wasn’t smart and says goodbye abruptly. I pray for a better man for Charlie and wonder what kind of man Charlie will date once she turns 28. (This Debutante age will steadily dwindle down to 14 and is the first of many rules Andrew will one day find broken like shattered glass on the pavement of his patriarchal rule) 

My favorite moments of the week? Watching Andrew and Jenna care for Charlie. Something remarkable seems to be happening in the moments when Charlie gazes into the eyes of her mother. Can a child see herself in her mother’s eyes? And can she also see her mother looking at her? In the midst of this staring a child perhaps gains a sense of consciousness and perhaps a sense of otherness, and that the world is about warmth and milk and sleep and self-comfort but also about something beyond self. This awareness begins with the love of a mother. Sunday afternoon I stepped into the role of principal bottle feeder. This was only her second bottle. She took to it well. She stopped for a moment and stared up at me as if to say, “Where is my mom? She is the one normally doling out milk and tenderness and you look a little rough.”

She is growing so fast. I wonder what she will do in her life and if one day she will walk me around the circuit of rooms consoling me as I cry out against time because I can’t find the three pairs of glasses on my head. 

With each passing day I come closer to the idea of Heaven in tiny bodies and loving gazes. In the words of Wendell Berry, Heaven is enough for me if it is this world, but redeemed of our abuse of it and one another.

Berry writes, “I would like to know my children again, all my family, all my dear ones, to see, to hear, to hold, more carefully than before, to study them lingeringly as one studies old verses, committing them to heart forever. I would like again to know my friends, my old companions, men and women, horses and dogs, in all the ages of our lives, here in this place that I have watched over all my life in all its moods and seasons, never enough. I will be leaving how many beauties overlooked? A painful Heaven this would be, for I would know by it how far I have fallen short. I have not paid enough attention, I have not been grateful enough. And yet this pain would be the measure of my love. In eternity’s once and now, pain would place me surely in the Heaven of my earthly love.”

3 responses to “A Mother’s Gaze”

  1. So poignantly sweet, it brought tears to my eyes. I did the same walking circuit with my grandchildren and wouldn’t trade one step of it…even at 2 am in the morning! What a beautiful legacy of love Charlie will have to anchor to her to her adoring family. Thanks for spreading the sweet sunshine of a grandfather’s love!

    • Hi Carolyn & Roger: I hear you are either moving to Memphis or already there? Hope you are well! Always good to hear from you and remember good times! Karen and I send greetings with love and grateful hearts for all you done to bless our lives so well!

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