Maureen Weber with her first grandchild, Anissa. (Photo by Leigh Weber)
The day after Thanksgiving on Oct. 12, 1982, I gave birth to Janice, our first-born. When my dad saw her for the first time, he said he saw eternity in her eyes.
I remember nodding and smiling, but secretly had no clue what he was talking about.
We know life is precious, that it’s a gift we mustn’t take for granted, a blessing to cherish. I’ve always known that. But in my youth I was more concerned with practical issues. The business of survival, while trying to take care of a baby I felt ill-equipped to nurture, supplanted any marvelling I may have had at the miracle of new life.
They say being a grandparent is different. I’ve heard it hundreds of times over the years but, like my dad seeing eternity in my daughter’s eyes, I was skeptical.
Our daughter Leigh became pregnant in January. Because she lives in Ottawa, I followed this time in her life from a distance, through Snap chats, texts, emails, Skype and phone calls. Her timeline approximated mine all those years ago, and as the light changed with the coming of fall, the memories of giving birth to my first child returned in vivid detail. I remember in particular thinking about this wriggling, kicking, hiccupping being and how she could make her presence so felt, yet I could not know what she looked like. Of all the things I was curious about, it was her face I longed to see.
I remember arriving at the hospital at 2 a.m. and was prepped in a darkened room where gentle people spoke in hushed tones. The exit light in the hall glowed a soft red and I remember thinking that, for me, exit was not an option. The window of my room in old St. Elizabeth’s was propped open a few inches. Outside, the autumn wind tossed crisp leaves that rustled about the end of things. Geese trumpeted their exit from a newly barren land in the dark of night.
But there was no barrenness in this room where I laboured with a life force as powerful as the ocean. Waves swelled and crashed inside and gushed outside my body — each one bringing this little one closer to the light of our world where I could finally see her face.
These were my thoughts as we had a glass of wine and waited impatiently for each snippet of information on Leigh’s progress the night she went into labour. Later, in bed, I awoke from a restless sleep at 3 a.m. to discover she was more than halfway. I knew what lay ahead. There are no more fervent prayers than those said by a mother for her child.
Four hours later we welcomed the news of a safely delivered granddaughter.
We had known since May that the baby was a girl, but the name had remained a surprise. The sound of Leigh’s tired, happy voice saying the baby’s name over the phone will never be forgotten: Anissa Zoé Sassi.
Even more than the anticipation of hearing the baby’s name, however, was seeing her face. I expected to see the face of a baby. What I didn’t expect to see was a face so intimately familiar, it was almost as though I was looking at myself. Even more surprising was the sense that I was seeing the face of an elder. Anissa’s sombre expression told the story about being born — that being born is as difficult as giving birth, as difficult as dying. I was gazing at the face of an ancient one, and seeing the “eternity” of which my father spoke.
Now when I am outside, I say her name aloud — Anissa — and the sky hears the song of her name. I have called you by name, you are mine . . .
A couple of weeks later, in the east, where Thanksgiving reds and oranges are beginning to burst from the trees, I am finally holding this little one in my arms and gazing into her face. She is smooth and new, and now of this world — no longer the ancient one. Geese fly in giant flocks above the house honking their goodbyes. But inside I say hello to this little one, inhale the perfume of her skin and watch her stretch and yawn. She is restless and I whisper to her how precious her life is. She becomes still and listens, her dark eyes searching my face.
It’s true. Being a grandparent is different.