I have been waiting patiently for a number of years … to have a grandchild. She arrived on a sultry Saturday in September, in Holles Street Hospital, Dublin, Ireland, Planet Earth, in the year Two-Thousand … my Millennium Girl, Jennifer Jane.
In the grand scheme of things her birth was uneventful in worldly terms, but the few hours Mary Kate (now, of course, ‘Auntie’ Mary Kate) and I spent in the waiting room will be stored in a safe part of my memory for their joyous sense of anticipation and a heady confidence that all would go well.
My daughter-in-law had done everything correctly to ensure that a healthy baby would be born. She had even taken folic acid before the pregnancy (as all doctors should be advising their female patients of child-bearing years–to ensure a folic acid level required to prevent spina bifida). Prenatal classes, yoga, acupuncture and massage featured as part of her pregnancy, and she left work a week or so before her due-date.
My son Tim had rung from the hospital at about 6.00am to say they had arrived. He asked me to call out to their house in Dún Laoghaire at 10-00am to meet the carpet-fitter who was to lay carpets in the bedrooms. He laughed at my dilemma, because I wanted to be at Holles Street when my grandchild was born. He realised he had the perfect alibi to keep me away from the very place I wanted to be. So I laughed as well, while my mind raced with a barn-storming session of whom I could find to meet the fitter in four hours’ time, on a Saturday!
On this occasion, I am delighted to report that I had the last laugh. I rang Gráinne and Stephen Ladd in Lucan. Stephen was Tim’s best man, and Tim was godfather to one of their young sons. Shortly after 9.00am they arrived with the two boys, Daniel and Harry, secured in their car seats, eyes blinking in the sharp sunshine and wondering at the start to their weekend. I gave them the house key and they headed on to Dún Laoghaire, as Mary Kate and I leapt into the Mini and belted towards Holles Street, minutes away.
We spotted Tim in the hall, on his way to fill the parking meter. Making myself instantly indispensable, I offered to do that for him, and after a brief report on Sinéad’s progress he went back to partner this extraordinary event in their life.
Tim was outwardly calm, although I suspect he was feeling the fear and trepidation of any first-time father. It was awesome, in the true sense of the word, to see my son on the precipice of fatherhood, a milestone event which changes one’s life forever. The drama of a new life about to enter one’s world is an exhilarating experience. The birth of a grandchild unearths the continuity of life from the distance of a generation.
A young man was napping in a chair as we entered the waiting room, comfortable and roomy, with a TV set, sunlight and a panel of windows facing the hallway at the door to the labour ward. A second man entered the room, a weary veteran of fifteen wifely hours of labour and looking the worse for it. Men’s helplessness is evident in a situation over which they have no control. It was one more twenty-first-century glimpse into the potential redundancy of the male biology.
Just after 1.30pm, Tim burst through the door and, with two simple words, announced the news that would change all our lives. ‘It’s Jennifer!’ he said, with moist eyes and a manly voice. Had he really aged in the past few hours? Therese, Sinéad’s sister, Mary Kate and I all grabbed him at once and we had a real group hug! I know that sounds rather corny, but it happened. Sinéad and Jennifer were fine, and shortly they were wheeled out to be moved to their room.
Mary Kate and I stayed all day. We were taking no chances on missing out on an early bonding process. Jennifer would know who we were from the beginning! This gave Tim time to go home for a change of clothes and, of course, to see the results of the carpet-fitter’s visit.
Holles Street Hospital has too many mothers and babies and too few nurses, so once again we had been able to be of help. Mary Kate didn’t let Jennifer out of her sight all day; she sat beside her, watching and listening.
Just after teatime, Tim returned with chilled champagne and glasses. After toasting the new life among us, we left for home–as visitors began the evening hour.
My grand-daughter is the image of her mother, which is fine by me. Anyone who knows Sinéad would understand. Tim has always been surrounded by women, clearly enjoying it, so he will bask in the daughterly adoration soon to be his. It is a wondrous thing to see the beauty of one you love mirrored in the face of your child, and I hope he will know many years of gazing into her daughter’s eyes.
Mary Kate has taken a great interest in her niece and shares our joint responsibilities when we mind her. On Jennifer’s first stay with us, on a Sunday, we were both taken aback at how messy babies are! What goes in must come ‘out’–or in some cases ‘up’–of course, with no warning. When I was making dinner, I heard an eruption from the sofa, and Mary Kate called me in a concerned, but still calm, voice. Jennifer had parted company with some of her last feed, somehow avoiding her own clothes and leaving a white glob of partially-digested formula on the back of the sofa. Mary Kate thought she had exploded and asked if Tim was home–suggesting that we should ring for advice. I reassured her that all babies spit up at times, and I smiled at her view that Tim’s fatherly role of a few weeks was considered more competent than mine.
Fashion was not forgotten at the Christening. Jennifer Jane wore a handmade Victorian dress in organdie with a shirred bodice and long sleeves, and a cream satin cloche hat with lace trim. She slept throughout the ceremony, and with cheeks of rosy hue she looked like the porcelain dolls my mother used to give me for Christmas.
Birth and death, our only human certainties, remain a mystery to Mary Kate–and to many other people, myself included. She used to accompany me to funerals, and only a few years ago did their significance have an impact upon her. Nowadays, she declines my invitation and doesn’t even like seeing a televised funeral on the news or the soaps. She still doesn’t know that Miley of Glenroe became a widower over the summer, raising two young daughters on his own now!
I have heard people say of a new baby: ‘She has an old soul’, as they see in the child’s eyes a knowledge and wisdom reflecting old age. Some believe that some of us are born with an old soul, remembered in a newborn’s dreams. I have seen it on more than one occasion myself, and it is a startling experience. Others believe that we actually choose our parents! That’s a bit far-fetched, even for me! And others still believe we all come with a new soul. Who is to know? It’s all a matter of belief, of faith.
John Locke, the British philosopher (1632-1704), left us the theory that a child is like a blank slate. Everything that happens to us after birth is written upon our psyche, soul, spirit, memory or subconscious. For instance, my slate is well-written upon by now, as I am more than halfway through my life’s journey, whereas Jennifer has only a few lines of script. Jean Jacques Rousseau (1720-1778) believed that all children are predisposed to goodness. Either theory appeals to me and seems more worthy of newborns than the Catholic Church’s dogma of original sin, which requires the sacrament of baptism to ensure the membership required for entry at the pearly gates, where they imagine St Peter to be loitering with the power to give us a leg-up if necessary.
John Locke shared the view of the Greek philosopher Socrates, who told us that ‘we are the sum total of our experiences’. At least we can all begin on the same playing pitch, which is something of a comfort to me.
In the new year I will be looking after Jennifer Jane while her mother returns to work, part-time. I look forward to scribbling on her slate, because I have stories about her daddy when he was a boy, songs to sing, games to play and rhymes to read. Maybe the twenty-first century has more to offer than I thought!