Five-month-old granddaughter Anissa (and her mother, Leigh) spent a couple of weeks with us recently. One morning I awoke to the gentle sounds of musical baby toys, which lifted me off my bed and carried me, as if in a trance, into the living room where Anissa was playing in her saucer chair (an apparatus that looks like the planet Saturn and is no less spectacular), setting off nursery tunes and lights as she jumped up and down. I hadn’t heard sounds like that in about 25 years and it seemed miraculous it wasn’t a dream.
The baby sounds of my own children, sunk deep in memory, bubble up and become new with a little one in our midst. The muted tinkling of a soft pink bunny, the ears of which Anissa takes in her tiny hands and presses into her face as she chats herself to sleep. The satisfying crunchy crinkle of “baby paper” she loves to scrunch in her fingers. The Very Hungry Caterpillar has become a very colourful caterpillar rattle Anissa stretches toward when she pushes it beyond her reach. A few days ago Anissa wasn’t even reaching. Now she grasps a toy in her hands and turns it over and over, examining it as intently as a gemologist might scrutinize a precious stone. Then she tries to cram it into her mouth.
A wind-up mobile plays and I am amazed that Brahms’ Lullaby hasn’t changed. The manufacturer hasn’t even attempted to make it sound less tinny, but still, babies never tire of it and it’s music to my ears too.
As a young mother I was never very good at playing with my children. Russ was the one who would put a blanket on the floor and transform it into a lone raft floating on a vast ocean. A major rescue was needed for the child who fell off. Leigh is good at playing too — dancing, singing, making faces and flailing her arms to elicit laughs from her daughter. “I’m friggin’ hilarious and this baby is the toughest audience I’ve ever had!” she says. Maybe Anissa is more reserved, like her nana. Except right now I’m dying laughing.
I may not have been good at playing rollicking games, but my children knew I would stop everything to read to them. It was my favourite part of any day when they were little.
Leigh rummaged through our children’s literature collection to find something that would catch Anissa’s five-month-old eye (I knew our books would be put to good use again).
I sunk into a chair with my granddaughter in my arms. Outside the window thick snow fell as though a white duvet had been shaken and settled over our world. Yesterday we walked on dry sidewalks wearing flip-flops and flashing freshly painted toes in the colours of spring flowers.
Seasons change, even in the blink of an eye. Our lives have seasonal arcs too — like the shimmering summer of young adulthood. But all seasons have their storms and youth often shimmers only in memory.
I’m still getting used to the season I’m in now. One of the strangest parts of having a grandchild is not the child herself, though that is miracle enough. It’s seeing one’s own child become a mother. Leigh’s exuberance is exactly that of her three-year-old self, yet here she is, tossing a baby into the air who has big round eyes just like hers. It takes my breath away.
I pick up our tattered copy of Colours and Anissa’s rosy pat-a-cake hands grasp my knobby misshapen fingers. Snow is still falling outside. Hesitant at first, I gradually find the cadence of my voice picking up the purple of eggplants, grapes and plums, green frogs, yellow daffodils, red tomatoes. Don’t show her the tomatoes! I hate tomatoes, Leigh jokes. Most of my kids hate tomatoes. What did I do wrong? Maybe Anissa's Italian grandmother, Maria, will have better luck with the tomatoes.
Anissa spreads her arms like wings and flies through her own world of delight, she roars with joy at her pop-up owl when she finally figures out how to make it appear, and bounces with reckless abandon in her jumper, finding new ways and reaching new heights each day. Tiny Anissa, sparkling with divine energy in a universe that has infinite possibility.
Being in her presence makes me wonder, when do we become too self-conscious to find joy in being who we are?
Andrew Britz, OSB, once wrote that “Easter lacks all balance; it is optimism gone wild.” Easter is here, and it is is our season. It’s our season to go wild with optimism and rediscover the divine energy within each of us.